A historical showdown took place in Pinedale on Thursday evening when a group of more than 100 protesters gathered at the corner of Pine Street and Fremont Avenue.
The individuals on the south side of Pine Street were there to hold a vigil for George Floyd, the man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police last month, and to protest as allies of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some of their signs read: “The equality state needs more equality,” “Small town ally” and “White silence is violence.”
The march’s organizer, Jamie Rellstab, 20, a Pinedale native and University of Denver student, wrote down the names of other people of color who have been killed by police and taped them to nearby benches and trees.
The peaceful protest was one of the largest to ever happen in Pinedale, a town of about 1,800 people.
“This makes me so happy,” Rellstab said. “The other marches in Pinedale have had 30 or 40 people, so this turnout is awesome, and I’ve talked to people from Jackson and Big Piney and San Antonio, even. I love that people came out from not just Pinedale but from everywhere.”
A counterprotest formed on the north side of Pine Street. Imagine a standoff in a Western film, but with Black Lives Matter protesters aiming their signs north and a group of about 10 men with assault rifles strapped to their chests and an “All lives matter” sign pointing south. The only thing between them was a steady flow of traffic going by, cars occasionally honking for one side or the other.
Bang Johnson, 59, a Pinedale native with a pistol strapped on his side, said the counterprotest was there to “keep the peace.”
He referenced property destruction that has occurred in urban areas during protests since Floyd’s death.
“Rural America ain’t violent,” Johnson said. “Private individuals have the right to defend personal property.”
The Pinedale protest wasn’t violent, but Rellstab, the organizer, said that when she invited people to attend via Facebook, she did receive threats of violence.
“I made a Facebook post on our town’s ‘for sale’ site,” she said. “It blew up, and not very positively. But it did spread the word really well. So actually … shout-out to all the haters, because they got most of the people here.”
Most protesters, a large number of them from Jackson and Pinedale, stood silently on the lawn near the Sublette County Courthouse.
Pinedale resident Megan Anspach, 18, held a sign that read “Small town ally.”
“In a small town like this, people overlook things that happen in more urban areas,” she said. “We are isolated. I think it’s important that small towns come together and say, ‘Hey, we are allies for the minorities and people of color. ... We see these issues in bigger cities and we care about them. We want people to feel comfortable and safe here too.’”
The Sublette County Sheriff’s Office had a small presence at the protest, but mainly stayed a few blocks away, peering at the action through binoculars.
Protesters stuck around until sundown Thursday, cheering and high-fiving at the turnout and the peaceful demonstration.
“Change can happen anywhere,” Rellstab said. “Even if you don’t see with your own eyes that there are systems of oppression, they are there. And they need to be known, learned and recognized so that change can happen.”