Following intense online debates about race on Crossfield’s community Facebook page, a Black Lives Matter (BLM) silent protest will take place in the town July 7.
According to organizer Candace Bergner, the event will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. across from the Shell gas station.
"The only people who will be speaking are people we've asked to come and join us [to talk] about their personal experiences,” Bergner said. “The rest of us will just be standing silently with our posters for the duration of the event. It’s to signify that people of colour's voices have been silenced for so long and no one is listening. Now, it's time for us to listen, shut up and let their voices be heard.”
Speakers will include a local child who has experienced being called racial slurs; Sarah-Lee Batchelder, a member of the Cree First Nation whose grandmother spent time in residential schools; and Anthony Eshiemomoh, an Airdrie resident who spoke at that city's BLM rally June 3.
Race and the BLM movement have been at the centre of online debate in Crossfield recently, after Bergner posted a question on the Crossfield Community Forum Facebook page June 7 asking if anyone would be interested in attending a local BLM event.
"I thought we lived in a pretty friendly town," she said "After watching what happened in Innisfail and everywhere else in the world, I was curious, so I posted it as a theoretical question. I wasn't actually planning on doing one. The responses that I got are what made me say, 'This is needed.'"
The Town’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Ken Bosman, was among those who responded to Bergner's post. In a lengthy reply, Bosman criticized elements of the BLM movement. His comments and the subsequent fallout among Town council members and administration resulted in the resignation of two councillors and spurred an internal review within the municipality.
Bergner said her post garnered both positive and negative responses on the topic of race, which she said reinforced her belief a BLM event should be held in Crossfield.
"It just really disappointed me and I guess I was naive in thinking it didn't happen here,” she said, adding comments ranged from people denying racism existed in the town to complaints that a protest would be held while high school graduation celebrations were cancelled due to COVID-19.
“Of course, [we also got] the "All lives matter" and ‘If they weren't behaving like criminals, they wouldn't get shot' – just disgusting comments," she said.
Others, meanwhile, sent Bergner messages of support.
"I had people private-message me saying, 'I support you so much – keep going. I just can't support you publicly because of the backlash,'" she said.
Given these recent events, Bergner said she feels it’s important to hold an event showing support for BLM. As of June 24, roughly 100 people have expressed interest in attending, she said, and she hopes more will decide to come.
"If we can change even just my little town, or a handful of people's opinion, then it's worth it," she said. “I'm hoping people in town will join us once they see it's not about pointing fingers and being angry – it's about listening and learning."
Due to ongoing concerns about the coronavirus, Bergner said anyone attending the demonstration is strongly encouraged to wear a mask, and a few dozen will be on hand for those who do not bring their own. Hand sanitizer will also be available and markings will be drawn on the sidewalk every two metres so attendees can socially distance.