A crowd of people as diverse as the many causes they represented joined together in the People’s March for Economic and Social Justice on State Street on Saturday.
The march was a small part of the Call to Action rally held in the Sunken Gardens behind the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, which began at 11:30 a.m. and lasted into the evening. Education was a key element offered in the rally’s program, which featured workshops, informational booths run by the event’s sponsors, and a main stage hosting speakers and musical performances. The People’s Coalition, a local activist group, organized the third annual event with help from the Rolling Thunder Democracy Tour.
“Our theme this year is ‘a Call to Action,'” said Penny Little, People’s Coalition coordinator. “This is the way to put grassroots democracy into the hands of the people.”
The day’s events were delayed by almost two hours, but after a series of welcome speeches from local City Council candidate Das Williams and State Assembly Candidate Pedro Nava, the march began at 1:30 p.m. A group of Aztec dancers performed a blessing ritual and led the march down State St.
Though representing numerous different social issues, the group all marched together chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Some cardboard signs displayed slogans like “Power to the Peaceful” and “Demand a Living Wage.”
“This is the time. We need to start change immediately,” said Gloria Ross, UCSB global and international studies and black studies double major. Ross carried a sign reading “We Are the Revolution,” and said that she was drawn to the rally’s “community and sense of solidarity.”
After returning to the courthouse, the main stage continued to feature musical performances and speakers from a wide range of activist groups sposoring the event, such as the Coalition for Living Wage, Carpenteria Tenants’ Union, and Not in Our Name. Rock the Vote and Take Back the Media were among the many other sponsors that set up booths at the rally.
Jim Hightower, director of the Rolling Thunder Democracy Tour, was the rally’s keynote speaker. Three other main presenters – Anita Roddick, Arianna Huffington and Jehmu Greene – also spoke.
Anita Roddick, author of several books on fair trade practices, spoke to an energetic audience.
“There is a complete revolution in kindness happening. [The Trade Justice Movement] is the biggest grassroots organization in history,” Roddick said.
Arianna Huffington, also an acclaimed author, spoke on issues relating to her most recent book, Pigs at the Trough: How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption are Undermining America. Huffington’s talk was followed by a speech given by Jehmu Greene, executive director of Rock the Vote, an organization dedicated to voter registration campaigns.
“In a crowd of activists – marching, protesting – they aren’t having the greatest effect possible unless they’re registering their friends [to vote],” Greene said.
“Let’s put the party back in campaign,” Hightower said.
The tour is a national grassroots campaign that provides speakers, music, food, drink and a festival-like atmosphere modeled after the early twentieth century Chatauqua movement. A former Texas agricultural commissioner, Hightower’s speech encouraged progressive action.
“We need to take back our democracy from the political elites that have stolen it from us,” he said.
The rally ended around 7 p.m. when the last workshop finished, having drawn a crowd of roughly 2,000 people throughout the day. Organizers are already eagerly anticipating next year’s event, ready to iron out some of the logistical problems faced at Saturday’s rally.
“Overall we’re very happy with what took place; the fact that people stayed so late to hear the last workshop is, I think, a testament to [the Rally’s] success,” Silvia Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the People’s Coalition, said.
The Coalition’s long-term goal is to establish a sustainable coalition, focusing on more projects than just the annual march. Rodriguez said the Coalition has a strong connection to the peace march movement in Santa Barbara and the groups that have organized them.
“Like the peace marches against the war abroad, this march focuses on the war on poverty at home, and issues like education and the living wage,” Rodriguez said.