While thousands of people protested at airports across the country Sunday against President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from several predominantly Muslim nations from entry into the United States, people crammed shoulder to shoulder into Garrett Hall at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for a number of different reasons.
They signed up to volunteer for environmental groups, discuss politics with military veterans, write encouraging letters to refugees across the world, read about composting food and ask about affordable-housing advocacy programs.
“I want to fight the good fight right now,” said Tanya Turneaure, a Sebastopol resident and middle school teacher, who watched her 16-year-old daughter write “we’re thinking of you” on a note for people in Greek refugee camps.
Sunday was the first North Bay Community Engagement Fair, a free event with two goals: Increase civic participation and encourage organizations to collaborate.
The hall, a room with official capacity for 1,200 people, was packed from noon to 5 p.m. and loud with the din of conversations. Organizers enlisted 103 organizations to staff information tables, hand out pamphlets and encourage people to get involved.
The event was organized by a coalition of local groups under the name Another World is Possible, which formed last year and launched with a voter engagement event in October geared toward youth and minority communities.
The coalition includes organizations from a variety of sectors such as the Farmers Guild, the North Bay Organizing Project and Santa Rosa’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
“Sonoma County has so many driven and motivated people,” said Kerry Fugett, executive director of the Sonoma County Conservation Action, the county’s largest nonprofit environmental organization and a member of the coalition. “We should have rented a bigger space.”
Many people might have turned up Sunday even if national politics hadn’t reached a fever pitch.
But Trump’s early actions as president galvanized many to show up at the fairgrounds.
Santa Rosa couple Cindy Holst and Doug Norton have always voted but otherwise not been politically active. They joined last week’s Women’s March in Santa Rosa and the registered Democrats want to push local elected officials to push back against many of Trump’s policies.
“I haven’t marched since the 1970s,” said Norton, a retired contractor.
“We remember Watergate, the political upheaval of that time and we know the political and community action of that time worked, and it’s essential at this time to mitigate the damage,” said Holst, an executive with San Francisco-based hospital network Dignity Health.
The event was designed to be nonpartisan and inclusive, said a co-organizer Evan Wiig, founder of the Farmers Guild.
Organizers invited the local Republican Party to participate but “we never heard back,” Wiig said. He said he hoped they’d join the next event.
Carrie Heim, 35, of Sebastopol showed up to find ways she can work toward racial justice in Sonoma County. Heim said she’s been galvanized by the impact of the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Cloverdale resident Carlos Estrada, 21, a youth coordinator with VOICES, a local nonprofit serving transition-age foster youth, said he’s been taken aback by Trump’s actions so far as president, but saw the turnout Sunday as a “powerful demonstration of people coming together.”