A march downtown Thursday aimed to capitalize on Gov. Jay Inslee’s visit as protesters demanded he take a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Inslee’s trip to Bellingham was the first of 18 to encourage residents to vote in next week’s election. Inslee, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, and state Sen. Kevin Ranker stopped first at Western Washington University, then again briefly at the Whatcom County Democrats’ office at 215 W. Holly St. at about 3 p.m.
Protesters gathered on the WWU campus and approached Inslee as he spoke to students. Video from the scene shows Inslee pausing his talk to allow protesters to speak. The group then asked Inslee to sign a written pledge promising to use his capacity as governor to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, said Maru Mora, who spoke on behalf of the protest organizers.
Inslee declined to sign the pledge, Mora said.
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The pipeline, now under construction in southern North Dakota, has been at the center of a monthslong standoff between Native American-rights activists, environmental activists, pipeline supporters and law enforcement.
“Gov. Inslee does have the capacity to do something. We’re not asking him an impossible,” Mora said, adding that Inslee, while not tied directly to the conflict, has access to the president and other governors. “Even before he was a governor, as a congressman, he kept saying that the environment was the most important issue to him. ... It shouldn’t be difficult for us to approach him and ask him to have a direct stand in regard to this issue.”
From WWU, protesters walked northeast on Billy Frank Jr. Street, then turned left and walked northwest down the middle of Holly Street. They turned left at Bay Street and stopped at the Democrats’ office near the corner, partially blocking one lane of traffic.
Inslee, Larsen and Ranker had left by the time the group arrived at about 3:30. When protest leaders announced that all representatives had left, the crowd of about 90 people responded with boos. The group then crossed Holly Street and gathered just outside Bayou On Bay, giving short speeches until about 4:15.
Groups participating in the march included members from the local Black Lives Matter chapter, the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition, Community To Community, Latino Advocacy and the Lummi Nation, Mora said.
A representative with Inslee’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Clarified: A revision was made at 11 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2016, to explain that protesters first approached Inslee on the WWU campus.