In a victory for working-class unity against racism and all forms of bigotry, as many as 150 people turned out on June 19, Junteenth, in Sequim, a rural town with a population of 7,000, to call for a boycott of local restaurant Blondie’s Plate. The protest was organized by Sequim Protests Against Racism Etc. and the Party for Socialism and Liberation – Olympic Peninsula. In contrast to the image the Mayor of Sequim has projected of the town as being full of racists and bigots, the vast majority of the cars that drove by honked and waved in solidarity with the demand to “Shut down racism and white supremacy.”
Triggering the protest, a social media post by an immigrant family had called out their harassment by some of Blondie’s Plate employees, a restaurant owned by Josh Armstrong. This was the final straw in Sequim, as many community members had already become fed up with Armstrong’s militant racism, not to mention numerous incidents of unwanted sexual advances made towards women employees.
Former Blondie’s workers, including former Chef Carlos Osorio and many community members sick of Armstrong’s unapologetically bigoted behavior, called for a boycott and protest in the spirit of Juneteenth and the ongoing struggle against racism and all forms of oppression. The protest became the talk of the town as a Liberation News article calling for the protest went viral.
In the days leading up to the June 19 protest and speakout, Armstrong and some of his employees tried to go on the offensive to claim that the triggering incident was “just a conflict over a parking space” and that a video they had of the parking lot incident would prove that the Liberation News story was incorrect. Calls were made to the editor of Liberation News, but when challenged to produce the video, the employee refused. Later, a video was sent to former Blondie’s chef Osorio; this video only showed part of the incident and failed to disprove the victimized family’s narrative which had been verified by eyewitnesses. Osorio has since obtained an additional version of the video that shows the harassers expressing racist, anti-immigrant views and bystanders calling them out.
In any event, as Osorio said at the rally, the incident in the parking lot was only the latest outrage committed by Armstrong and was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” All over social media, people began sharing screen shots and posting proof of Armstrong’s gross behavior. From racist comments about Asians to extremely sexist ones, these posts enraged and inspired this community to speak up and say out loud that they have had enough.
Organizers had originally planned to march to Blondie’s from the gathering point, a distance of about one city block, for a picket and speakout. However, by the morning of June 19, rumors were circulating that the restaurant was going to be closed that night. Organizers called the restaurant at opening time to see if it was accepting reservations and were told it was closed “for a private event.” This was a clear victory for a community sick and tired of this behavior; no longer will this go unchecked in Sequim. After announcing that Blondie’s was closed to the public, the demonstrators rejoiced and decided to stay put and not march.
The rally featured several former Blondie’s workers who bravely shared their testimony about the racist and sexist working conditions at the restaurant after Armstrong took over the ownership. One of the speakers was the daughter of the former owner of Blondie’s who gave an emotional talk with tears in her eyes about how the restaurant, once a place she and others were proud to work in and the community loved, was reduced to a place where she would be sexually harrassed and not be protected by her employers. After telling manager Claire Tulevech about the unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior, she was called a sexist slur for complaining and like a previous employee that quit due to unwanted sexual advances, she too would be a “p—y” for quitting.
This is much bigger than Armstrong and Blondie’s Plate. Other community members also got on the bullhorn to express incidents of racism and xenophobia that happened to them in Sequim. Since last year’s Movement for Black Lives sprang up across the United States, the community of Sequim has had record protests in support of BLM with two ranging from 350 to 400 people. After these demonstrations, Sequim’s Mayor William Armacost and some city council members began to question whether the Movement for Black Lives was even something that needed to be addressed in this town.
The community, appalled at this response, began to work with a diverse group of city staff and community members to have community-led conversations on Race, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. This conversation culminated in two public-facing workshops where hundreds of community members showed up and shared many stories of feeling marginalized and unheard in their town. They also shared many possible solutions to begin addressing these issues, the most important being to continue these community-led conversations for the long term.
On the Monday after the Blondie’s Plate parking lot incident, Sequim’s city council, including the mayor, voted to not approve the renewal of membership to the GARE partnership at a cost of $1,000, saying that this work can continue without the city’s official involvement as he feels it’s not even really needed. According to the Peninsula Daily News, Councilman Larkin felt that the city already went through the conversation process and no longer needed GARE’s support. Some reactionary community members have accused GARE of being a Marxist organization indoctrinating Sequim with Critical Race Theory via the conversations. The current predominantly conservative city council gained their seats running an unopposed campaign. At the June 19 rally, speakers reminded the crowd to be active in their local elections and to take back the city council with anti-racist candidates.
Small towns like Sequim are struggling for justice in the ballot boxes and in the streets. Although proud racists exist across the United States, we are starting to see that in even small rural towns, working-class people are joining together to fight white supremacy in the struggle for equality and social justice.