About Riley Sweeney

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the comfort of public service during the Trump years. Before joining the City of Ferndale as their Communication Officer, he wrote a column with Northwest Citizen and then his own blog, the Political Junkie where he brought humor, insight and a suspicious amount of pop culture references to Whatcom County political reporting. Currently, he lives with his wife Bryna and their handsome son, in the rolling fields of Lynden.

By: Riley Sweeney (130)

Masked Resistance

• Topics: Health & Home,

We are a year into this pandemic and like most traumatic moments in history, it will soon be boiled down to a single concept in our collective consciousness. In my view, there can be no better symbol than the face mask.

I remember when the pandemic broke out and I, along with every other public communicator in Whatcom, was scooped up into the emergency response. We parsed language from the CDC about face coverings and shared videos about making masks from bandanas. It seemed so straightforward at that time: an airborne illness means covering your mouth and face. Simple as that.

My mother sent my wife and me a pair of handmade masks that she had sewn from the same fabrics as the cloth napkins she made for our wedding years ago. She even included a little one sized just for my three-year-old son, Cypress. The thoughtful gesture made the grim news easier to bear. After all, we just needed to bend the curve for a little bit and things would be alright.

The weeks stretched on, and masks became a flashpoint. In my work, I began to loathe the subject. Any public communication I put out about masks was quickly bombarded by a slew of angry responses. A dizzying cocktail of pseudo-science, fear, and rage. There was no reasoning with mask objectors, no cited scientific studies or expert testimony could persuade them - their only response was an outpouring of fear and outrage. 

At first, I tried to argue, to show others who were watching that no, this wasn’t accurate. But it quickly became exhausting, and now all I do is simply restate the rules and hope that most folks follow along. 

Over the summer, I streamed “Watchmen,” a great alternate-history series on HBO, and one line stuck with me. “Why did you give me a mask?” a dying man asks his murderer. “Because masks make men cruel.” The murderer responds. As the case numbers spiked, I certainly felt cruel toward those around me.

Looking around the Lynden Safeway at the exposed noses or unmasked faces, I was filled with uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors. I struggled to keep positive about those living on my street; the ones that shared their produce when their garden went bananas, or forgivingly allowed my toddler son to wander through their yard when he discovered a new flower or pile of dirt. After all their kindness, I still found myself judging them harshly for their boisterous unmasked parties or casual disdain for social distancing.

It seemed so easy, just wear a mask! Make it fun if you can! I am always impressed when I see someone matching their mask to their outfit, a true accomplishment in a year of sweatpants and sensible sweaters. When it was time for Cypress to go to preschool, outdoors and masked of course, we took him to Joanne Fabrics and had him select a few different cloth swatches that Bryna then transformed into little masks for him to wear. 

He never complained about having to wear a mask - simply accepted that “the big sickie” was going around and it had to be done. Later, as the wet weather set in, his cheeks blossomed with rashes from wearing the wet fabric for hours on end. It broke my heart putting ointment on those soft cheeks, wishing that he had been born in another year, and hoping against hope that I have protected him from the worst of this collective trauma.

When I last visited my parents’ house, their happy Buddha statue had been transformed into a mask shrine, the smiling statue now gleefully holds their cloth masks by the door. At my house, it was much more haphazard, a loose collection in the car and in the spot that I keep our keys. With our stimulus check, we indulged and purchased a few with fancy designs (Doctor Who for me, a pentacle for Bryna) but even as a fashion accessory, they were still uncomfortable. 

I hate trying to hear what people are saying without seeing their lips, I hate the feeling of my beard trapped inside the cloth, I hate when I wear it all day at the office, and then I hate the unsettling sensation of not wearing a mask when I work at home. 

I hate that wearing a mask has become a political litmus test rather than common sense. I hate the pleading tone in the voices of my health-worker friends who are literally begging people to wear them. I hate the bitterness I feel when I come to a playground and see parents wandering around in close contact with others unmasked; I feel resentment toward them for their careless actions, and then guilt for judging them at a moment’s glance, and finally, I feel overwhelmed by the fear of spreading the virus.

Maybe it is something about hiding your face but keeping your eyes exposed. A visual barrier that impedes us from expressing anything fully. Speaking mythologically, a masked man could only be a bandit, a bank robber, or a superhero. Not great odds really and certainly not something that would inspire compassion with your fellow man. 

It has been a long year of masks, and even with the encouraging vaccination numbers, I know we will be seeing them into the summer and maybe beyond. I think the hardest part of moving on from this collective trauma will not be taking off our masks, but letting go of everything that they represent. At least, we should be able to do that emotional work together. 

Masks may make us cruel, hopefully companionship can make us kind again.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]

David A. Swanson

Mar 05, 2021

The covid-19 version of the old western saying, “They died with their boots on” can be applied to the anti-maskers,  “they died with their rights on” -  and recklessly killed others while doing so.


