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Activists gather to celebrate the Fourth of July and get America started on living up to its promises

If anyone wanted a stark Fourth of July contrast to the racially divisive speech that President Trump gave Friday night at Mount Rushmore, the gathering Saturday afternoon at Julliard Park would certainly be a counterpoint.

More than 100 people gathered for an Interdependence Day multicultural cookout that was spearheaded by What We Are Fighting For, the youth-led organization that has helped organize recent Black Lives Matter rallies and marches.

Saturday’s event was fairly low-key in contrast with recent, impassioned street marches, with attendees mingling in a socially distanced manner while listening to tunes from the Gap Band over the public address system. A nearby tea booth served a few free concoctions, including one that was labeled herbal Gatorade.

The gathering’s overriding theme on the national holiday was omnipresent: that the inalienable rights called for in the Declaration of Independence that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have not been fully realized among Black people, Latinos, Asian Americans and members of the LGBTQ community, groups who were well represented at the downtown Santa Rosa park.

Delashay Carmona-Benson, an Afro-Latina activist, was blunt in her speech to the crowd when she talked about the promises of the Declaration of Independence and said: “Happy Fourth of you lied.”

“Few of my people have experienced democracy and even fewer have experienced the American dream,” Carmona-Benson said.

Joy Ayodele of What We Are Fighting For said she wanted the event to refocus a day traditionally for fireworks and parades to how Americans can actually start fulfilling those unmet promises 244 years after the founding document was finalized.

“It’s definitely great to bring people back to the roots of what you are celebrating,” said Ayodele, an 18-year-old Santa Rosa Junior College student. She added that the event also served as a good break for self-care for activists as more marches and pressure of city and county governments are planned later in the month.

“You can be screaming all day that ’Black Lives Matter’ but you need to realize that your life does matter while you are saying that out loud,” Ayodele said.

Rima Makaryan was selling prints of artwork highlighting the plight of the undocumented and immigrant community through the Monarch Project collaborative. She said the holiday event served as a reminder for more marginalized groups to be able to tell their own American stories that get overlooked in history.

“It’s all about taking ownership of our identity and our history and all of those things,” Makaryan said. “We are telling our own stories from out own perspectives ... taking pride of it and being empowered by it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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