Organizers of a new Unity Sunday event in Vancouver appeared fed up with the divisive rhetoric coming from a certain candidate for U.S. president.
“I’ve been concerned about the things I see in the national dialogue,” said Nick Ande, who helped put the event together. He referenced national conversations about building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and talk of large-scale deportations of people who live in the U.S. illegally — two ideas championed by Republican candidate Donald Trump.
“For me, that’s really concerning,” Ande said. “One thing we can do is show that we’re better than that.”
Elected officials, political candidates and minority leaders were among the more than 40 people who gathered for a potluck and speeches Sunday afternoon at Leroy Haagen Memorial Park to try to do just that. As they shared a meal in the rain underneath a covered picnic area, community leaders passed around the microphone, calling for unity and an acceptance of each other’s differences.
Salah Ansary, an immigrant from Afghanistan, shared his experience as a refugee in the U.S., and his concerns with how refugees today are being perceived as a threat. Earlier this campaign season, presidential candidates debated whether it was safe to allow refugees from Syria into the U.S. and whether doing so would allow terrorists into the country.
“Today, refugees are being (used as) a scapegoat for many, many other problems in the world,” said Ansary, who works to resettle refugees locally through Lutheran Community Services Northwest.
Diana Perez, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, also brought up the hateful tone that the presidential debate has taken at times.
“We’ve been inundated with hate speech, with hate rhetoric, with discrimination, with fear — don’t you think that’s enough?” Perez said. “Together, in unity, we can make a difference.”
Speakers pointed out the diversity in Vancouver and Clark County, as seen in their immigrants from Latin America and Eastern Europe, and several religious and cultural minority groups. Unifying these groups would go a long way in standing up against divisiveness, some speakers said.
“We all are one race — that’s the human race,” Unity Family Church Pastor Curtis Kimbrough said.
Unity Sunday drew a number of elected officials, including Clark County Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference; state Reps. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie, both Vancouver Democrats; Vancouver City Councilor Anne McEnerny-Ogle; and Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant. Washougal Mayor Sean Guard and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt threw their support behind the event but were unable to attend, Ande said.
Ande organized the event with former state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, who is running this year for state Senate. Ande is Probst’s campaign manager.
Probst and others said they’d like to turn Unity Sunday into an annual tradition that draws a larger crowd.
“All races and all religions and all cultures are loved and welcomed and valued here in Clark County,” Probst said. “Our national rhetoric is getting a little out of hand right now. Any time we hear any minority group called out and scapegoated and threatened, we have to stand up and say, ‘No, that is not right. We don’t accept that.’ “