By Tyler Brown
A parade of cars was led in protest against Gov. Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order in Lynden on May 9. Julie Beld Anderson, owner of Two Sister Koffie and host of the event, said the event was an attempt to draw attention to Whatcom County’s low infection rate and that comparing Whatcom County to King County is unrealistic.
Anderson told participants to stay in their cars and not violate social distancing orders per Inslee’s restrictions, put into place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Both Anderson and the Lynden police department said that these guidelines were respected.
“Growing up my parents always called it a Dutch parade,” Anderson said. “Just a parade of cars driving down the streets just honking their horns and waving at everybody just goofing around you know? It’s a celebration, a parade.”
About 500 people marked on Facebook that they would come to the rally. Anderson did not have an exact head count, but she guessed around 1,200 people showed up with motorcycles, cars, semi-trucks, tractors and a motorhome. The Lynden Police Department said that they guessed around 400 cars arrived at the parade, monitored by a few patrol officers.
Anderson said the parade was 5.1 miles long with another 40 cars still in the parking lot waiting to enter the parade before the first car passed them. She said it exceeded her wildest expectations, and that it was much bigger than she anticipated.
“The message to the governor is: We are doing a great job of social distancing and following the policy,” Anderson said. “We're staying home and following the order but people are sick of it now and our hospitals aren’t being overwhelmed by this virus."
Whatcom County Executive Satpal Singh Sidhu said in an email that he and his department heard about the event shortly after the organizers put the idea out on social media.
“I think that we should acknowledge that following the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order is not easy,” Sidhu said in the email. “It requires personal sacrifice. It requires a willingness to limit your own actions in order to protect the most vulnerable in our community. I am very pleased to see that the vast majority of Whatcom County residents are acting on their community values and following social distancing guidelines.”
Anderson said that she has felt no financial impact from the stay-at-home order, but seeing small businesses in her community struggle was her main motivation for organizing the parade.
But not everything about the event was cause for celebration for Anderson.
The event was planned despite Inslee’s order, and though requests were made for people to stay in their cars and respect social distancing guidelines, there was backlash for Anderson, her business and her family.
“People have not been kind about this. People have threatened me and my family because of the parade,” Anderson said. “Someone called the (Two Sisters Koffie stand) and threatened my sister and cursed us out. They said things that I won’t say aloud.”
Anderson’s sister has told her she doesn’t want to be associated with the parade because of the backlash.
Anderson also said that she had to remove the public Facebook page for the parade because of angry comments, and that the harassment extended to her business.
“Somebody started stalking me, a group of kids, maybe mid-20s,” Anderson said. “They figured out I own Two Sisters Koffie and started sending me emails on my business page and my personal email, giving me zero-star reviews on my business.”
Two Sisters Koffie is not on Yelp! and any derogatory remarks on Google reviews are no longer there. Currently the stand has 4.7 stars and only has three one-star reviews out of 123 reviews on Google.
Respecting the social distancing guidelines during the parade wasn’t enough to bring comfort to some Washingtonians. A change.org petition called for the parade to be canceled, calling the rally a disaster with effects that will harm the state.
Anderson called the petition a big rant and said she wouldn't be bullied out of doing what she felt was right.
The petition website states that Anderson had to request people not bring Nazi flags to the protest. Anderson said that her reason for asking was having seen people bring Nazi flags at protests in places such as the Michigan protests. She didn’t want people bringing that to her rally to misrepresent the message she was sending.
Anderson said she was confused why people thought that there was a message of racial prejudice attached with her rally, and said that she had even seen a Whatcom County councilmember call the parade racist on their Facebook page. Anderson was not able to provide any screenshots or photos that any councilmember had done so.
“I don’t understand — I guess people don’t know what a Dutch parade is and people didn’t understand what that was and people didn’t get the right impression about what we wanted,” Anderson said. “People were telling me to rot in hell, calling me a ‘B.’ People were thinking we were going to march down the streets but that’s not what we wanted.”
No permits were acquired for the event, but Anderson said that she spoke with the Lynden Police Department and was told she was not required to request any permits in order to have the parade.
Lynden Police Chief, Steve Taylor, said that no permits were granted and no permit papers were given. The Lynden Police Department does not have the authority to issue permits for events such as the parade according to Taylor, especially ones that go against the governor’s orders and restrictions.
