In one of the largest demonstrations in Abbotsford’s history, hundreds of people protested this afternoon in the city’s historic downtown to call for an end to racism.
The demonstration, along Essendene Avenue, was peaceful and mostly featured those present waving signs towards motorists passing through the area as music blasted from a nearby speaker. Demonstrators – almost all of whom wore masks – were serenaded by large numbers of honks.
No police was present while The News was present. More than half an hour of speeches were delivered by Black and Indigenous speakers.
Fify Loewen, who briefly attended the protest with her two sons and husband, said she became emotional seeing the show of support.
Loewen, who is Black and moved to Abbotsford three years, says that “overall, my experience here has been amazing.” But she said the number of demonstrators gave her confidence that, if she did encounter trouble, there would be people standing with her.
“I know that people are like ‘Enough is enough.’ To see people standing up and saying ‘No, we will not be silent, we see you, we hear you, we’re listening,’ That was really impactful.’”
And she said she hopes they are a sign that her sons, aged five and eight, won’t face barriers just because of their skin colour.
“I want them to grow up in a world where they have access to similar justice, they have equal rights as everybody else. I don’t expect them to get a pass, but I want them to have a fighting chance just like everybody else.”
Juwa Itto said seeing thousands across the continent protest over the past week was exciting. Itto and her friend, Sarah Mills, had begun talking about racism and injustice the previous year.
“I never thought in my entire life I would get to experience such an outpour,” she said. “The world finally gets the lesson: you’re a full citizen, you can’t turn a blind eye to it. You’re forced to come face to face with reality.”
Itto and Mills, both of whom are Black, said there are also important parallels between the experiences of Black people in the United States and Indigenous people in Canada.
“Just as we’re trying to find justice for the Black community in the States, I feel we should do the same thing with our Indigenous community,” Itto said. “Because we’ve seen some of the conditions that they’re in. They’re very similar and it’s not fair to cry out for one community when in our own country we have something that’s very similar to it.”
Mills said she hoped the protests would be a catalyst for further change.
“This is how we can all come together and take a step forward.”
For Loewen, the protests are important and impactful. But she warned that they are the start, not the end, of the struggle against racism.
“I’m starting to educate myself,” she said. “To not just be a non-racist but to be an anti-racist. If we can educate ourselves so we can identify racism, we’ll be able to stop it when it happens … Now the hard work begins.”
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