At least 200 people came out Saturday afternoon to Yelm City Park for a rally encouraging the city and its businesses to reopen as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its 10th month.
The demonstration, dubbed “Reopen Yelm Now” and organized by local conservative activists and constitutionalists, lasted about two hours with multiple speakers passing around a microphone to talk to those gathered outside the Yelm Community Center.
“We’re trying to figure out how to stage as many of these as we can … People have to stand up for their rights, what’s theirs,” said organizer Rian Ingrim, 42, an Olympia resident who ran in the August primary for Washington’s 10th Congressional District seat. “They’re not given to us by government or anybody, but by God.”
Ingrim organized the “kickoff event” alongside Yelm resident Darren Culbertson, 52, who noted he has been involved with protests at Spiffy’s restaurant in Lewis County as that business has remained open despite fines and legal action from the state.
Saturday’s event, Culbertson said, was in large part inspired by the Spiffy’s resistance, though he noted the ongoing legal battle Spiffy’s is enduring might have deterred some business leaders and a larger crowd from gathering.
“I said, ‘you know what, I’m opening Yelm,’” Culbertson said. “I got such a positive response from businesses that I wrote city council saying I was holding this event … It just happened.”
They originally wanted to hold the rally indoors at the community center, Ingrim said, but the city wouldn’t allow it.
The demonstration was also in part an effort to rally behind the Yelm City Council and mayor, who in mid-December sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to ease restrictions on businesses that were doing their part to slow the spread of the disease.
The resolution fell short of a similarly-phrased ordinance passed by the Mossyrock City Council a month prior that gave approval to all businesses in the town to open up, but council members from Yelm said they believed their letter was the right move at the right time. Mossyrock’s move wasn’t legally binding.
Yelm City Council member James Blair was the only representative from the governing body present at the Saturday rally. Blair declined an opportunity to comment on the gathering.
The rally comes as Washington state experiences a slowing in new COVID-19 cases, though hospitalizations and deaths remain high in comparison to previous months of the pandemic. Roughly 189 Washingtonians have died and 1,369 have been hospitalized since Christmas.
The week of Dec. 28 to Jan. 3, the Yelm ZIP code added 31 new diagnoses of the virus.
Speakers at the Yelm event also discussed this week’s rioting at the nation’s capitol by President Donald Trump’s supporters as Electoral College votes were being processed declaring former vice president Joe Biden as the winner of the race against Trump.
Matt Marshall, leader of the Washington Three Percenters, said he was smeared by media reports in the aftermath of the events of Washington, D.C., for his plans to hold daily demonstrations on the steps of the state Capitol building in Olympia during the upcoming remote legislative session.
The planned demonstrations were in opposition to the closure of the building to the public. Marshall and the Three Percenters say not having full access to the building is unconstitutional, but lawmakers say the public will have enough of an opportunity to participate in the upcoming session through the internet.
The demonstration’s aim was to make “the legislative session as uncomfortable as possible” and have the entrances “heavily crowded and congested” until they opened up.
They eventually cancelled their planned demonstration, Marshall said, though protests by other groups were expected to take place regardless.
Gov. Jay Inslee this week called in the Washington National Guard to keep the peace, and a fence was also installed around the Capitol building.
“While we may grieve loss of life with a virus, and the loss of an election due to fraud, we more importantly now grieve for the loss of our liberty and freedom,” Ingrim told a crowd of attendees, a number of whom were waving American, Trump and Loren Culp flags. “We will do everything in our power to keep this fight non-violent. However, when you have taken our livelihoods, and then you have stolen our vote, and now you are in the process of taking our voice, you are not leaving the American people many options. You cannot cancel us.”
Ingrim, as well as other speakers, also called for the removal of state Republicans currently in office, most notably House Minority J.T. Wilcox, a 2nd Legislative District lawmaker from Yelm.
Speakers condemned the recent blocking and removal of President Donald Trump from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The social media giants have contended their actions were in the interest of preventing further incitement of violence.
Former Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake, a Tumwater resident, was also in attendance at the event, though he didn’t speak. The one-term independent said this was the first reopening rally he’s attended.
What brought him out to Saturday’s event, he said, were his “concerns” with the liberal push in local politics — most notably, the 2-1 Democratic majority on the Board of Thurston County Commissioners.
“The far left, the middle left — it’s kind of a crazy time,” he said.
On the subject of the state-mandated restrictions due to coronavirus, Blake agreed there’s been an erosion of democracy, most concerning in the people’s practice of religion, he noted.