By Darren Liepold
It started out as a request by a young woman on Facebook: ‘Maybe Innisfail could host a rally in support of Black Lives Matter.’ This post attracted a few trolls. The young woman, in the midst of such opposition, decided to cancel the march. She told the media that the event was cancelled due to racist reactions in Innisfail. The local mayor was interviewed by the Calgary Herald and said there was no racism here. These stories made the headlines of the Calgary Herald on Monday, June 8th.
By Tuesday, June 9, the situation had changed. Several people reached out to the young woman to offer their support. These included the Red Deer ant-racism group, the Central Alberta anti-racism group, a local councilwoman, several local businesses, concerned citizens and members of Innisfail United Church. A new anti-racism event was planned for June 13th. The local town council held an emergency meeting and gave its full support to the rally. The mayor offered a sheepish apology.
Opposition to the event also galvanized. The Sons of Odin, a neo-nazi right-wing extremist group, promised trouble. Some folks in Innisfail feared looting would happen as has occurred in the US. Some folks felt that they had been wrongly tarred as racists.
The event quickly came together for Saturday, June 13. At least 500 people attended the rally. Representatives of the Indigenous, Black, and Muslim communities spoke of the difficulties that they faced each and every day of their lives. There was the occasional heckling from a few members of extremist groups but for the most part, the crowd was peaceful and listened appreciatively. At the end of the rally two Sons of Odin tried to drown out chants of Black Lives Matter with their motorcycles but peace prevailed.
The event revealed many things. Racism is in Innisfail and it is everywhere. All of us need to think of ways we need to unlearn past ways and actions and actively listen as we forge new paths together. The rally here in town was not the end of the story. Town council plans to hold a series of workshops dealing with anti-racism, sensitivity training, and community building. The near-dead dream of a young woman may have birthed new awareness even in a town in the heartland.
Rev. Darren Liepold is Ministry Personnel at Innisfail (AB) United Church.
By Darren Liepold