I was visiting family up in Sacramento few weekends ago, and decided to attend the local ‘Families Belong Together and Free’ event. It was not quite what I expected.
By Robin Southworth
I have not been a life-long protester. I showed up to my first protest in 2005 and my next one in 2017. This protest would be my third. I carpooled with my buddy “Charlie” (not his real name), who is an experienced protester and works for a political party. He’d been to many events like this before. I figured I’d be safe with him.
This protest was downtown at the ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) building, which is on the Capitol Mall. Parking down there is scarce, so Charlie and I parked a few blocks away about 8:30 a.m. and walked over. We were so early, we stopped at a local coffee place, Old Soul, for a cuppa joe. All the seats by the window were available so Charlie and I sat down to watch humanity walk to the protest. We also watched the California Highway Patrol drive around the block more than a few times. The Federal police also drove around the block more than a few times as well. It was a great place to people-watch.
About 9:30am, we gathered our things and walked across the street to the protest, which was getting larger. I came prepared for a hot Sacramento day: large-brimmed hat,; travel backpack for wallet, phone, keys, etc; and a 1.25 liter bottles of water for both Charlie and me.
As we walked to where the main protest was happening, we passed: people with their dogs; their toddlers; their older children, who were excited to protest something they understood; smart people who brought portable seats; senior citizens, who were pissed off they still had to protest stuff; young folks, like Charlie, and middle-aged people, like myself.
When we got up to where the main protest was happening, you couldn’t move for all the people. Charlie and I walked across the street to the middle of the mall, where there were fewer people. We ran into mutual friends: a married couple and their 3 year old twins, in addition to their 5 month old.
At this point, one of the toddlers needed a restroom. Capitol Mall is all business and government offices, so she’d need a port-o-potty. There were none. No port-o-potties? Nope. When we returned from the local Starbucks (4 blocks away), I noticed that there was also no bottled water. Usually, organizers get flats and flats of bottled water (also port-o-potties). Not this protest. They had tons of flyers with the call and response they would be using and tons of small posters you could waive (or fan yourself with). But no water or port-o-potties.
I decided that a shady spot, away from the crowds was my best bet. I found a spot kitty-corner on the north side of the street, with a lot fewer people. I sat down and watched the protest unfold. By this time, there were, by the local paper’s estimate, 2,000 people at the event.
While lots of people spoke, including the mayor, it was more interesting to watch what was going on. Standing on the corner was a group of folks in yellow shirts. Clearly, a group of some sort.
Most of the people by me were avoiding the crowds and enjoying the shade (it was turning into a “triple digit” day, as they say in Sacramento). At this point, I actually saw people walking in with flats of water on their shoulders. I’m not sure if they were organizers or ordinary folks, but that water was a lovely thing for those who hadn’t brought their own.
About half-way through the event, all sorts of yellow posters were hoisted up, the yellow-shirted folks by me walked into the middle of the street, and a very large megaphone was put into use. It looked like a planned counter march of some sort. About half the people at the original event started following the yellow-shirts down 7th street, most looking rather confused. Their faces seemed to say, “I guess we’re suppose to go with them, now.” It looked rather like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Off they went to who knows where.
My buddy, Charlie, came up and said we should leave. I trust his instincts, so we did. It took a while to get out of the garage and out of the downtown area. There were no issues going home.
It was a semi-organized event. No water or port-o-potties were an issue. No one explained what the call/responses were for or when they would be used. Maybe I’m just old or inexperienced, but I want my protests a bit more organized.
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