WELLFLEET — About 100 people marched from the pier to the First Congregational Church in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Sept. 20. The crowd on Sunday was a little smaller than at previous Wellfleet marches, held May 31 and July 4, but not by much. Four months after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protesters were still energized, and signs and speeches expressed anger, frustration, and demands for reform.
The march and rally that followed were organized by Janae Tompkins, Sam Giamatti, Teddy Ment, and Sara Blandford. Tompkins had attended the May and July events as a protester, but Blandford, her neighbor, suggested she should get even more involved.
“I liked the fact that there were protests more locally,” said Tompkins, who lives in Wellfleet and is a junior at Nauset Regional High School. “I originally wanted to go to the ones in Boston, but my parents didn’t want me to go because they saw all of the crazy things that were happening in other cities.”
Tompkins said she thinks it’s important to acknowledge that racism exists in smaller towns. “I feel like it doesn’t go as noticed as racism and police brutality in cities,” she said.
With protesters arriving on foot from the Wellfleet pier, speakers addressed the crowd in the field behind the Congregational Church. Many were young Cape Cod activists and people of color. Blandford said she thought the crowd was younger than at previous events.
Karleena Corey, a leader of Cape Cod Voices, a community organization created to combat institutionalized racism and highlight the challenges facing marginalized people on the Cape, according to the group’s website, spoke of white “allyship,” and knowing when to take a step back and listen. But she also implored the crowd to call out casual racism.
“Say something,” said Corey. “Make them uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable.”
Spencer Milagros, 16, spoke about his experience of racism on Cape Cod, saying that when he moved here from Brooklyn, it was like a “culture shock.” Other speakers were Tara Vargas Wallace, founder of Amplify P.O.C. Cape Cod, which seeks to promote equity by bringing attention to businesses owned by people of color on the Cape, and Karen Lee, of the Nauset Interfaith Association’s MLK Action Team.
State Sen. Julian Cyr’s speech touched on why he believes racism is at play in local opposition to affordable housing. He also discussed the need to change racist iconography on town and state flags and seals.
“Our inaction on housing has racist and classist ends,” said Cyr. “Because our communities have turned a blind eye to addressing wastewater, and have put up barriers time and again to building affordable housing, we have turned a blind eye to the places that folks are living.
“I can’t do anything about this as your state senator on Beacon Hill,” continued Cyr. “These are local decisions. It’s before your planning board, your zoning board of appeals, your select board.” Cyr told listeners to attend town meetings to enact positive change.
“We’ve got to accept nothing less than a paradigm shift in policing,” Cyr said. “But if we confine the change that we demand to law enforcement, we are completely missing the mark. This needs to be in our schools, our financial institutions, in how we support entrepreneurs and businesses, who we raise up and who we don’t.”
Several speeches mentioned the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg two days earlier. Corey said that, for people to say “We’re doomed” and stop fighting is an affront to women, especially black women. “May her memory be a blessing,” said Cyr, “but may it also spur us to action, with the fatigue, worry, and angst that we feel.”
Following the rally, organizers offered post cards for those present to send messages to members of the Mass. Senate committee who are negotiating a police reform bill. Sara Blandford said that 210 postcards were signed, though some people signed more than one.