Matt Crowley/The AS Review

Editor’s note (full disclosure): The subject of this interview is the editor-in-chief’s sister.

On Saturday, Jan.15, the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, along with co-sponsors Whatcom Community College and Community to Community Development, will hold the 13th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference in their effort to “make Whatcom County a place upholding the value and dignity of all members of the human family,” according to a press release.

Beginning at 10 a.m. and lasting until 5 p.m., the conference, the theme of which is “All Together Now: Connecting the Dots for Progressive Change in Whatcom County,” will consist of keynote speakers and the introduction of the first Whatcom Social Forum. Aly Marczynski, a Western student and board member for the task force, sat down with The AS Review to talk about the conference and what the task force hopes it will achieve.

The AS Review: What would you say is different or new with this year’s conference compared to years past?

Aly Marczynski: The main thing that we’re doing differently this year is we’re kind of changing the organization of the conference into this social forum, whereas in the past we’ve had keynote speakers and workshops put on mostly by us and some of our co-sponsors. This year, we aren’t really putting on any workshops; we’ve asked organizations in the community to come forward and put together whatever they think is the best use of the time for various different “tracks.” So multiculturalism, poverty, gender issues, all those different tracks and the organizations concerned with those issues will get two hours, however they want to use it, to do whatever they want. And that’s really different, and we want the community to feel that they have more ownership over the conference.

Review: What would you say the main goals of the conference are?

Marczynski: Definitely to increase awareness of the various issues we are planning on talking about, as well as to provide a space for everyone to discuss their concerns. This year in particular, we wanted to kind of create a space for people to organize and get together to do something about the issues, rather than just talk about them.

Review: What is the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force?

Marczynski: It is a very small, grassroots organization, a non-profit. Basically we put on programs like the Martin Luther King Jr. Conference, we bring in speakers, we do International Human Rights Day. So we host events in the community to draw attention to various human rights issues. We also have the Whatcom Civil Rights Project, which is a hotline, basically, for people to call if they feel that their civil rights have been abused in any way. And then, right now we’re trying to partner with some other organizations to bring attention to what’s going on in Whatcom County in particular, rather than around the world.

Review: What issues in Whatcom County do you feel need to be addressed?

Marczynski: We kind of like to go with whatever the community is focusing on in particular. I know immigration rights right now are a hot topic, and I think that is going to be a big topic at the conference. Beyond immigration rights…in Bellingham I think gender issues are big, which includes LGBTA issues as well.

Review: How do you hope to address those issues?

Marczynski: Unfortunately right now the task force is extremely small, we don’t have a lot of money, to be blunt, and we actually don’t have any paid staff so as an organization we are very limited in what we can do. So we feel that having conferences like this is our best way to bring the community together and hope that people in the community, because there are lots of people that care, will be able to come forward and organize themselves to do something about it.

This year the conference includes the speakers Juanita Jefferson, a Lummi elder; Cindy Domingo, a long-time Filipina progressive organizer from Seattle; and Maureen Taylor, a coordinator for the U.S. Social Forum. For additional information on the conference and a schedule of events, visit www.whrtf.org.