Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Rally and March turned political as two candidates vying for Congress took the stage.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, faced a similarly vocal crowd Monday as she did at the same event last year when she was booed during her speech.
The audience was friendlier to McMorris Rodgers’ Democratic opponent in her re-election bid this year, Lisa Brown, with many holding her campaign signs.
Brown, who announced in late August her intent to run for Congress in 2018, took the podium before McMorris Rodgers and addressed controversies sparked by President Donald Trump, including labeling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” and his disparaging words aimed at Haiti and African nations that he made last week in a meeting with some members of Congress.
She spoke with what she described as three emotions: gratitude, sorrow and inspiration. She said she was grateful to the crowd and the people who serve their community, but sorry for homeless veterans and the youth sleeping on the street as well as for people who cannot afford health care or retirement.
She ended by saying she was inspired by the turnout, by the signs, the activism and protests.
“Let’s keep talking. Let’s keep walking. Let’s keep each other dignified,” she said. “Let’s keep marching.”
From the moment McMorris Rodgers took the stage, there was a mix of cheers and heckling.
The congresswoman began by addressing Trump’s comment about accepting immigrants from African countries. It was the first time McMorris Rodgers, a high-ranking official in Congress and Trump supporter, had addressed the words publicly.
“I wasn’t at the meeting, so I can’t confirm if they happened or not, but the fact we’re even talking about them saddens me,” she said. “This kind of language is destructive and divisive. Profanity and divisiveness are never the answer. America is an idea, not a race.”
The crowd cheered loudly as she denounced the rhetoric. Still, a few continued to yell at her for not impeaching the president or for voting to change health care. Near the end of her speech, some in the crowd turned their back to her, others chanted “do your job.”
After McMorris Rodgers finished, Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, took the microphone and scorned those who partook in shouting.
“OK Spokane, it’s clear you’re still feeling a certain type of way,” she said. “You know, your single most nonviolent right you have is your right to vote. I need you to execute that right, ’cause yelling and screaming at another human being on this stage will never bring about change.”
The woman who followed further denounced the crowd for interrupting the congresswoman. Stephy Nobles-Beans, a professor at Whitworth University who teaches diverse Christian leadership, delivered an impassioned speech that at multiple points told the crowd to vote, not yell from afar.
“For you yellers and screamers, shame on you,” she said. “Send me hate mail if you want to, but you are not being an example to our children. I don’t care how you feel, take it to the polls.”
She led the crowd in singing the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” She ended her rousing talk by asking the elders in the crowd to teach the younger members.
“We need to teach our babies not to fight each other but to fight the evil of injustice,” she said.
Karl Boettner, 61, was one of the louder members in the audience who heckled McMorris Rodgers. He seemed regretful of the decision, but as an avid Spokane liberal since he moved here in 1997, he said he’s disappointed more and more with the congresswoman the longer she remains in office.
“I think she’s sincere,” he said. “But she isn’t using her position of power to speak out against the forces of evil in our society.”
During the march, a man who was vocal in his disdain for the congresswoman said he was just using his freedom of speech. Walking with two of his friends and holding a large sign that read “Unity in Humanity,” the longtime political activist and avid marcher said he’s definitely voting for Brown.
“She doesn’t deserve that podium,” he said of McMorris Rodgers. “And not on this day.”