Annual Report from President
Bonner County Human Rights Task Force
December 7, 2020
Our last Annual meeting was on June 15, 2019 at the Bonner County Library. We actually met in person and sat together in rows. We’ve been hoping we might have a “live” meeting again and have been postponing. However, our By-laws require that we have our annual meeting within this calendar year—so we have scheduled it to be held via Zoom. Our annual reports will be sent to the membership, and posted on our website.
Our last annual report made mention of Scott Rhodes and the rash of racist fliers that plagued our community, his attack on Ben Olsen and the Reader, and the event we hosted on Human Rights Day honoring our local journalists—from our two local papers and radio stations. That year we supported Medicaid Expansion and recognized health care as a human right. We also helped to sponsor an Earth Day celebration at Farmin Park, recognizing also the right to a clean and safe environment as a human right.
Following that meeting, in July, 2019, we joined the Kootenai County and Boundary County Task Forces to take a stand against a letter written and signed by 28 Idaho legislators to the colleges and universities in Idaho opposing diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives. They stated that these initiatives were “antithetical to the purpose of a public university in Idaho.”
We also publically supported the Sandpoint mayor’s proposed Social Equity Initiative. Funding for that Initiative was not approved by the City Council and it was struck from the budget.
Several members of the Task Force Board met with Barb Russell, representing the Boundary County TF regarding their concerns about a new Redoubt store established in Bonners Ferry as well as a church led by Pastor Warren Campbell, that is based on Christian militarism.
On Sept.12, 2019, we co-sponsored, with First Presbyterian Church, a presentation by Sophie Poldermans and signing of her book, “Seducing and Killing Nazis” in which she told the story of young women who were part of the Nazi Resistance in the Netherlands. In September also, we hosted again the international event, “100,000 Poets for Change” at Evans Bros. It was not well attended due to a wind storm that day that left many of our local roads blocked by fallen trees.
In October, KRFY presented the film, “RBG” the story of Ruth Bader Ginsberg at the Panida. It was funded by a BCHRTF grant.
Also in October, we published a letter in the Reader and the Bee, and sent notice to all of our members announcing our intention to create a Civil Discourse Initiative, and inviting anyone interested to join us in a discussion of how we might do this.
Prior to the City election in November, we sent a list of questions to all of the candidates running for office regarding their positions on human rights issues. Their responses were then published and posted on our website.
In December, we honored Human Rights Day by sponsoring a program held at the First Lutheran Church in which Rachel Carroll Rivas, the Director of the Montana Human Rights Network, spoke on “Knowledge is Power: Understanding and Countering Anti-Democratic Groups Co-opting Human Rights Language.”
Our annual Art for Human Rights Show opened at Evans Bros on Jan. 17. 2020.
In February, the group that had been meeting to work toward Civil Discourse decided to host a Skills Building Training on March 31. Elen Hunt, of the Braver Angels organization was going to come and stay in Sandpoint to be able to facilitate the training. Unfortunately, that event had to be cancelled due to COVID.
Subsequent events – including Earth Day also were cancelled this year.
The Task Force focused on getting the word out about our grant cycle which opened in February to offer funds from interest accrued on the endowment the TF received from Dorothy Adler, which was placed with the Idaho Community Foundation.
This year, due to COVID, the TF was given the option of donating money from that fund to organizations in the community that were helping to alleviate the effects of the Pandemic. In addition to the awards made on the attached list from the ICF funds, the TF donated from its operating funds to local businesses that were providing lunches to children due to the school closures. These were: The Hoot Owl, Pack River Store, Bowling Alley and the Uptown Bagels.
In June, there were a number of Black Lives Matter demonstrations that occurred in Sandpoint. The first was organized by high school students. Due—supposedly—to rumors spread here (and in other places around the nation) that Antifa members were coming to town to protest and destroy property, a number of armed individuals, many dressed in camouflage and/or combat gear appeared in town and at the sites of these demonstrations. This created a great deal of consternation as well as division in the community. The Police Chief made a statement to the effect that, from what he knew, most of these were well-meaning individuals who saw themselves as protecting “what they see as their town too.” On the other hand, the mayor and his wife reported accompanying the group of HS students and observing threats and intimidating words and behaviors directed toward them.
