“Hate has no home” in Ferndale, speakers said at a meeting Tuesday night, Aug. 27, in response to recent white nationalist activity in Whatcom County.
Riveters Collective, a non-profit civic action group serving the Whatcom County area, sponsored the “Not in Our Community!” event after recruiting posters for the white supremacist group Patriot Front were posted last month along Main Street in downtown Ferndale.
A single Patriot Front poster was found last week in the Fairhaven shopping district of Bellingham.
“What’s here in this room is exactly what’s needed going forward,” said Elaine Morado, a 2016 graduate of Ferndale High.
Morado, who’s studying political science at Western Washington University, said that her friends used to discourage her from speaking Spanish when non-Latino people might overhear.
“I know what it’s like to look around and not see anyone who looks like you,” she said.
Teresa Taylor, a member of the Ferndale City Council, said she’s pleased that Ferndale is growing more diverse.
“One of our most important resources is our people,” Taylor said. “So many different races and cultures are represented in Ferndale. This is our time to come together and remind (people) that hate has no home here.”
About 120 people attended the event at the Ferndale Library.
Another 30 people waited outside, and organizers said at least 40 more people were turned away because the room was over capacity.
Rev. Dr. Jana Schofield, pastor of Christ Lutheran in Ferndale, said in an interview before the event started that she was appalled by the flyers.
“I’m realizing what a need this is for the community,” Schofield told The Bellingham Herald.
Eowyn Savela, president of the Riveters Collective, said part of the meeting followed a format suggested by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Speakers included Taylor, Morado, Schofield and Ashanti Monts-Tréviska, a candidate for Bellingham City Council and co-manager of Cascadia Deaf Nation.
Once the speakers were finished, participants split into small groups to discuss ways to fight intolerance and then reported their suggestions at the meeting’s close.
Suggestions included confronting racism when it’s seen or heard, making friends with people from all walks of life and encouraging elected officials to lead by example.
“We can learn new ways of thinking,” said Robin Ogmundson.
At one point, an unidentified man wearing American flag pants and a “Make America Great Again” cap interrupted a discussion group whose members included people who were chatting in sign language.
Using sign language himself, the man began speaking with a woman who is deaf. She was visibly upset by the confrontation and quickly left the room, followed by two friends.
The man, who appeared to speak only sign language, didn’t give his name. He was asked to leave, organizers said.
Margaret Clumpner of Ferndale said others weren’t aware of what was happening at first, because the interruption was silent and they didn’t understand what was happening.
Clumpner said the incident illustrated the need for people to learn how to react when someone is attacked.
“It was a perfect example,” she told the audience. “ We didn’t know how to respond. We need to speak up and report. We all need to be educated. Do something when you see something.”
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Derrick Watson of Ferndale spoke about how a white man uttered racist language at his family while they were waiting in line at a Ferndale grocery.
“If I’m at Haggen and someone says something racist to my son, what am I to do?” asked Watson, who is black. “I called the police, but I was told that it’s free speech. It’s hard, really hard, to look my son in the face after that.”
Participants also shared resources for fighting white supremacy and other forms of bigotry.
“Patriot Front is an image-obsessed organization that rehabilitated the explicitly fascist agenda of Vanguard America with garish patriotism,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said at its website.
A post at the ADL website called the Patriot Front a racist, anti-Semitic organization.
“Patriot Front is a white supremacist group whose members maintain that their ancestors conquered America and bequeathed it solely to them,” the ADL said.
Ferndale Police investigated the posters linked to the Patriot Front that were placed downtown — possibly during the Old Settlers Grand Parade, where a float displayed the Confederate flag.
“If somebody is putting up these flyers in our town, we want to know who they are and why,” Ferndale police and city spokesman Riley Sweeney said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald earlier this month.
Ferndale City Council passed a resolution last week condemning the Patriot Front’s action.
Riveters Collective’s reliance on the Southern Poverty Law Center for developing the meeting format was corrected Sept. 3, 2019.