Violating the stay-at-home order is a gross misdemeanor, which could lead up to 364 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine or more, but the parade did not seem to violate the order, all according to Taylor.
“I’ll be the first to say that the governor’s order is not the picture of clarity,” Taylor said.
Officers at the parade were “not exactly pleased with being there” on overtime, according to Taylor, who said police are stretched to their limits already enforcing the governor’s restrictions and keeping active on day-to-day police activities.
“Had it turned ugly, and credit to all the people there because that was a perfectly legitimate expression of First Amendment rights, there were people here who wanted us to shut it down,” Taylor said. “There were a lot of kind, smiling people there waving American flags and it was well done but it could have gotten away from them.”
Taylor cited examples of protests such as those in Michigan, an open carry state, where protestors in the capitol openly carried firearms such as AR-15s. He said that being originally from Michigan he was frustrated to see that although they had the legal right to do so, the protest was initially intended to be a peaceful protest with a strong message that had turned into a protest about gun rights.
Taylor said he was sympathetic to the frustration with the restrictions and lack of communication coming from the state capitol, but going against the governor’s orders is not something he and his department support.
Anderson said she is sympathetic to all of the deaths from the virus, calling them tragic, and noted that she has multiple sclerosis and a son with disability. She said she “doesn’t defame them one iota,” but that those people [referencing people who have died from COVID-19] are in nursing homes and not a reflection of the county as a whole. She said she feels that people should have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they stay open.
As of June 1 there have been 37 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 according to the county website and CDC.
“Do you have any idea how many people are infected at St. Joseph’s Hospital with COVID’? I have no idea. I call in every day and they never post it,” Anderson said. “I’m hassled every single time I call them. I’ve finally made friends with someone at St. Joseph’s so she gives me the number of COVID’ patients. I text her and she tells me how many new cases are around.”
Beverly Mayhew, communications director for St. Joseph's Hospital, said that she has been in contact with Anderson regularly, providing information about the number of cases at St. Joseph’s. Mayhew said that she does indeed text Anderson on occasion with the number of infections, and felt that since she provides information to outlets such as the Bellingham Herald, she didn’t see the harm in sharing.
Mayhew said the highest number of cases at St. Joseph’s Hospital was 11 or 12 in mid March and that number has definitely decreased. As of May 29, there is one confirmed positive case of the virus at St. Joseph’s hospital. She said the Whatcom County cases continue to grow, however, and that the virus is still with us.
“We know from looking at other countries and other communities that the second they become relaxed with social distancing and masking, the virus pops back up,” Mayhew said.
The country is frustrated at all ends, Anderson said, saying that people are tired of being locked at home and ready to blow up over anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that nearly three quarters of Americans, 71% according to the study, are concerned with the country opening up too soon, while three out of 10 expressed concern that restrictions would not be lifted quickly enough.
Anderson cited that when the event was planned, the rate of deaths in Whatcom County was 27, and as of May 15 it is 35. She said this is the perfect example of the number of infections and deaths in Whatcom County compared to King County, which has 513 deaths.
Anderson said she hopes that Inslee understands that Lynden is just one example of how the infection rates and deaths do not reflect a necessity of a stay-at-home order being enforced in areas such as hers.
Mayhew said that following the order and following Centers for Disease Control guidelines should still be followed in order to help flatten the curve, and that this is not the end of the pandemic.
“Respect social distancing, wear a mask, those measures are very important,” Mayhew said. “We know this virus loves company and will continue to grow if we are not careful.”
Sidhu said in an email to the Western Front that Inslee and his team have provided a detailed ‘Safe Start Washington’ plan detailing how to move forward in a measured and deliberate manner, with a sharp focus on science and data.
The plan allows counties with fewer than 75,000 residents to apply for variance from the governor’s order but, with nearly 230,000 residents, Whatcom County is much larger than that threshold and will not be given any special reopening privileges.
“We need to stay focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19 right here in Whatcom County,” Sidhu said in the email. “While some people may feel compelled to air their grievances, parades, rallies or mass gatherings are not going to help restart the economy. That could in fact harm our common cause,” Sidhu said,
Sidhu continued in the email, “It is my hope that this recent protest will be a one-off event and its participants will refocus their energies on getting through the COVID-19 emergency as a community acting in unison. Reopening will be solely dependent on our progress in this fight against COVID-19.”