Rep. Vicki Kraft hosts ReOpen Washington Rally in Olympia

Rally was a platform for citizens to voice their concerns

Roughly 200 citizens gathered on the steps of the state capitol Saturday, seeking to get Gov. Jay Inslee and the legislature to reopen the state. Many Clark County residents made the trip to Olympia to participate in the event, hear from their fellow citizens and to fight for freedom.

Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District) decided to host the event after hearing a group of 50-70 restaurant and bar owners talk about how devastating the latest lockdown will be for their businesses. She knew there were many other business owners facing similar hardships if restrictions aren’t reduced or lifted altogether.

Held on the steps of the state capitol, all but two speakers were private citizens and business owners. Kraft said she wanted a peaceful, respectful rally, that is a platform for citizens to voice their concerns.

Citizens shared stories of financial hardships, not on themselves but their employees who were no longer employed, or who were no longer making financial ends meet. They told stories about the hardships on family and friends, and the emotional toll being imposed. 

Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District) addresses the crowd at the Reopen Washington rally at the state capitol on Saturday. The rally provided citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns and petition their government to reopen Washington. Photo by John Ley
Rep. Vicki Kraft (17th District) addresses the crowd at the Reopen Washington rally at the state capitol on Saturday. The rally provided citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns and petition their government to reopen Washington. Photo by John Ley

Among the compelling speakers was a mom with three children. She shared that her two youngest children were suicidal, due to the lockdown and their inability to be with friends and socialize. She has had to take both to professional counselors to protect both children. Furthermore, her oldest child had been an A/B student prior to the lockdown. That child is now failing multiple classes, as the online teaching is not working for her.

Another citizen shared that in her town there were more suicides than there were COVID-19 cases. She asked the governor to stop ignoring the other health problems his lockdown was causing.

The event kicked off with citizens saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and Vancouver Police Department veteran Rey Reynolds’ booming voice singing America the Beautiful. Reynolds later sang The Star Spangled Banner. The audience enthusiastically joined in the singing of both songs.

Kraft reminded citizens “this is the people’s house. It’s really your right to petition the government. You are the boss.” She read from both the U.S. Constitution and the Washington State Constitution. “The right of petition and other people peaceably to assemble for the common good, shall never be abridged,” states the Washington State Constitution.

“We’re talking about having freedoms taken away, livelihoods being taken away,” said Kraft. “Students I’ve talked to who feel like their school years are being taken away. Part of their life they’ll never get back as a teenager, or as a young person.”

Kraft shared that she recently heard about six or seven young girls and two young boys who have taken their lives recently, in the Puget Sound area. “Because of the lockdowns, they’re stressed,” she said. “Their future looks really bleak or challenging at best. That should not be happening.”

Maria Brauner is the coach of the Puyallup Jr. Volleyball Club and the Washington State Sports Alliance, which has over 70 indoor sports facilities. She asked people to stand up for what is right and what is fair. “Our voices are not being heard,” she continued. “Sports is a healthy physical and mental outlet for many of our children. This is their safe place. Sometimes this is their only healthy outlet.”

Brauner is asking to make youth sports be deemed “essential.” She wants to provide a healthy outlet for youth, in a safe environment, regardless of what COVID phase the state is in.

Brauner believes COVID-19 does not spread through sports in an indoor environment if precautions and safety measures are followed. Her facility has welcomed over 8,000 people since June. They have had one COVID case, which did not originate in their building. She claimed the statistic is similar throughout the entire state. 

A high school student named Isabelle spoke, asking “how long can you keep people locked up before we go crazy? We are not animals in cages.” She spoke about not having seen friends for eight months. 

There is confusion and depression among her fellow students. Online school is not working, she said. “Last school year, I finished the semester with straight A’s and now I have nothing compared to that,” she said. “This is not a good or healthy alternative for me.”

Many citizens had signs citing the Constitution, listing problems caused by the shutdown, asking to reopen schools, and to reopen businesses. Brush Prairie resident Olga Fisenko shares her photo with a fellow citizen. Photo by John Ley
Many citizens had signs citing the Constitution, listing problems caused by the shutdown, asking to reopen schools, and to reopen businesses. Brush Prairie resident Olga Fisenko shares her photo with a fellow citizen. Photo by John Ley

Isabell wants schools to open immediately. The students can wear masks and keep their safe distances. 

Pastor Rich Blum of the Bethel Community Church in Washougal addressed the crowd. He spoke of the Declaration of Independence and the unalienable rights we enjoy from our creator. He spoke of our founding fathers and the nation they created

“Thomas Jefferson addressing the Danbury Baptist, said the first amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state,” he said. “But that wall is a one-directional wall. It keeps the government from running the church.” 

Blum shared his concerns for the mental and spiritual health of people trying to endure the government-imposed lockdowns. 

“The spiritual impact ties into the emotional disillusionment, the spiraling depression, and the suicide rates we are experiencing,” he said. “We need the hope that comes through a relationship with the living Lord. That is why churches need to be open. And that is why churches are essential.”

