The culture wars over systemic racism are on display in Yacolt, Washington, after one elected official recently tried to have the town acknowledge it.
Councilor Amy Boget’s effort was rejected, but the acrimony has spawned fliers warning against outside groups that will bring violence to the town and calls for the councilor’s resignation. It’s a chain of events that mirrors other towns and cities grappling with the concept.
On July 6, Boget sponsored a proclamation asking the city to “denounce systemic and institutional racism.” The draft said the town would “examine our own subconscious biases” in its policymaking.
It failed by a 3-2 vote. Several citizens from the town of 1,600 spoke at the meeting and called systemic racism fictional.
Fellow Councilor Herb Noble said he agreed racism exists, but that its existence is “over-driven” by media and advocacy groups.
“Right now, I’m not really happy with looking at this thing,” Noble said. “I think you’re stirring up a hornet’s nest that don’t need to be stirred up.”
Councilors Michelle Dawson and Marina Viray said they voted against the proclamation because they felt condemning systemic racism implied the town and its people were racist. Dawson said her rejection aligns with her constituents’ views.
“Ninety percent of the people that called-in said it was not fitting for our town,” she told OPB. “I was being a voice for our town. Absolutely not, this is not fitting for Yacolt.”
After the meeting, Boget took to social media to say she was undeterred. “This is my hill, come what may,” she wrote. “And I won’t. Back. Down.”
Boget and Malita Moseley, the other councilor who backed the proclamation, said the proclamation shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than a pledge to help people of color.
“At no time were we specifically calling Yacolt racist, or calling the Yacolt council racist, or calling the Yacolt town employees racist,” Moseley said.
Such proclamations are often ceremonial. Last summer, Yacolt Town Council approved a resolution to declaring the town a sanctuary from a recently passed gun control law.
The issue has lingered. The proclamation continued to be debated in the community, according to councilors who voted both for and against it. Some called for protests, according to the councilors, that never took off as planned.
A flier has circulated saying Boget “has invited media attention to our town for failing to agree with a BLM (Black Lives Matter) narrative.” It encouraged people to pursue a recall against Boget or demand she immediately resign.
OPB could not confirm who authored the flier, which also told residents to be aware of “media manipulation” and “outside groups.”
“There is a possibility that the unrest, loss of revenue, property damage and violence we have seen in the cities will show up here,” the flier read. “Please take all necessary precautions to ensure your safety and watch out for suspicious activity.”
Such concerns appeared around the country this summer in the wake of mass protests against police brutality. Concerns about "antifa" have spurred citizens to take up arms in towns like Couer d'Alene, Idaho, and Washougal, Washington.
Dawson and Viray also accused Boget of publishing councilors’ personal information online.
Boget and the proclamation also headlined the town council’s July 20 meeting. Over a three-hour discussion, callers continued to disagree with the notion of systemic racism and echoed calls for Boget’s resignation. Some defended the councilor.
Dawson and Viray said Boget’s proclamation set off a cascade of negativity, both within the community and through attention from the local newspaper. Both councilors told OPB on Friday that Boget should step down.
“If I were in her shoes I would definitely resign,” Viray said. “She has definitely lost the trust of the overall community.”
Boget disagreed. During the meeting, she also called for the city to join listening sessions being scheduled in their county. The sessions were called after Clark County Councilor Eileen Quiring denied systemic racism existed locally.
“I have heard from enough people within the town of Yacolt that have confirmed my feelings on the matter,” Boget said. “This is an issue that absolutely exists out here. And I would be remiss if they did not have a voice on the council. They deserve to be heard.”
By Friday afternoon, the Southwest Washington chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement applauding Boget’s effort.
“We encourage the (town council) to better understand systemic racism and acknowledge the experiences and needs of the public they serve,” the letter read.