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Working people must stand together

I grew up right here in Grays Harbor County, Washington. I am a proud member of the working-class. I come from working-class timber workers. My dad was a log-truck driver and my step-dad a millwright and a saw filer. My grandfather was also a saw filer. I’m a nurse. Our legacy is one of a strong work ethic and solidarity.

Armed individuals and organized militia groups have attended the otherwise peaceful gatherings in Grays Harbor County since the murder of George Floyd. Photo by Ann Valentine.

Our immediate ancestors had jobs with adequate pay and benefits because they fought for it. They organized across languages and differences to win huge gains for working people. 100 years ago, thousands of working people—loggers, mill workers, waitresses, longshoremen and more—marched in unity together down the streets of Hoquiam and Aberdeen demanding better pay and better working conditions. At the time, working people were living in terrible housing and working for poverty wages. They gave speeches in different languages because they knew they would be more powerful if they came together across lines of ethnicity and language.

…false rumors were spread in a coordinated campaign by national white supremacist groups—the exact same language was sent out to small towns all over…

They knew, despite differences, that as working people, they were on the same side against the timber barons who pillaged Indigenous lands and made their profit off poor workers’ backs. Together, these workers won historic labor laws that meant many families thrived for a long time here on the Harbor.

They showed us that when working people come together and defend one another, we can make a good life possible. We’ve done it before and I believe we must do it again. In my lifetime we have seen life in Southwest Washington crumble in many ways. Our small businesses are suffering, our housing is rotting, our worker protections and wages slide to the wayside because corporate executives and their paid politicians have done all they can to fight back the gains working people fought and died for.

Both of my father-figures died with nothing to show for a lifetime of work. For a long time, corporate tycoons and the wealthy 1% have spread lies to keep us distracted, divided and powerless. They tell us our problems are caused by black people, or immigrants, or poor people. They tell us to be scared. They disorient us so we don’t know which side we’re on any more. And while we’re busy distrusting other working people and competing for scraps, they run off with billions. In recent weeks since the pandemic began, 40 million of us have filed for unemployment while corporate billionaires increased their wealth by over $550 billion.

Sunday, I saw some of these lies at work here on the Harbor. I was in Aberdeen on the afternoon of Sunday, June 14, 2020. Sometime in the days leading up to Sunday, a false rumor started that “antifa” was coming to Aberdeen to “riot.”

Those false rumors were spread in a coordinated campaign by national white supremacist groups—the exact same language was sent out to small towns all over the country—and not one of them turned out to be true.

This is a classic example of a divide-and-conquer lie to keep us scared of each other, and scared of fighting for what we deserve. Still, posts on social media were full of bravado and fear. In reality, a small group of blue collar Harborites had planned a peaceful, silent walk and gathering Sunday in support of Black Lives Matter because we know racism keeps working people powerless, we know police violence happens on the Harbor, and we know that our working class black brothers and sisters stand up for us, so we should stand up with them.

What we were met with was a large number of people with guns. It is legal to open-carry in Washington, that was not the problem. The problem was that these people have left the side of working people. These people, mostly men, considered us, a group of blue collar people, mostly women, exercising our constitutional rights to speak up for the dignity of all of us, to be so terrifying that they responded with spitting and yelling in our faces, threatening us with violence while cradling their weapons, and using racial and gender slurs meant to demean and provoke us.

This is exactly what the rich and powerful want. They want you and me to be more enraged at other working people demanding basic dignity than we are at them for stealing our dignity in the first place. I’m heartbroken that some of my brothers and sisters have bought the lie.

As we moved about the town we were followed. We saw the lie rear its head again. I was told that the four men initially following us were coming to confront “antifa.” Two of the four verbally confronted my friend and me insisting, “You have no right to be here.” They seemed genuinely surprised to hear that we are lifelong residents of Grays Harbor County. This is the real foundational issue for me.

Far too often, we’ve allowed people at the top to exploit any perceived divisions—race, religion, geography, sex, national origin, and sexual orientation—and where has it gotten us? People are still dying and going bankrupt due to lack of healthcare coverage. There are still not enough affordable homes. Wages haven’t risen in 40 years while the cost of living keeps going up. Black people, Indigenous people, and poor people are still being killed by police. Workers and poor people still pay a huge percentage of our income to taxes while the wealthy get tax breaks. Our schools still struggle for adequate funding.

Perhaps it was so hard for these men to believe that we’re from the Harbor because we have forgotten our history. We’ve forgotten that we are a people who fight for each other.

Let’s remember our proud history as working people, of standing on the same side, defending one another. It’s time we stopped taking the bait. It’s time we saw their lies for what they are—games they play to keep us distracted and divided.

We come from ancestors who stood up for one another and demanded a dignified life for everyone. Now it’s our turn. It’s time we choose to come together on the side of working people and Black working people instead of fighting each other. The struggle of working class black people is my struggle. I know which side I’m on. Do you?

Marianna Everson, RN, MHP, is a candidate running to represent LD 19, from Aberdeen to the Columbia River. Reach her at mariannaforthepeople.com.

 

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