On July 17, Jo Banks marked her 36th day of driving with her family and neighbors down from the Boise Bench neighborhood to the Idaho State Capitol to put up signs promoting the Black Lives Matter movement, respect, love and equality in Idaho.
Banks said after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on March 25, her neighbor of 37 years, Gary Multanen, came over to her house and talked with her and her husband Vernon about showing support for BLM. Consequently, the group of neighbors decided to print signs and take them down to the Capitol—not as a protest, but more as a reminder of democratic values. They’re all seniors and want people to know that, perhaps, contrary to popular belief, old white people in Idaho care about the pressing issues of the day.
Boise Weekly sat down with Banks to learn the how and why behind their daily demonstrations.
Banks is white, her husband Vernon is Black, and they’ve raised their multi-racial family in Idaho. She said they come every day, rain or shine, to the capitol from noon-1 p.m. They hope more people will join. Attendance ranges from five to 31 people. They plan on continuing until the November election, and Banks said you don’t have to be a senior or a neighbor to come down and show support.
BW: Why are you conducting this vigil?
JB: Read our signs: "Silence is complicity" is one of my favorites. My neighbor Gary came over and said to my husband, “Let’s do something.” My husband, like a lot of Black people that live here, has always wanted to fly under the radar. He’s ignored and endured the jokes and snubs without ever sinking down to their level. People say racism doesn’t exist in Idaho but my husband and daughter live it. For example, he used to have a job where he had to drive through Garden City every day and he was pulled over all the time, to the point that to this day he won’t drive through Garden City.
We’re asking the world to recognize that this is a wonderful place but we have so much work to do so that everyone has the same rights.
BW: What kind of response are you getting?
JB: Well, we started on the other side of the capitol but at the time a lot of other people were showing up with guns, and we didn’t feel safe so we moved around to the back. We are here, quietly but emphatically saying we care. Some people yell at us to get a job and I say, “Look at us, we’re all retired!” Vernon just sits there waiving his flag, but someone spit at my sister.
We get honks and we get ignored, but we also get the middle finger and people saying "F you" and thumbs-down. A lot of people just look straight ahead and ignore us. Isn’t it sad? Perhaps because we grew up in a relatively idyllic place and we were taught to respect everyone, we thought that’s what everybody did, but when we got out here we realized that’s not how everyone is.
BW: Did you and your husband grow up together?
JB: Vernon and I grew up together in Nebraska and we’ve known each other since kindergarten. He gave me a bracelet in the sixth grade. I still have and we were friends our whole life. My family moved to Idaho in the '60s; Vernon moved around on his own, but we would both come back to visit family in the summer and on holidays. Then at our 10-year high school reunion, we were the only two single people there and the rest is history.
We’ve been married over 40 years now, but I want to add that when we were married it was still illegal in the South and we couldn’t even visit my sister there. That’s something to think about, that interracial marriage was still illegal in my lifetime.
BW: What would you like to tell people who may support these ideals but aren’t being active?
JB: Again, as one of our signs says, silence is complicity and people have to speak up. I was raised to be respectful to the point that when someone else walks into the room with you, you think about them as well. We all live here together. It makes me so sad with how people are treating each other, and the awful hateful things they say on social media and in real life. It breaks my heart. You musn’t spew hatred. Yesterday I got a lot of thumbs-down and mean looks from people driving by so I started to sing “you’ve gotta have heart and you’ve gotta have hope.” Hope is important: You can’t get defeated. Hopefully we can make it 'til November and keep spreading the message.