Greg Kirkpatrick is the owner of a small business that provides music for weddings and offers karaoke for small events. He shared how music can be fun and uplifting for people, yet he has watched his business plummet since March. His business can only thrive when open events are allowed and people can gather together. He is grateful to the Veteran’s Administration for some counseling they have provided. Yet he’s concerned that the YMCA yoga classes he was attending will be shut down. 

A pastor from Gig Harbor spoke about keeping the doors to his church open. People have walked in saying “you’re open!’’

“We were made for relationships with each other,” he said and is glad to insure people can come in for much needed conversation and fellowship.

He cited our Bill of Rights including “the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. So that’s what’s going on here today.”

The pastor said he is thankful for a recent court decision. The ruling stated the state of New York and the governor do not have the authority to restrict houses of worship. “We should not be required to alter our practices of worship,” he said.

Jessica is a high school senior. “I’ve developed depression and anxiety, and just sadness about this whole entire pandemic,” she said. She was trying to get an athletic scholarship for college. That opportunity was taken away from her this year because she couldn’t compete under the rules of the lockdown. 

“School is my favorite thing. I never knew it was until I couldn’t go there anymore,” she said. Jessica shared she had a 3.0 GPA prior to the lockdown. But the online learning isn’t working for her. She said she’s failing and has lost motivation.

A Thurston County bar owner spoke on behalf of micro brewery owners. He shared that he was not allowed to mention people’s names or the names of their businesses, because there is fear of retaliation. He spoke of tyranny rather than freedoms.

Rep. Robert Sutherland (39th District) was one of six legislators who attended to listen to the concerns of the people. He was the only other legislator to address the crowd and thanked people for showing up. 

“Without you, none of this is possible,” he said. “We want our voices to be heard. Tired of the lockdown? We’re tired of our kids not being able to go to school. We’re tired of the king telling us what to do with our lives.”

David Kim is a Korean American pastor who shared we need to be concerned about all aspects of people’s health. 

“Every aspect of spiritual health, mental health, emotional health, physical health, it’s all interconnected,” he said. He shared how our churches can help small communities to be more healthy, which in turn helps our cities be more healthy. 

“We need to gather,” he said. “We need to rise up not in a spirit of rebellion, but its spirit of power and grace and love. The church is absolutely essential for the community and the people to thrive.”

A Vietnam veteran spoke, concerned for the emotional health of his grandchildren He praised the young people in the audience. He thanked them for standing up for what is right, and telling them to “keep it up.” 

This girls volleyball team joined the Reopen Washington rally hoping to get indoor sports to be permitted. Photo by John Ley
This girls volleyball team joined the Reopen Washington rally hoping to get indoor sports to be permitted. Photo by John Ley

A restaurant owner from Renton spoke, sharing how challenging it’s been. They have had to sell a rental house to raise cash. They’ve had to lay off employees, striving to keep a handful employed. 

One of her employees had emigrated from Guatemala many years ago. He now has a wife and two children. A year ago he had made $50,000. This year he’s only made $9,000 and has had to spend the money they had saved for a downpayment on a home.  She begged for the state to be reopened for business.

The owner of a yoga studio spoke on behalf of fellow yoga studios. She shared that yoga is healthy, gyms are healthy. 

“If this whole shutdown was about our health, they would not close down yoga studios and not close down gyms,” she said. “They’re the cleanest places and nothing has been traced back to any gyms or yoga studios in Washington, Oregon, or California.”

In the audience were many people carrying signs. “Let us play youth sports” read one for a group of girl volleyball players from Puyallup, and the Washington Sports Alliance. Another sign reminded people “Dr. Fauci: keep schools open. Gov. Inslee: keeps schools closed.” Others cited the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees. 

“All jobs are essential! Stop destroying small businesses!” read another sign. “Fauci says open schools” was carried by a concerned mom. There were many signs calling to reopen schools. One lady was dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. 

Dawn Seaver and Jennifer Heine-Withee drove from Clark County. 

“I went to the rally because we’re losing our freedoms,” said Seaver. “Our children are suffering, and the country is becoming unrecognizable. Our country was never intended to be a place where a governor could unilaterally decide who can work and who can’t, or determine where we can shop and eat. The virus is serious and dangerous for some people. But with a 99.8 percent survival rate, this response and fear-mongering is pure overreach.

“The group I was with ate at Spiffy’s on the way back and it was so nice to be in a place where life felt normal for a little while,” she said.  “I hope and pray more people will stand up and say “enough!”  We’re a country of freedom and personal responsibility and it’s time to get back to it.”

Two other Clark County residents, Denny Anderson and George Hacker, said they stopped at Spiffy’s in Mossyrock on the way to the rally. This restaurant’s owner and the Mossyrock city officials have said “no” to the lockdown. The Mossyrock City Council recently passed a resolution allowing businesses to remain open during the shutdown.

During her address to those gathered at Saturday’s rally, Kraft quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, offering hope and inspiration.

“This is our hope. With this faith, we will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together. Knowing that we will be free one day. 

From every mountainside, let freedom ring. And when this happens when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village, in every hamlet, from every state, from every state, every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, Free at last, Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”