The bulk of our activity the past couple months includes giving feedback and supporting BIPOC community members in their conversation with The City of Bellingham and County Executive about the Race & Justice Listening Series and related media activities, joining the coalition to defund Bellingham Police, responding to other requests for participation in forums, collaborative social justice gatherings, and other community efforts. Within the restrictions imposed by COVID, we are looking forward to bringing members and supporters together at a general meeting in early fall, and providing opportunities for involvement in planning International Human Rights Day and the Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference. Work on by-laws revision continues as well.
Much of our recent efforts have focused on The City of Bellingham and County Executive Race & Justice Listening Series: The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force Board believes this was an important first step in a long process of truth-telling, accountability, and healing for this community. We also believe that in order to be a credible action, it is critical that the process be initiated and implemented in a way that, from its inception, moves toward a new paradigm of inclusion – with collective voices from BIPOC-led organizations able to assess and address the safety and accessibility needs of individuals and groups most impacted by individual and systemic racism at the center, with compensation provided for these essential contributions.
Members of the WHRTF board were in communication with both Mayor Fleetwood and series moderator, Moonwater, Director of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, prior to the first session of the listening series. This consultation resulted in bringing together several other community organizations for the opportunity to share common concerns and potential changes with the Mayor and County Executive before launching the listening series. Shifting the planning process from individual conversations and a more insular approach, to a robust gathering of some of the local BIPOC-led and social justice organizations has supported a necessary collective sharing of needs in order to adequately invite participation of those this series was intended to be accessible to.
The entire board has participated in these critical debrief meetings, which have served to uplift actions designed to make it more likely / possible for community members from diverse backgrounds to access this opportunity as a potential brave space to share experiences of racial injustice they encounter living in Whatcom County and to share actionable recommendations for change. Through this collaborative approach, members of participating organizations took the lead in coordinating outreach strategies that more directly sought the experiences of those most affected by racial disparities and systemic racism. Efforts to publicize the sessions were increased across the county and several remote viewing locations in Bellingham were set up, utilizing safe distancing practices, for the final two sessions.
We are grateful to all of those who spoke for sharing their experiences, reflections, and recommendations. Thank you to community members who helped make the sessions more accessible and equitable. We appreciate Mayor Fleetwood’s and County Executive Sidhu’s willingness to listen to, learn from, and act in a collaborative manner on some of the recommendations that were made for increasing access and improving the format. We look forward to working together to make our community a safe and loving space for all. This is a time for movement, a time to come together and dismantle systemic racism so that all may live freely. Our efforts are focused on supporting real opportunity for input from community members that will lead to specific, responsive, actionable items that will be actualized and woven into the fabric and budget of Bellingham/Whatcom County.
There is still much work to be done. As uncomfortable as it might be, only by working authentically together, can we truly move forward as a community.