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Equality for all

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | September 25, 2022 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — More than 300 people gathered at the Best Western Plus Coeur d’Alene Inn Saturday night.

They were different.

Young and old. Men and women. Black and white. Liberals and conservatives.

But they shared something in common: Standing strong, together, for equality.

“There is a struggle between those who want to deny some people their rights, and those individuals who want to support dignity for all people, inclusion and diversity,” said Tony Stewart, master of ceremonies for the banquet hosted by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.

The event was back after being canceled the past two years due to COVID-19.

Stewart, secretary of KCTFHR, was pleased with the turnout and noted that many of the sponsored tables have been there all 23 years the banquet has been held.

“They’re all here to promote the dignity of all people,” Stewart said.

While he believes they are winning the battle, Stewart said the “struggle for the soul of our people,” is far from over. Still, he was confident in the outcome as long as people remain vigilant and opposed to racism and intolerance.

“We’re on the side of democracy, we’re on the side of equality for everyone,” he said.

Mike Gridley, who retired earlier this year after 20 years as attorney for the city of Coeur d'Alene, received the KCTFHR Bill Wassmuth Memorial Volunteer-of-the-Year Award.

Gridley has long been involved in the rights fight and was a leader in the task force’s recent North Idaho Rejects Hate campaign that saw about 2,000 shirts and posters distributed.

He said the movement was an effort to make it clear what North Idaho stands for in light of the June 11 incident when 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene on misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to riot. They were reportedly on their way to disrupt a Pride in the Park event at City Park.

Gridley said he felt undeserving of the award. He pointed to people seated in the room and cited their accomplishments.

“I’m overwhelmed because there are so many people before me who have done so much good work,” he said.

Gridley is convinced the majority of people in North Idaho are "tolerant, accepting, loving.”

The only problem, he said, is they tend to be “the silent majority.”

The Reject Hate campaign gave them a visible way to express their feelings, Gridley said, adding it's necessary to speak up for equality.

“The bullies, the extremists, they’re out there being loud,” he said.

Rather than look for a fight, though, Gridley said common ground is the goal.

Police Chief Lee White received the 2022 KCTFHR Civil Rights Award for his coordination of law enforcement agencies on June 11.

White declined to take any credit, and said the award was not for him, but for the police department and the community.

He said the arrests of the Patriot Front members that day started with a concerned citizen.

"The community really rallied behind the law enforcement who had to do their job,” he said.

The event included the premier of the documentary, "What Are Idaho’s True Values: This Is Who We Are” produced by Jeff and Susan Crowe of Bunkhouse Media and funded by a Coeur d’Alene Tribe grant.

Stewart said it shares the stories of individuals who faced discrimination and tells of the cultural values that depict the real Idaho.

“It’s very powerful,” he said.

photo

BILL BULEY/Press

Tony Stewart, secretary of the Kootenai County Task Force On Human Relations, is joined by Peter Soderberg as he looks on during the organization's annual banquet at the Best Western Plus Coeur d'Alene Inn on Saturday.

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