Responding to posters advertising a 'White Lives Matter' demonstration in their own backyard, upwards of 70 demonstrators gathered outside Baden's Castle Kilbride for an anti-racism rally on Saturday morning.
Closely monitored by Waterloo Regional Police’s COVID Integrated Response Team and Wilmot bylaw, attendees enforced physical distancing and mask requirements while working to send the message that white supremacy has no place in Wilmot, or in Waterloo Region as a whole.
Speaking on behalf of the event’s organizers was Aashay Dalvi, the media relations coordinator for the anti-racism rally. Dalvi said organizers were looking to remind residents that it’s time for Wilmot to pursue anti-racism efforts, and encouraged individuals to reflect upon “oppressive racism” and challenge it wherever it might be encountered in the community.
Dalvi encouraged participants to carry the movement forward, asking attendees to email to their respective councillors and community leaders to create space for BIPOC individuals in the township.
“This is an opportunity for us to create a whole new ‘Transform Wilmot’ anti-racism strategy, that will then be embedded into the operations of the city’s administration,” said Dalvi. “We hope and aspire that this will then move forward to other townships, and other counties.”
Dalvi argued that racism has “come to the forefront” of the Township's identity, accusing Mayor Les Armstrong of pursuing white supremacy on social media, encouraging its growth by sharing of a white lives matter video on his personal Facebook page last year.
“Every time you google Wilmot and its Mayor, you only get bad coverage. Why is that? Maybe we should start questioning that,” Dalvi said.
One attendee of the rally, a local resident by the name of Deann, said she was inspired to get involved with the anti-racism event after reading more on the coverage of the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Baden – as well as the past actions of Mayor Armstrong.
Living in the township for just over a year, Deann said she wants to live in an “inclusive community that celebrates diversity,” adding that she was in attendance to make that known. Carrying her own sign denouncing white supremacy, Deann said there’s still more to be done in our region’s anti-racism work – adding she was “in disbelief” when she learned of a white lives matter rally in her community.
“Honestly, I’ve been pretty much in my house for over a year. I pretty much work from home – but for me, it was important for me to be here today because I just wanted to say that this is important. Racism is a pandemic for me. I see it, and I want to be a part of the solution to that.”
Ahead of Saturday’s rally, Wilmot Township issued two separate reminders to residents that social gatherings of any kind are prohibited under our province’s stay-at-home order – encouraging individuals to forego attending the event to instead support anti-racism from their own homes. Responding to those statements, Dalvi said she was disheartened to hear that messaging from the township – adding that organizers were not aiming to undermine public health orders.
At the event, volunteers could be seen walking the green space of Castle Kilbride, enforcing physical distancing while offering access to personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and anti-racism literature.
Organizers also offered those uncomfortable with in-person attendance the option to participate through a Facebook live stream, while a number of local dignitaries also joined the event virtually and in person to share their perspectives. The event itself did garner a noticeable amount of support online including from Kitchener-Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo and Land Back Camp organizer, Amy Smoke.
“Obviously, racism is a huge thing – I can’t even believe people are still questioning it.” said Smoke. “When Black, Indigenous, racialized folks tell white folks it’s racist… it’s racist. We need settler folks, we need white folks to come out and start calling it out; start naming it – we need to start dismantling the systems of oppression that just don’t work for us anymore on our lands.”
Throughout the day, demonstrators remained peaceful, and there was no sign of "White Lives Matter" counter-protestors. Some residents passed by on nearby Snyders Road, waving and sounding their horns in support of a small handful of demonstrators who lined the street to spread the rally’s message.
I matter. pic.twitter.com/9sZIxNIBxP— LoveWilmot (HateRacism) (@LoveWilmot) May 8, 2021