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Caravan takes to Santa Rosa streets for immigrant rights

Dozens of cars snaked through downtown Santa Rosa on Saturday afternoon, horns honking and signs calling for attention to immigration rights. The peaceful display was followed by an online rally, another reminder of how live events have been impacted by the coronavirus and the social distancing it necessitates.

Organizers called Saturday’s demonstration a success.

“I think it’s been very exciting to see how immigrant communities are becoming much more empowered,” said Renee Saucedo, program director for the Graton Day Labor Center and ALMAS, the Women’s Labor and Solidarity Alliance. “Not just through services, but through organizing, it enables them to make political demands. We are 30% of the county. We must have some political power to move policies that benefit us.”

The caravan focused specifically on amnesty for a broad range of undocumented residents, better treatment of refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border and, more fundamentally, support for all workers. The organizers are opposed to any guest-worker framework that might resemble the World War II-era bracero program.

Drivers began assembling in the Roseland neighborhood, in a parking lot adjacent to the outdoor market known as El Mercadito, at noon. After somewhere between 30 and 50 cars and trucks had gathered, the procession moved west on Sebastopol Road, north on Stony Point Road and then east into downtown on Third Street. From there, drivers headed north on Mendocino Avenue to Silva Avenue, back south on Mendocino, and eventually along E Street to the federal building.

The caravan grew as it went, but also became more diffuse. Drivers obeyed traffic signals, causing the line of cars to fracture a bit.

People flew red solidarity flags from their windows and got a lot of return toots from passing vehicles. Placards — many of them, pink and of uniform dimensions, were distributed at the outdoor market — demanded respect for immigrants and acknowledgment of their contributions to the American economy, and support of California SB 321, which would extend OSHA protections to domestic workers.

Some signs took direct aim at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that some activists see as openly hostile toward immigrant families.

Saucedo, who did “play by play” of the rally on KBBF-FM and on a Facebook livestream, said everything she heard pointed to a positive reaction from bystanders.

“So far, so good,” she said. “No hostility. Unfortunately, we do have anti-immigrant sentiments in Sonoma County, just as in other parts of the country. But today shows that immigrant communities are still able to powerfully organize.”

Santa Rosa has hosted an annual rally for immigrant rights — a nod to traditional May Day labor marches — since 2006. Before 2020, those events had always brought people together in one place. Last year, in the throes of the pandemic, organizers pivoted to a car caravan from Santa Rosa to the state Capitol in Sacramento. This year’s rally continued the mobile theme but stuck to city limits.

At the federal building, a small number of participants left their cars and continued the rally, attempting to get the attention of people driving past.

Manny Morales said he has taken part in the May Day event every year since 2006. The 34-year-old Santa Rosa resident sees momentum building. But he acknowledges many of core issues facing Sonoma County’s Latino population haven’t changed in 15 years. In fact, he believes the disparities have been thrown into even starker relief by the natural disasters that have hit the county in recent years.

“In terms of awareness and willingness to be involved in actions like this, there’s definitely an increase, and that support feels welcoming and it feels empowering,” Morales said in front of the federal building. “In terms of how our community is still not being given the proper resources when it comes to local governments, there’s still a long way to go.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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