The last three years have taken a toll on many people, organizations, and services in Whatcom County, and the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force is no exception. Some of you may have noticed the limited presence of the Task Force over the last few years. We have been struggling with capacity issues that were beginning to form before COVID-19 hit and were clearly exacerbated by the pandemic.
This year, 2023, marked the 25th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference. In response to the pandemic, we moved the entire conference online in 2021 and simultaneously diversified the format by adding a poetry night and a separate opening ceremony and keynote featuring local artists and social justice creatives. Through it all, participation in the conference, long recognized as one of the most significant human rights gatherings in our region, has continued to grow. Now it is time for our small group of volunteers to step down. If the conference is to continue, we believe it must become a collaborative effort guided by the goals and priorities of a broad-based cross-section of the community.
Moving forward, WHRTF can serve a larger purpose by amplifying a new generation of voices that bring the necessary energy and perspectives to the fight against settler colonialism and white supremacy culture. At present, WHRTF provides fiscal sponsorship for the Bellingham Unity Committee, Birchwood Food Desert Fighters, and Whatcom Coalition for Anti-Racist Education. Each of these community groups are led by engaged and experienced individuals who are well-positioned to respond to emerging needs. We will maintain our status as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so that we can continue to sponsor these groups for the foreseeable future, and keep a container ready and waiting for folks who have the capacity to utilize the Task Force in its full potential.
As we witness continued violence against the most vulnerable in our community along with the prioritization of wealth over human beings and an unwillingness to name and dismantle systems of oppression and white supremacy culture, it is imperative to uplift the work being done by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, poor people, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA2S, immigrants, farmworkers, and other community members who are most impacted by the institutions currently in place.
We must go deeper to see the structures and systems that govern our lives for what they truly are: means of upholding and protecting the interests of those who have control of wealth, property, and power. By intent and design, the places of power remain overwhelmingly white (male)-dominated institutions. Undeniably, they were created by and for the benefit of privileged, white able-bodied men. Asserting otherwise betrays a willful ignorance of the history of this country and of this place we call Whatcom County.
For now, we will be working in the background as we recover from engaging beyond our capacity. We are not going away, we are stepping back to create space for individuals with a broader range of voices and greater depth of experience to respond thoughtfully and effectively to the many challenges we face.
We extend our deepest respect and gratitude to those who came before us and to those who will lead us forward.
Eve Smason-Marcus & Geneva Blake