Lisa E. Papp

Mar 05, 2021

Here is my question…
If I mask up for others, will they take responsibility for their health and boost their immune system by eating healthfully, exercising, getting good sleep, reducing stress, and taking nutritional supplements (C, D3, K2, Zinc)?

For a high percentage of people, I would say that they are not making healthy choices. I see your shopping carts full of processed food and sugar-laden products. I’ve seen a year’s worth of social media posts of increased comfort food eating, baking, staying inside, and increased alcohol consumption.

A modeling study suggests a majority of adult COVID-19 hospitalizations are attributable to at least one of four pre-exisiting conditions: obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart failure:


From Jay Montgomery M.D. (twitter @sjacobm321):
“If Americans had paid as much attention to their own health and reversible risks like BMI, Vit D, A1C, etc for 8 mos rather than whether their neighbor wears a mask or will take the Vax, outcomes could really be different for many. But personal responsibility is an anathema.”



David A. Swanson

Mar 05, 2021

And to your list we can add taking responsbility for the proliferation of (1) assault weapons, (2) mega round ammo clips, (3) a national cult of personality, and (4)  propaganda and lies  passing for information, Maybe all of the shopping cart-pushing, Twinky-chomping, booze-guzzling, SR 47-toting, idol worshipping, and  propaganda consuming varmits will head off to the Boot Hill in Pioche, Nevada, for the final stand prior to rapture.


Michael Riordan

Mar 05, 2021

There is a veritable mountain of evidence that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus account for between 30 and 60 percent of all infectious persons. Thus a primary reason to wear a mask, other than to protect yourself, is to protect those you come into contact with — because you don’t really know whether you are a carrier unless you’ve had a recent, credible test.

So those who refuse to wear a mask in public settings, especially indoors — for example, in a grocery store — are in effect saying “f**k you” to their neighbors and fellow community members. They only care about themselves.

This is what I have called “toxic individualism” in recent posts and comments. It’s the main reason why the United States has experienced over 20 percent of the Covid-19 cases and deaths despite having only about 4 percent of the world’s population.

And it’s indeed proving deadly. Just take a look at Texas.


Steve M. James

Mar 05, 2021

I heard somewhere that one thing we are learning for sure is who among us demonstrates  care for their fellows by masking up to try to prevent the spread of this terrible disease and who among does not demonstrate any concern by selfishly refusing to wear a mask putting their opinion over science. After we have moved on to what ever the future holds, for me it is going to be hard to forget what I’ve seen and learned.



Nicholas Sotak

Mar 05, 2021

It’s all about personal responsiblity. Am I right?  It’s my *choice* to wear a mask.  I have the *right* not to.  It’s in the First Amendent.  But, hey, I’ll do it-for you…just as long as you get healthy, and fast!  You need to eat right.  You need to exercise.  You need to stop having diabetes.  You need to stop being obese.  You need to lower your blood pressure.  Just get healthy.  It’s all about (my) freedoms.  Make sense?

Sorry, but I don’t get it. 


Wearing a mask is a political symbol because it was made a symbol.  It can stop being one, or better yet it can be a the one it always should have been.  Wear a mask for your family, your neighbors, your town, your state, your country, and the rest of mankind. 



Michael Riordan

Mar 06, 2021

Riley’s observation about maskless shoppers at the Lynden Safeway made me go look at the Whatcom County Covid-19 web site and look what I found:


Notice those red and purple lines soaring way above the rest of the County in December and January? Well, folks, those lines represent people who live in the Lynden and Nooksack Valley school districts — just like the Red-state Republican rogues in Florida, South Dakota and Texas who ridicule the wearing of masks.

Then scroll down a bit to the County map and note the numbers of confirmed cases per 100,000 citizens in these two districts versus Bellingham — four to five times higher!

There cannot be much better evidence for the adverse impact of toxic individualism on the health of US citizens.


To comment, Log In or Register

Masked Resistance

By Riley SweeneyOn Mar 05, 2021

We are a year into this pandemic and like most traumatic moments in history, it will soon be boiled down to a single concept in our collective consciousness. In my [...]

7 comments, most recent 4 months ago

How the Party Treats Jeb and Hillary Tells You Everything

By Riley SweeneyOn Feb 26, 2015

I try to shy away from national politics but with the presidential campaigns beginning to heat up, I wanted to share these thoughts about Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. First, [...]

5 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Riley’s Top 5 Whatcom Political Stories of 2014

By Riley SweeneyOn Dec 24, 2014

Ralph Schwartz and Samantha Wohlfeil offered their “Top 10 Whatcom Political Stories” in 2014. Take a gander at their list, they have some good picks. In a sign of [...]

