On August 19, 2001, the people of Bainbridge Island held a Human Rights Rally here on the Island. It was a bright sunny day, and there were free ice cream, drums and songs, and speaking dignitaries. Looking from the outside it may have seemed like a funfest, but this crowd came together with serious purpose.
The reason for this event was a rash of racially motivated hate crimes: damage to Jewish graves in the Port Blakely cemetery, "White Power" painted on the driveway of the Filipino-American Hall, swastika graffiti, and other disturbing incidents. These came not long after an incident in Suquamish (our neighbor across the bridge) where Chief Sealth's gravesite was seriously vandalized. Our community came together at the rally to send the message that such actions and the philosophies behind them will not be tolerated here.
As a community we are perhaps more sensitive than most to these things because of the internment of the Japanese-American members of our community during World War II. Walt Woodward, then owner and editor of The Bainbridge Review, is highly respected and honored for speaking out at the time against the injustice of the internment camps. What I appreciate is not only that he wrote articles criticizing the national policy but that he had the courage to do so from a minority opinion when he had a local business to run and a living to make. Though he suffered losses in this small community as a result of his outspokenness, it was also his belonging to a small community which sparked his outrage and his courage. Such actions come from individuals with a sense of investment in their surroundings. You won't see it from big corporations looking out only for shareholders' profits.
I am interested in history and in the psyche of the people at that time, and I can tell you that not all Bainbridge Islanders were sympathetic to their Japanese neighbors after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We don't talk about that part of our history. I often wonder what we would be saying and what history we would be recalling if Walt Woodward had not spoken out.
I hear it said that people don't want to hear or talk about anything "negative." I believe that we need to examine both the positive and the negative, and keep up a healthy public discussion about them. If we refuse to confront anything negative or unpleasant, our very inattention increases the danger they'll end up being accepted as a collective norm. We may have decided individually that we don't like something, but if no one speaks up it's easy for that something to slide toward public acceptability.
That's one reason Sunday's rally on Bainbridge Island was so important. An estimated 2,000 individuals came together to speak collectively: hatred based on race, color, gender, religion, sexual preference, age, nationality, or anything else -- will not be tolerated. There will be no slide into public acceptability for these kinds of criminal actions and attitudes.
I'm going to be developing more ongoing information on this subject, including some of my own experiences with discrimination, information on local groups that deal with human rights issues, and some of the more subtle forms of discrimination that exist now and in our history. It may surprise you.
Be seeing you - Dave