Hundreds of people gathered Sunday afternoon near City Hall downtown for one of the largest peace rallies in Spokane since the Women’s March in January.
Overlooking the raging waters of the Spokane River, people filled the concrete steps holding signs and flags denouncing white supremacy and the presidency of Donald Trump, which, they said, had encouraged its rise. Some wore pink “Pussyhats,” others wore buttons and American flags. The crowd grew steadily over the course of the hour-and-a-half rally.
“We’re all in shock of the violence that has taken place over the past year,” organizer Mercy Aguilar told the crowd. “Especially in the last 48 hours.”
The rally, co-organized by multiple local organizations, came in response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday. One person was killed and at least 19 injured during a violence-filled rally, the largest to be held by white nationalists in decades. Street brawls broke out between anti-fascism activists and far-right participants. One woman who was killed after 20-year-old James Fields drove into a crowd of protestors.
Two police officers were killed when their helicopter, deployed to aid in the local peacekeeping effort, crashed nearby.
Other cities and states across the country held similar protests, including a planned march to President Donald Trump’s home in New York, rallies and counterprotests in Seattle and a candlelight vigil in Florida.
In Spokane, Aguilar said she and other local protest leaders felt the urge to offer a gathering place for people affected by the news out of Charlottesville – news that included Trump’s comments that “many sides” were to blame for the violence. She said it didn’t take long to organize, and news quickly spread.
“They needed somewhere to come to find some common ground,” she said. “To find their voices, and have their voices heard.”
After being led in prayer and hearing from the assistant minister of the Westminster Church of Christ, several people from the crowd stepped up to take the microphone and share their thoughts and feelings. Many took the opportunity to denounce fascism and acts of hate speech that have risen to prominence in the national public eye, including in Spokane, where racist fliers were posted downtown, and several other racist messages were targeted toward people of color.
Holding his dog on a leash, 11-year-old Tony Randle, who is African-American, was coaxed by his mother Sharon to grab the mic and speak.
“Okay people, my mom wanted me to come up here and say hatred is bad,” he said, a tad nervously. “And, like my momma says, my life matters.”
State Sen. Andy Billig of the 3rd Legislative District said before the rally that it was important for Spokane to come together to “show that we stand for peace.” He said that since Trump became president there has been an increase in hate crimes.
“Trump has emboldened these bigots to be public with their hatred,” he said. “But it’s also given the rest of us the opportunity to express our opposition to that bigotry.”
At 7 p.m., Cynthia Hamilton with Spokane Indivisible – a local chapter of a national group that aims to resist Trump’s agenda – led the crowd in a 90-second moment of silence to remember 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed by the car Fields was driving, and the two state troopers, Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, who died when their helicopter crashed while on the way to the protest.
She then led the crowd in a song. Afterward, attendees slowly filed out of the space, while others stayed and listened to the growing line of people waiting to take the microphone.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” they sang. “Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”