Where are the persuadable voters in the 42nd District?

By Riley SweeneyOn Nov 22, 2014

In the wake of the Republican victory in the 42nd, many local political analysts are reevaluating the 42nd – mentally moving it from “Leans Republican” to “Washington&[...]

Tune in TONIGHT for Political Comedy

By Riley SweeneyOn Oct 14, 2014

Whatcom County has been an innovator in the realm of unintentional political comedy, tonight, I am aiming to do it on purpose for once. Tonight at 6pm at votejoy.varvid.[...]

1 comment, most recent 6 years ago

Few Surprises at the Tea Party Debate

By Riley SweeneyOn Oct 02, 2014

Last night, the legislative candidates from Whatcom County debated at the annual Tea Party debate. While the main attraction, Seth Fleetwood versus Doug Ericksen, offered few surprises, the races for [...]

1 comment, most recent 6 years ago

Who Will Be Appointed to Lehman’s City Council Seat?

By Riley SweeneyOn Sep 09, 2014

There are a great deal of rumors flying around about who will be appointed to fill out the remainder of Cathy Lehman's term on the City Council. The basics [...]

8 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Fleetwood versus Ericksen: What Happened in Round One?

By Riley SweeneyOn Aug 12, 2014

Election watchers had plenty to chew on after the final round of ballots were counted last week. When the dust had settled, Ericksen beat Fleetwood 57% to 43%. Ericksen's allies declared [...]

Northwest Citizen Releases Polling of Whatcom Voters

By Riley SweeneyOn Jul 24, 2014

In an effort to provide you, the readers, more insight into the political world around us, Northwest Citizen has paid for a poll of likely voters. We worked with Premiere [...]

9 comments, most recent 6 years ago

Who Filed for Charter Review Commission?

By Riley SweeneyOn May 17, 2014

This is another cross-post from The Political Junkie.  The Charter Review Commission offers an unique opportunity and plays an incredibly influential role in how our county functions. For all [...]

2 comments, most recent 7 years ago

The Whatcom Republicans’ Huge PCO Advantage

By Riley SweeneyOn May 06, 2014

As filing week is just around the corner, I thought it would be prudent to take a look at one of the least appreciated offices up for election this year, [...]

1 comment, most recent 7 years ago

Charter Review and District Only Voting

By Riley SweeneyOn Apr 17, 2014

“Treasuring the many wonders of our unique environment and realizing that the power and duty to govern and protect this region is inherent in its people, we, the citizens [...]

Roosevelt Neighborhood Pleads for Left Turns

By Riley SweeneyOn Apr 09, 2014

The Bellingham City Council chambers were packed with Roosevelt Neighborhood supporters voicing their objections to some of the proposed Alabama Street improvements. The city, thanks to a healthy potential grant [...]

3 comments, most recent 7 years ago

County Considers Purchasing Toxic Property

By Riley SweeneyOn Mar 19, 2014

Whatcom County is close to purchasing the building at 1500 N. State St., a building that is currently leaking toxins into our groundwater. The building, currently home to our medical examiner'[...]

3 comments, most recent 7 years ago

Rep. Vincent Buys Appears to Break State Fundraising Laws

By Riley SweeneyOn Mar 11, 2014

Writer's Note: If you are looking for more news about the state Legislature, check out my native site The Political Junkie for weekly coverage. While the state Legislature is [...]

County Hires GPT Permit Lead as Senior Planner

By Riley SweeneyOn Mar 10, 2014

3/17/2014 Update: Since this story broke, there have been a number of developments. Tim Johnson covered it in the Cascadia Weekly, digging into the pro-development bias of our planning department [...]

1 comment, most recent 7 years ago

Do Changing Liquor and Marijuana Laws Affect DUIs

By Riley SweeneyOn Feb 17, 2014

As always, you can find me, Riley Sweeney, over at my blog The Political Junkie, where I've been covering our state legislature like crazy. However, I wanted to share [...]

County Releases EIS, Prepares to Purchase Jail Site

By Riley SweeneyOn Nov 18, 2013

In all the flurry over curious Port results, Doug Ericksen for Congress and my all-male Odds and Ends last week, the recent activity on the jail almost went unnoticed. However, [...]

Election Analysis: What Happened with the Port Races?

By Riley SweeneyOn Nov 12, 2013

For politicos watching the results over the last week, it might have been a bit stupefying to see Whatcom County elect four unapologetically progressive candidates to the Whatcom County Council, [...]

2 comments, most recent 7 years ago

How the Coal Industry Funneled $40,000 into Whatcom

By Riley SweeneyOn Oct 02, 2013

In the last four months, SSA Marine and BNSF Railroad have funneled thousands of dollars into Whatcom Republican candidates. While digging through the PDC in September, I discovered a whole [...]

11 comments, most recent 7 years ago