SOLEDAD — Protestors gathered last Saturday at Vosti Park before marching in the streets as part of the Soledad for George Floyd demonstration, itself an act of solidarity with Black Lives Matter in a nationwide call for an end to police violence.
The June 6 event was named after Floyd, who died during an arrest by Minneapolis police on May 25.
Sam Gomez, a local organizer and Soledad resident, co-organized the event with Nathaniel Sawyer, vice president of Democratic Club of Monterey Peninsula. The park gathering included poetry from Salinas resident Kenya Burton, spoken word by Queen Tay Elaine and speeches from Greenfield teacher Vanessa Robinson, Soledad Mayor Fred Ledesma and Sawyer.
“We are all here for a reason, to show up for Black lives and to express our solidarity within this movement,” Gomez said. “This is just the start, and I am so glad to see each and every one of you here today to express that.”
Gomez also thanked the city for ensuring safety during the demonstration.
“I want to reassure you all that right now, you’re doing the right thing,” Robinson told the crowd. “I also want to make it clear that the protests and issues we’ve seen around the country for the past 12 days is not just a Black community issue, it’s an American issue. It’s a police issue. It’s an American racism issue. All of these issues are our own, not separate community issues.”
The demonstration was held at the same time as Soledad High School’s drive-through graduation. At times, a decorated car congratulating seniors drove on the same street a little ahead or within the same block as the demonstrators.
“I know today is Soledad High School’s graduation, but if anything, this is more important today than it ever has been because those students graduating today are going into a world that right now we can’t guarantee will protect them,” Robinson said.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter” has seen challenges with the phrase “All Lives Matter,” which Robinson addressed.
“It’s grammatically incorrect for all lives to matter if Black lives don’t matter,” Robinson said.
Regarding making a change in the world, Ledesma spoke about directing energy toward voting and not toward violence.
“What we do with our anger is where we go from here,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of the people in some of the marches have been pretty violent … and so the message of Black Lives Matter is getting lost in the destruction that they’re causing and everyone forgot about what they were there for.”
Ledesma reflected on his time growing up in Soledad and how things with race relations and tolerance have changed, while other things have yet to change. He referenced Soledad’s history of having activists, some alongside Cesar Chavez, and how the residents were involved in the Community Service Organization, which registered numerous Latinos in Monterey County to vote.
“You can make your anger to get p—ed off at every cop you see, at every white person you see and every injustice that you’ve had, or you can take your anger and say ‘F you guys, I’m here to register a bunch of people and I’m going to get your a— out of that position,’” Ledesma said. “That is really what our activism should be about today … what Black Lives Matter should be about is this.”
Ledesma reaffirmed his message to vote by saying it is a way to create change and respect.
“I am blown away by the number of young people I see today and I find out they don’t go to register until they’re 21,” Ledesma said, noting such people then go on to complain about the way things are.
“Don’t quit, allow your anger to have a positive end result,” he said.
After the speeches at Vosti Park, the demonstration became a march with an estimated 100 people walking through Soledad with the help of Soledad Police Department, which closed streets and intersections for them to safely move through.