“The history of movements for racial equality in rural America has been overlooked. When people think of the rural West, especially, they tend to think of white communities,” said Steven Beda, a University of Oregon professor who researches rural protest movements. “Many communities of color have long and important histories in these rural communities.”
In Medford and Grants Pass — which Beda described as smaller rural towns in Oregon — demonstrations have been held for several days with hundreds of people participating. In Medford, police helped to redirect traffic to avoid conflict during the largely peaceful protests.
Beda said demonstrations in areas not known as metropolitan melting pots show the long history of the fight by people of color for labor and civil rights in towns where minorities are sometimes an invisible but vital force of rural life.
Boise, a city of 228,000 with a minority population of 18 percent, is not new to protests. Demonstrations supporting rights for children of undocumented immigrants were held in 2017 and 2019, and an MLK Day of Greatness Rally, organized by Boise State University students and staff, draw hundreds of marchers each year. But the size and energy of the crowds at the vigil and protests since Floyd’s death are unusual.
“I know these are hard times, Boise,” Mayor Lauren McLean said ahead of the vigil and protests. “And I know we are all hurting, especially members of the black community.”
For five consecutive nights, demonstrators shouting “black lives matter,” “George Floyd,” “Breonna Taylor,” and “F—Donald Trump,” were met with counter-protesters who open carried, held flags and chanted “Donald Trump,” “blue lives matter” and “Trump, Trump, Trump.” On Tuesday, Idaho State Police and Boise Police in riot gear along with more than 50 other law enforcement officers formed human barricades between the groups. No arrests were made Tuesday night.
One person was taken into custody on Monday after shots were fired near the protest and an arrest was made Wednesday in connection with graffiti on the capitol building.
The protest “speaks to the solidarity displayed across this country in calling out systemic racism that has been prevalent for decades upon decades,” Tiffany Loftin, national director of the Youth & College Division of the NAACP, told POLITICO. “No matter how small the community, that’s incredibly powerful.”
The spillover of these movements is prominent in states like California. Towns like Eureka (population 27,000) and Visalia (population 133,000) are seeing the same drive to organize by hundreds as in cities with millions.
In Visalia, local police report a blue jeep carrying an American flag and a Trump flag struck two protesters after a brief tense exchange at a stoplight.