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Vote 2016

Forging Unity in the Tri-Cities Following a Divisive Election

Activists are banding together to build community, allay fears.

November 17, 2016

On Nov. 9, hundreds of people from all over the Tri-Cities gathered at John Dam Plaza in Richland, Wash. for the “Love Not Hate” vigil. The event was organized mere hours after the end of a contentious election that named Donald Trump President-elect of the United States.

As the results started coming in on Election Day, Tri-Cities voters took to social media to express dismay, fear, or delight  —  depending on who they voted for. But far from using social media to merely engage in divisive online debates, some used Facebook to bring people together.

Attendees light candles at the "Love Not Hate" vigil. Credit: Scott Butner

Cheyenne Brown Ockerman, a Richland resident, suggested the vigil when her friend, Amy Boaro, asked on Facebook how the community could offer support, hope and comfort to those who fear the repercussions of Donald Trump’s election to the U.S presidency.

The idea for the vigil originated with a Facebook post that Boaro posted.

Although some were still grappling with their feelings about the new president-elect, the atmosphere at the vigil was one of hope and unity, bringing people together from across party lines. Standing in a circle, participants took turns speaking, reciting poetry and prayers and singing songs with messages of unity and inclusion.

“I am trying to focus on the things we can do, but waking up Wednesday morning it was like ‘this is so not real,’” says Ellicia Elliott. “I am standing up for my friends who need support; I want to be an ally.”

Elliott is a founder of The Rude Mechanicals, a local theatre company. At the vigil, she read an excerpt of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-acceptance speech, which he delivered after the Orlando nightclub mass shooting.

Through this event we wanted to assert that regardless of who you voted for and what outcome you wanted, we’re going to protect people in the community.

“Through this event we wanted to assert that regardless of who you voted for and what outcome you wanted, we’re going to protect people in the community,” said Boaro, “especially people in the community who are most vulnerable to being targets of attacks because of how contentious this election has been.”

Even though she disagrees with the politics of Trump supporters, Boaro doesn’t support vilifying them.

“I know people who voted for Trump and they're good people. They're not racists. They're not bigots. They don’t want violence, either,” says Boaro, “I don't think this election is a zero-sum election; I think if we all work together, we can move the country forward.”

Mark Nathan Lee, Benton Franklin Field Coordinator for the Youth Suicide Prevention Network, explained the height of his emotions the night of the elections.

“When my husband and I were watching the elections on Tuesday, by the time we went to bed, we were crying and scared,” says Lee. “But the night we went to the vigil, there were hundreds of people there reminding us that they love us and that made me feel safer. It also reminded me that the fight never stops.”

Signs expressing love and unity were held by many vigil attendees. Credit: Scott Butner

Lee is also on the board of Columbia Basin Badger Club, which hosts a monthly speaker panel to debate and discuss issues affecting the community. The club will be organizing a community forum to explore the question “What will a Trump-led America look like?” on Friday Nov. 18 (find details in the sidebar of this story).  

Ryan Welch is a Richland resident and co-founder of Hope Outfitters, an organization that donates 100 percent of profits from its retail store to humanitarian organizations and nonprofits. Welch says he voted for Trump because he most aligned with his conservative Christian values.

On election night, Welch gathered with some of his friends and family to watch the elections results.

“I was hopeful,” he says. “It was obviously a good outcome for everybody who thought that he was the better candidate.”

Welch acknowledges that Trump wasn’t a perfect candidate, but he admires Trump’s relationship with his family and his children and agrees with some of his policies.

“After the election, what I tried to do was listen to what both side were saying because there are real fears out there, whether that’s based on fact or bias,” says Welch. “He has done some bad things in the past, he’s made mistakes, but there is hope.”

Welch also names his anti-abortion stance as one of the reasons influencing his support for Trump. He hopes that potential changes in the Supreme Court will create an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

“As a conservative Christians… we believe life begins at conception. When Roe v. Wade was passed, there was no 3-D sonogram. Now, you can see babies sucking their thumb, they respond to pain,” says Welch.

Elsewhere in the Tri-Cities, the Latino community is preparing for the impact Trump could have on immigration.

“Love Not Hate” vigil participants took turns speaking, reciting poetry and prayers and singing songs with messages of unity and inclusion. Credit: Scott Butner.

During his Presidential campaign, Trump said he would build a wall across the Southern border — a wall that Mexico would pay for. He incited ire during a speech in which he announced his run for the Republican presidential nominee, saying:

“They’re [Mexico] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

He also hinted at mass deportation of the country’s unauthorized immigrants. However, in a recent 60 Minutes interview he softened his stance, saying that he would prioritize the deportation of “two or three million” unauthorized immigrants with criminal records and saying that many undocumented immigrants are “terrific people.”

Just because you’re undocumented doesn’t mean you don’t have civil rights.

Leo Perales, an engineer and spokesperson for the Latino Coalition of the Tri-Cities, a civil rights and advocacy group, organized a community forum in response to the fears that many in the Latino community feel about Trump’s immigration policy.

“My sister is a teacher and she called me a couple of days after the election, hoping that I could come talk to her students. They are scared — scared that their parents will be deported, scared of what they’re hearing,” Perales says.

“In my lifetime I have never seen an election like this. I’ve never heard the language and rhetoric used. We’re offended, mad. We don’t know what to think,” says Perales.

Perales hopes the event will educate the community and address some of the fears they have. Both the Kennewick and Pasco police departments will be available to answer questions regarding possible harassment or discrimination.

“Just because you’re undocumented doesn’t mean you don’t have civil rights,” says Perales. “If you’re getting harassed, you need to give [the police] a call, [the police] won’t ask you about your status.”

The community forum will be held Saturday, Nov. 19 from 1:00 to 3:00  p.m. at Salon La Michoacana in Pasco.


Community Events

“What will a Trump-led America look like?"

Hosted by the Columbia Basin Badger Club. Speakers include Doc Hastings, former U.S representative for Washington’s 4th Congressional District, and Jill Mullins-Cannon, at attorney for Justice & Equality Legal Services in Seattle. 

When: Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 
Where: At the Shilo Inn in Richland, Wash.
Tickets: $20 for Badger Club members and $25 for non-members. 

Latino Coalition Tri-Cities Community Forum

The event aims to educate the community and address fears and questions. Both the Kennewick and Pasco police departments will be available to answer questions regarding possible harassment or discrimination.

The event is free to attend and open to all. 

When: 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.
Where: Salon La Michoacana, 415 W. Lewis St., Pasco, Wash.

Elsie Puig

Elsie Puig is a freelance writer and web designer living in Richland, Wash. She contributes regularly to Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business and Living TC. She has a strong background in journalism, digital marketing and communications. She is currently pursuing her online M.A. in web design and online communications from the University of Florida.

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