People gather during the Change the Narrative rally in Granite Falls Friday evening on August 28, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

People gather during the Change the Narrative rally in Granite Falls Friday evening on August 28, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Granite Falls protesters rally for social justice, unity

For a while, it appeared there would be dueling rallies on the same night in the east county town.

GRANITE FALLSThinly veiled threats and other pushback did not deter a crowd of about 40 protesters from gathering in Granite Falls to call for racial justice Friday.

It was the fifth week protesters have waved signs on Stanley Avenue in the city of 3,800 people, where residents lean fairly conservative and favored Donald J. Trump by a 10-percent margin in 2016.

Friday’s event aimed to heal divisions, said Michael Adams, 32, a Black man who founded the local social issues group Change the Narrative.

Adams has lived in a Granite Falls since 2018. He said the group’s sign waving is a way to spark much-needed conversations in the community.

Daesha Smith, 19, grew up in Granite Falls. In June, she helped organize a protest through the city’s streets. She said it’s been refreshing to see the support from people of all ages, races and genders.

“It is really nice to see the diversity that comes out here, because they have the confidence to come out here and stand, whatever they are standing for,” Smith said.

It was the first rally of its kind held in east Snohomish County since police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin — stoking national protests, strikes by pro sports teams and renewed cries for police reform.

Earlier this week, a teenager arrived in Kenosha with an AR-15-style rifle, told media he was there to defend the city from rioting, and ended up shooting three people. Two died.

Meanwhile, in the days leading up to the Granite Falls event, Adams became a target of vitriol on social media.

“If yall are for (Black Lives Matter) get the (expletive) out of granite falls before we find you,” one man wrote to him.

“I got plenty of defensive accoutrements for just such an eventuality (of protests turning violent),” another local man wrote on Facebook. “And I’ve been putting in extra range time to make sure they won’t be wasted.”

A Facebook event set for the same time a block away, branded as a pro-police “Back the Blue” rally, saw dozens of responses before it was officially listed as cancelled on social media.

“We received a lot of push back from people about the day and time of our Back the blue rally,” wrote Kristi Everett, one of the organizers. “We have decided to cancel this event but will be rescheduling for another day. The last thing we want to do is cause more or any conflict.”

She did not reply to a Herald reporter’s message.

Nobody appeared to have showed up in support of the alternative, pro-police event Friday.

Generally, Adams said, the reception in his new hometown has been positive. However, middle fingers and shouts of “All Lives Matter,” have been directed at the group, especially as the size of the group has waned each Friday night.

Last week, two attendees reported being followed out of town by a pickup driver as they left the event. The sheriff’s office took an official report and seemed to take it seriously, Adams said. Other members said they have been “doxxed” on social media by somebody exposing home addresses and personal details.

A neighboring city of Snohomish was in the national news in May, when panic over a purported Antifa threat caused dozens of citizens to take up arms and “protect” downtown. That turned out to be an apparent hoax, hijacking a night when activists were planning to protest racism.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office appeared to have a heightened presence near the protest Friday, with deputies parking nearby and camping out for a few minutes, or else driving past.

Friday’s rally was organized through a Facebook group of about 500 members, Change the Narrative: Granite Falls. Adams started the group in June. He said he was motivated by the death of George Floyd and an incident close to home several days later when he was called a racial slur in the parking lot of a Granite Falls grocery store.

“I wanted to try and create a space online to talk and have more civil discussions about current events,” Adams said.

Adams emphasized his group is not affiliated with any official Black Lives Matter organization, and while the current focus is about Black lives, he wants to spark conversations about many of the systemic issues that impact marginalized people.

“We want people to come to Granite Falls and feel as though they belong, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation,” the group’s description says. “Let’s have these uncomfortable conversations so we can better understand what needs to be done to work together for equity, equality and inclusion.”

Adams himself was not at Friday’s rally. He spoke with a Herald reporter over the phone this week, because he was attending a larger national protest in Washington D.C. Some protesters said they wished they could be there, but that it was important to be in Granite Falls, too.

Cori Durdy, 37, moved to farmland just outside of town in 2015. She said it’s a big deal for rural communities to publicly speak out against racism, because it tells others they aren’t alone. She heard about the planned counter-protest down the street. She felt the timing was “incendiary.” It made her think of what happened in the Kenosha protests, and she considered whether she felt safe showing up Friday.

“I would be surprised to have that happen in my community, but I also wouldn’t,” Durdy said. “Like, those people are everywhere.”

Just after 5 p.m. Friday, as the protest started, a man drove by flashing a Nazi salute and shouting “white power.”

But by far, the majority of responses were positive. People in passing cars gave a thumbs up, honked and cheered. Then one driver went past with one finger raised at Durdy’s husband, Conor.

“Oh, he flipped you off! Oh!” she said, excited for him.

At the bottom of his Black Lives Matter sign, he’d written, “Flip me off if you agree.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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