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Protesters, including Healdsburg councilwoman, rally in Sonoma against COVID-19 health mandates

“We the people will not comply,” read a demonstrator’s sign — one among the scores of others held high Sunday by hundreds of people who’d gathered at the Sonoma Plaza.

As many as 250 protesters turned out to denounce ongoing local public health mandates aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The event, organized by Save Our Sonoma, an organization dedicated to informing and protecting inalienable rights for local communities, featured several speakers including Skylaer Palacios, a Healdsburg city councilwoman who, in November, said that because of health and spiritual reasons she has not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Sunday’s demonstration, which lasted about 2½ hours, took place in the midst of ongoing tension between those who differ in how they view vaccination mandates.

Some see them as a way of beating back the pandemic by ensuring that everyone, regardless of their health status, is protected, while still others see the mandates as an encroachment on an individual’s right to do with their body as they want.

Palacios, who is considered a figurehead in the anti-mandate movement, attracted the support of scores of people who showed up at a “Freedom Rally” protest held in December at the Healdsburg City Council after her four fellow council members voted in favor of proof of vaccination in order to be allowed access to council chambers.

Palacios, who attends council meetings virtually, has been critical of that vote, calling it “discomforting” because “we’re discouraging people from coming to (city) meetings.”

“All I’ve done is ask questions,” Palacios said while on stage during Sunday’s demonstration. “I’ve questioned it but it does not mean I’m anti-vax and anti-science. People should be able to ask questions, but instead, people have been silenced.”

Some demonstrators said they are exhausted by public health mandates and chose to attend Sunday’s gathering in an effort to find freedom to do what they want. Others sought to further voice their beliefs about the safety of the coronavirus vaccine.

One demonstrator said she is disappointed in the public health system and for that reason prefers to put her efforts toward strengthening her immune system rather than relying on a “very expensive and scary solution.”

“Our public health system has failed us,” Rebeca Valentine, 59, of Santa Rosa said. “People are dying and are attributing it to the vaccine. It’s scary. We’re exhausted.”

Like Valentine, several other participants echoed similar concerns and questioned the validity and safety of the vaccine.

A woman who had a large sign hanging from her neck that read “Medical Freedom = No Mandates” said her participation was fueled by her mom who experienced health complications with vaccines in 2011.

“I’m here because my mom died from a flu shot many years ago,” Ginger Tevlin, 65, of Solano County, said. “She always experienced severe reactions after the flu shots. I’m convinced it’s the reason her immune system weakened. I don’t trust it. I can’t.”

Palacios took over Sonoma Plaza’s stage and spoke to a cheering crowd of people holding signs, some of which read, “Standup for Freedom,” and ”Orwell Got the Date Wrong.“

“I’ve been harassed — threatened. I’ve had people wish COVID upon me. I’ve even lost 2 jobs during all of this,” she said. “Despite that I’m still glad I’ve taken this stance.”

She added, “The mandate will be lifted when we all decide we want it to be lifted. ... Say no. Resist and be vocal.“

You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at mya.constantino@pressdemocrat.com. @searchingformya on Twitter. You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to correct a quoted statement by Skylaer Palacios, who told fellow demonstrators on Sunday to “Resist and be vocal.”

In a follow up phone call with a reporter on Monday, Palacios also clarified: “I'm not telling people to not get the vaccine or booster, but if your job, family or friends are pressuring you to get the vaccine, stand your ground and say no.”

Mya Constantino

Features reporter

Stories can inspire you, make you laugh, cry and sometimes, heal. I love a feature story that can encapsulate all of those things. I cover the interesting people that exist around us, art and music that move us and the hidden gems that make Sonoma County pretty cool. Let's explore those things together.

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