Following these events, a letter was sent by The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University and addressed to both City and County officials advising them that there were provisions in the Idaho Constitution and statutes prohibiting unregulated militia activity and, in particular, taking over the duties of law enforcement by un-supervised individuals who not responsible to anyone.
The City Council met to consider the offer of ICAP to provide pro- bono services to Sandpoint—not specifically to file any lawsuits – but to educate and consult about ways to respond to this militia activity. The City opted not to take advantage of their offer—but the Task Force contacted ICAP independently and met with attorneys from their group via Zoom. One action taken as a result of that were letters sent by the TF to both local papers containing the information gained from ICAP. The TF also sent letters to all of the members of the City Council, County Commissioners and law enforcement containing all of the information. In July, the TF organized a meeting with a representative from ICAP and the other regional task forces via Zoom.
In May, as a result of these escalating activities in our region, the BCHRTF began meeting with people from the Boundary County Task Force via Zoom – to be apprised of activities in each others’ communities and be able to better support each other. The meetings started to discuss a “Liberate America” event planned by a number of right-wing groups at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds.These meetings continued, with the Kootenai County Task Force as well as Travis McAdam from the Montana Human Rights Network joining in, every 2 to 3 weeks. Members from the Western States Center also were a part of several of these calls.
Shortly after that conference call in June, Heather Scott held a town hall meeting in Bonners Ferry in which she spoke out against the use of masks, assured people that the Sheriff would not enforce any mandate to wear them, and commended the audience members for ignoring the advice to use masks.
In June also a Love Lives Here group was started in Sandpoint, based on the model used in Coeur d’Alene, to encourage local businesses to display their support of this idea, and to sign a declaration that they would not discriminate and would report incidents of harassment. The TF was approached and agreed to be the fiduciary agent for this organized group.
In August, the Board began organizing a Braver Angels training to be held via Zoom. Linda spoke to local art teachers about the TF willingness to support Art for Human Rights initiatives—in the community in addition to our traditional Art for Human Rights program in the schools.
Toward the end of the summer, prior to the election, “People’s Rights” groups began to show up in our region. One of these groups held a protest at the Library, seeking to enter without wearing masks. The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, in collaboration with the Montana Human Rights Network, published a long, well researched and documented piece tracing these groups to Ammon Bundy. The TF posted the link to that research on our website.
On October 24, a Braver Angels facilitated Skills Training workshop was held via Zoom with the help of Todd Crossett and Carrie Clayton as Zoom facilitators. Approximately 25 participants attended.
Prior to the election a new group in the community calling itself “Bridgers” asked for our input and support regarding a letter they were preparing to send to local law enforcement leaders. The letter stated trust in local law enforcement to keep our community safe without the intervention of local militia or other armed “assistance” from individuals, The TK voted to support, and sign on to the letter. This was then published as an “Open Letter” to the public with hundreds of people in the community signing on to it. The letter was posted on the BCHRTF website where it continues to garner signatures.
A follow up Braver Angels training with “One on One Conversations” between liberal and conservative leaning individuals was planned for Dec. 12. It has been postponed due to lack of participation at this time. The issue will be revisited.
Looking back, this has been a very full year of human rights related issues and events – despite the changes dictated by the COVID pandemic. Our membership has grown, community support has greatly increased and our Board will be strengthened by the skills, ideas and energy of our new members—plus the continued guidance and experience of our “older” members.
We look forward to a year of continued challenges – but one that we are hoping will not be fueled by fear and limited by division. We will be launching some exciting new initiatives in 2021 as well as carrying on those that have become part of our annual calendar.
We are encouraged by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., often repeated by President Obama: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
However, we must remember that history is not changed by hope alone, it takes great vigilance and effort. John Lewis said, “Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
Brenda Hammond, current President
Added Dec 19, 2020- BCHRTF Profit and Loss Statement