About 1,500 people staged a somber march through downtown Santa Barbara on Saturday, as hundreds of thousands across the nation also protested the authoritarian cruelty of Donald Trump's immigration crackdown.
Organized by SB’s Women’s Political Committee and other groups, the local demonstration was one of more than 700 “Families Belong Together” events from L.A. to Washington D.C., from Camarillo to Santa Maria, held to highlight opposition to the “zero tolerance” policy that has torn thousands of children away from parents seeking asylum at the border.
“We cannot have our children caged,” said Christina Pizarro, a SBWPC board member, as she addressed a pre-march crowd that packed De La Guerra Plaza while holding aloft a symbolic cage crafted of wire fencing. “They have no hope unless we step up, unless we speak up.”
Three takeaways from the march and rally:
A tone of trepidation. Saturday marked the second sizeable local protest within two weeks against the barbarity at the border, but had a more subdued tone than a previous rally provoked by first reports of the child separations.
This time, there seemed an almost palpable undercurrent of apprehension, perhaps reflecting a week of news that staggered those who believe in the values and norms of liberal, small “d,” democracy, and fear the swift and steady advance of Trump's thuggish brand of right-wing nationalism.
In the last few days, he won a series of stunning legal victories: the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court not only upheld his anti-Muslim travel ban, but also dealt body blows to the pro-choice and trade union causes; following upon the three blockbuster decisions, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who historically was the swing vote on several crucial rulings, including abortion rights, announced his retirement - handing Trump yet another appointment to increase his grip on the nation’s ultimate legal authority.
Not to mention the nation's latest mass shooting spectacle, which claimed five lives in a local paper’s newsroom, carried out in a toxic political atmosphere shaped by Trump’s constant braying attacks on journalists as “enemies of the people,”
“Last week, all those court cases, was very difficult,” Mayor Cathy Murillo told Newsmakers. “We really need to fight back locally.”
More numbers, less diversity. Saturday’s demonstration was numerically larger than the June 20 protest, although the crowd was overwhemingly white this time, and also older.
Cesar Zevallos, a speaker who addressed the crowd in the plaza while wrapped in an American flag, acknowledged this as he recounted his own story of immigrating from Peru several decades ago.
“”You don’t see too many Latino faces here, you don’t see too many brown faces here – you know why?” he said.
“Because we’re scared.”
"We're scared that ICE is here," Zevallos added in an interview after he left the stage. "We're scared that undercover (law enforcement) is here."
What is to be done. Privately, some organizers expressed concern that traditional protest tactics like Santa Barbara’s time-honored Saturday morning marches simply are no match for the existential threat of Trump and the urgency of the historic moment.
As a result there was considerable discussion at the rally about effective, concrete actions that could be taken.
Among them: support and engagement in congressional races crucial to the Democrats’ desperate effort to regain a shred of power in Washington by winning a House majority. Beyond Santa Barbara’s 24th CD, where freshman Rep. Salud Carbajal faces a rematch against the well-funded Republican Justin Fareed, the 25th CD, which includes Simi Valley and other parts of Ventura County, has drawn national attention.
National Democrats have targeted Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Knight as one seven GOP members they hope to knock off in state districts where Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in 2016, and are urging support for Katie Hill, a 30-year old progressive gay activist.
Also spotlighted was a newly formed organization called the Santa Barbara County Immigrant Legal Defense Center.
Anahi Mendoza, executive director of the group, said free legal services are needed for those caught up in the immigration system on the Central Coast, who otherwise must wait for legal help from pro bono groups in Los Angeles, which have been overwhelmed by recent events.
“In San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura County there is not a single organization that systematically represents someone who is picked up by ICE” Mendoza told us. She added that the group is concentrating on raising money, and doing “recruitment and training” of attorneys, and plans to begin operation by the end of July. Their Facebook page is here.
Immigrant rights advocate Laura Ronchietto said the legal group is part of a broader "Immigrant Advocacy Coalition," whose members have been meeting at Trinity Episcopal Church.
Besides legal assistance, the coalition also is working to organize "rapid response" and "community healing" operations, by bringing together faith-based, political and legal organizations that now individually offer services.
"We want the affected community to tell us what they need," she said.
Images: Among the signs at the De La Guerra Plaza rally, immigrant Cesar Zevallos, draped in the American flag, said many Latinos stayed away because of fears of ICE.