Advocates for worker and immigrant rights, two issues often linked in Whatcom County, participated in the fifth annual March for Dignity on Sunday, May 7.
Edgar Franks, one of the march’s leaders and a coordinator for Community to Community Development, said the event was to build cohesion between different issue groups.
“We’re calling attention to many of the issues that are affecting farm workers. Today we’re having a lot of stuff about immigrant rights, about workers’ rights,” he said. “We’re trying to build solidarity with all the groups that are here.”
Approximately 30 people left the Lynden Fairgrounds at 7 a.m., and walked to Maritime Heritage Park in Bellingham. The 17-mile walk took just under nine hours.
The marchers walked along Meridian Street, waving signs. A woman with a megaphone led chants in Spanish.
“Qué queremos? (Justicia!) Cuándo la queremos? (Ahora!) Gobierno, escucha, estamos en una lucha!”
In English, this translates to:
“What do we want? (Justice!) When do we want it? (Now!) Government, listen, we are in a fight!”
Dozens of passing drivers honked their horns and waved.
“If everyone eats then it impacts everyone. Food is always touched by farm-worker hands and we need to respect those people.”
Karly Storms, volunteer
Volunteers had set up stations along the way with water and snacks for the marchers.
Brenda Bentley, one of the event coordinators, wants people to recognize what the workers do and the toll it takes on them.
“Today’s march is really to celebrate and honor the workers, because a lot of the work that they do goes unrecognized,” she said. “The kind of work that they do actually shortens their lifespan. [Agricultural labor] should be a step to a better life and not the life itself.”
Very few people were hostile toward the marchers. Peacekeepers, volunteers who had received brief safety training, wore bright orange vests and looked out for traffic and hostile spectators.
The march stopped at the Bellingham Police Station before its final stop at Maritime Heritage Park. Olga Prado from Western’s Blue Group, a club for undocumented students, gave a short speech thanking the participants of the march and the Western community. Franks also gave a short speech and said he hoped Bellingham police will refuse to work with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Groups like Community to Community Development have pushed for more protection for undocumented immigrants, as they feel the Bellingham City Council’s ordinance did not go far enough.
After the organizers finished their speeches, the march continued to Maritime Heritage Park, where Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, a church and nonprofit, provided food.
“There were about ten volunteers in the kitchen this morning that were helping us prep food,” volunteer Erik Gelhar said.
Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship has a long relationship with the farm workers in the Bellingham community, said Gelhar.
“Farm workers’ rights have been in several of the Sunday sermons,” Gelhar said. “Ten weeks out of the 52 weeks last year were related to farm working.”
Volunteer Karly Storms said this march was a collaboration between several nonprofit organizations working together for a cause that arguably affects the entire community.
“If everyone eats then it impacts everyone,” Storms said. “Food is always touched by farm-worker hands and we need to respect those people.”