Does Poulsbo Stand Against Discrimination?
Updated: Jan 18
Inside the main door at Poulsbo’s City Hall, a proclamation signed in October 2003 by then-mayor Donna Jean Bruce and enshrined behind glass, reads in part:
“WHEREAS the city of Poulsbo has many diverse cultures and ethnic groups…
WHEREAS acts of hate … underscore the need for vigorous opposition by the entire community to hatred, harassment, and discrimination …
I, Donna Jean Bruce, Mayor of the City of Poulsbo, do hereby proclaim Poulsbo a community that will seek every means to achieve a violence-free and discrimination-free community and protect, honor and promote human rights; and furthermore, I urge the citizens of Poulsbo to pledge individual responsibility and action to TAKE A STAND AGAINST HATE and to SPEAK OUT against those who commit acts of hate… The city encourages all segments of the community, including schools, religious organizations, social service agencies, businesses, community groups and individuals, to actively oppose and speak out against racism, prejudice, discrimination and malicious harassment.”
The City’s proclamation came as a response to the planned visit of Fred Phelps, the violently anti-gay pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps said he’d be coming to Poulsbo to picket the Jewel Box Theater’s showing of a play about the hate killing of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man. Phelps never showed up, because North Kitsap’s citizenry rose up and protested against his anti-gay rhetoric. Said one person at the protest: “Gandhi said it’s as much our moral obligation to not cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.”
It’s as much our moral obligation to not cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.
In August 2021, Poulsbo’s Gateway Fellowship Church brought Joseph Backholm, a virulently anti-LGBTQ pundit, to speak about the supposed evils of critical race theory. (Backholm had also spoken at Gateway in 2012 in opposition to same-sex marriage.) The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Family Research Council, in which Backholm is active, as a hate group. Diana Frazier, a former worship leader at Gateway, called Backholm’s visit “really bizarre and awful for a church to bring to our community.” Eighteen years after Mayor Bruce’s proclamation, concerned citizens again picketed, but this time it was without participation by, or even a statement from, the City.
Dr. King famously said that “the the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Poulsbo, how’s your arc doing?
We hate to sound like a broken record in challenging our city leaders to speak out for social justice. Every City Council meeting opens with the reading of a pledge: “Poulsbo is committed to being a welcoming, diverse, and equitable community…. During its meetings the Poulsbo City Council will use this lens of inclusivity to view its discussions and actions.” We have consistently urged the Council to walk its talk and to focus that lens more sharply.
Current demographics: Poulsbo is over 85% white, 6% mixed-race, 3.4% Asian, 1% Black (which means about 120 Black people), and 0% Native American. Could the City be faltering in its goal of welcoming a diverse community? How might nonwhite people feel unwelcome?
City officials and representatives of the Suquamish Tribe met last spring in an effort to heal the wounds caused by the Poulsbo police’s killing of Stonechild Chiefstick, a Native man, at the July 3 fireworks in 2019. While Poulsbo’s leaders seem to have come away from the meeting satisfied, the Suquamish insisted politely that much work remains to be done. We applaud the council’s quick response to community input to have Native art in the Johnson roundabout. But what about downtown Poulsbo, where so much attention is paid to the welcoming experience for residents and tourists? Where there had been talk about a beautiful, permanent monument to the tribal presence on the land, perhaps finally including a memorial for Stonechild Chiefstick, that’s gone from the agenda now. “Poulsbo isn’t ready,” says our current mayor. We disagree. There are many in Poulsbo and our larger community who hunger for healing, a feeling of safety, seeking true reconciliation with the Tribes, and renewed evidence that Poulsbo is a community that will stand up against hate in 2022 as it did nearly twenty years ago.
Another thing PfA continues to hammer on about is GARE, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. In 2021 the City signed up. GARE’s rich resources help municipalities see which of their practices and policies stand in the way of achieving diversity and equity, and can guide those municipalities through positive change. But Poulsbo has done precious little to actually activate GARE’s resources for city officials and staff.
Nor has the City considered reinstating an empowered citizens’ advisory group on diversity and inclusion.
The past year has witnessed racist and anti-gay ugliness, active militias and hatemongers in Kitsap, against the backdrop of alarming rise in such manifestations of hate throughout the US. Remember the signs posted around Poulsbo sporting hypodermic needles arranged in the form of swastikas? (We’re not sure what their point was, but they should offend Jews, all people concerned for human rights, and advocates for Covid vaccination.) Not a peep from the City Council or the mayor.
And in this election season, a number of candidates in Kitsap are loudly speaking out against diversity, inclusion, and equity, as if family values and liberty stand in opposition to these fundamentally American ideals. We say they are one and the same!
A gathering storm of hate and division is sickening our community and our nation. The problems here cover a wide range. Perhaps people of color, gay and transgender people, LatinX and Asian people, and other groups don’t move to Poulsbo because they don’t feel welcome here. (Economic barriers play a role as well, a topic Poulsbo for All addressed in our newsletter and on our website following last year’s report on development and demographics by the city’s Planning Director.) Native American colleagues have told us that they do not feel safe in Poulsbo because our city’s leaders have not fully dealt with historical and current traumas they have experienced. The City remains quiet about messages of hate occurring in schools and out on the roads. The mayor has told us that the population is divided, and so nothing should be said. Again, we disagree - not addressing the issues and remaining silent is not the way to heal our communities.
If Donna Jean Bruce could stand up in 2003, why can’t Mayor Erickson in 2022 (now 2023), to actively promote diversity and justice?
What can you do?
First and foremost, get informed and VOTE in November! Learn about the candidates for school boards, the State Senate and House, and other public offices, because their views have direct consequences for you and your family. Look past the American flags in the campaign ads and consider what these candidates advocate for our schools, towns, and county. Discuss with neighbors, friends, and relatives, and encourage them not to waste their votes.
Attend City Council meetings, either in person or live-streaming. Check on the “diversity lens” through which your Poulsbo government purports to consider issues. Write emails to them—the Mayor at firstname.lastname@example.org and the City Council at email@example.com.
Join Poulsbo for All at poulsboforall.com and/or follow us on
Facebook, for discussions, information, and action. We hope to see you there!