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Devon Wilson says ‘racism is about power, the power of violence’

Devon Wilson speaks for Poor People’s Campaign.

Devon Wilson, chair of the NAACP Spokane Criminal Justice Committee, and member of the Center for Justice Board and the Coordinating Committee member on the state Poor People’s Campaign Committee, was one of the speakers Monday, May 21, in Olympia.

The theme that week was racism.

“Racism is about power, more specifically the power of violence,” he said.  “Violence has a sound. It sounds like whips cracking, dogs gnashing and pistols blasting. It’s the sound of stomachs aching.

“Violence is unique because it’s one of few sounds known to create obedience, and if not obedience, then silence. If you pause you can hear the silence echo across cells and cemeteries all over,” said Devon, a 2015 graduate of the University of Kentucky in political science and psychology, drawn to Spokane by a family friend.

He has served as an intern in Washington, D.C., and as an aide in the Washington State Legislature in Olympia.

“Racism is division,” he continued. “It’s division through dehumanization.”

He said those gathered at the rally in Olympia would likely stop someone seeking to exploit or displace a group of people, because it’s the right thing to do.

Then he pointed out that those who exploit others try to convince people that their targets are “not human, but apes, savages, rats, cockroaches, super-predators or animals.” Then more are willing to accept atrocities forced on a group.

An oppressor seeks to convince people to “reject changes that would improve their well-being because they might help that group,” said Devon.

“Racism is whitewashing of our history,” he said.  “It’s being told that only great men from great families of great wealth are the ones who can change the world,” he said.

Devon added that people are often told that they are not powerful enough, not rich enough, or from the right neighborhood to make a difference, so not to bother fighting.

The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival over 40 days this spring has several demands.

It demands the end of systemic racism, demands to end the war on the poor, the environment and communities across the globe.

“I stand here today with only one demand: keep fighting, do it nonviolently, but don’t stop fighting,” he said in Olympia.

“Because we the tired, the poor, we the huddled masses and wretched refuse, we the people are the engine that drives this nation forward, we are the change we have been waiting on, and we are the trumpets that bring down walls,” Devon said.

 “We have a rich legacy of leaders like Frederick Douglass, Coretta Scott King and others who have fought for what is right,” he said. “They are watching us today and smiling, because they see us overcoming the lines of division. They are smiling because they know that we know the truth: Justice does not come, it cannot be beckoned. Justice must be brought.

“So that’s what we’ll do,” Devon said.  “Together, we must bring justice to the streets of Seattle. We must bring justice to the shelters in Shoreline. We must bring justice to the cells of Spokane…to all corners of this capital, to every city in this state and to every town in this nation until justice finally flows like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

On Thursday, May 24, at the Tribal Meeting Place beside the Spokane City Hall, he led a rally and reported that several people went to Olympia from Eastern Washington on May 21, joining 200 others. Several sat on the floor of the capitol rotunda, “occupying” it.  That day, 19 and a half—one woman was pregnant—were arrested on the spot, processed and released.

Shelly McLallen of Spokane and Rick Matters, priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kennewick were arrested and released as part of a rally in Olympia.

Two were from Eastern Washington.  They are Shelly McLallen of Spokane and Rick Matters, priest at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kennewick. 

“It’s good to know that white allies are willing to put their bodies on the line for people of color,” said Devon at the Spokane rally.

As he stood on the second floor looking over those on the floor in the rotunda, he turned and behind him was a bust of Martin Luther King Jr.

“I remember when studying the Civil Rights movement, wondering what I would have done if I had lived in that era,” he said.  “Now I’m part of such a movement.”

Introducing three speakers, Devon said racism is not just about black and white, but also is about immigrants and other communities of color.

Lili Navarette, who immigrated with her family in 1988 from Mexico City, was discouraged because she not only missed family and friends in Mexico, but also, not speaking English, met discrimination in Spokane.   Now she speaks English, but still meets discrimination as a brown woman coordinating volunteers with Planned Parenthood.

“Our President’s words inspire hate and harassment, so many of us fear for our lives.  His words do not shock people of color, but demonstrate that racism is alive as they awaken a subset of people who believe people of color and immigrants are not important,” she said.  “I will fight, so discrimination will not be normal.  Our movement is growing bigger every day.”

Sandy Williams, editor of The Black Lens, shared a poem she read last year at a march, remembering a young black man shot in the back by a man a white jury said acted in self-defense.

Her poem, “We don’t see color in Spokane,” points out that people of color are stopped by police more often.  For every white adult detained, seven blacks and six Native Americans are detained.  Half of the students arrested at schools are people of color, and a disproportionate number of students of color are suspended or expelled.

“Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are twice as likely to live in poverty and have higher mortality rates. Elected officials and decision makers are all white, Sandy said.

“Maybe Spokane needs to start seeing color,” she suggested. 

“Racism is insidious here.  We need people meeting in rooms to make decisions to challenge our lack of access and to speak on our behalf.”

She called for allies to work with people of color to “make Spokane be the place we want it to be.”

Alexis Gallaway-Tonasket, an organizer against environmental racism who is half Colville and half Irish, said being “half from two different worlds,” she sees half of her family face different issues from the other half.

“Racism is more than a rude comment in passing. It is a deep dark secret in plain sight.  It is that we forget we are all human.  We all feel, fear, dream and breathe.  We share the same sky, sun, earth water and stars,” she said.

“If many humans are struggling with the system, it’s the system that is flawed, not the people,” Alexis said.

“We need justice for Native Americans, African Americans and immigrant communities,” Devon said as the rally ended and many of the 50 who gathered chanted, “We need justice,” as they began to march.

At 2 p.m. on “Moral Mondays,” people gather from throughout the state for a rally at the State Capitol in Olympia.  Some, but not all, may risk arrest.  In Spokane, those who go will report back at 5:30 p.m., Thursdays through June 21, at the Tribal Gathering Place.

The theme for May 28, was “The War Economy: Militarism and the Proliferation of Gun Violence.” For June 4, it is “Ecological Devastation and the Right to Health, Healthcare and a Healthy Planet.” The June 11 rally is on “Everybody Has the Right to Live.” The June 18 rally is on “A New and Unsettling Force: Confronting the Distorted Social Narrative.”

Nationally, as of May 21, hundreds of people were arrested around the nation. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a leader in the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, was arrested with campaign co-chairs the Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, poor people and clergy who sat in prayer on the floor of U.S. Capitol rotunda, resisting orders from the police to disperse.

They sought to deliver a letter to Senate and House Republican leaders, asking them to restore the Voting Rights Act, end racist gerrymandering and honor minimum wage increases.

For two years, leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign visited 10s of thousands of people in dozens of states on a listening tour about issues.

For information, call 838-7870 or visit pjals.org or visit poorpeoplescampaign.org.





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