2020 saw many protests and social justice advocates speaking out
This past year, we saw many groups of protestors exercising their First Amendment rights and participating in rallies, both locally and nationally.
The protests in Santa Barbara remained peaceful and controlled, while many nationwide did not.
In Santa Barbara County, residents protested the murder of George Floyd and police brutality, oil drilling and fracking, the state and regional shutdown of businesses, PETA, Teen Talk, sexism, climate change, remote learning for students and the 2020 presidential election results.
Most recently, in late November and December, residents took to State Street multiple times in protest of the state government-mandated lockdown, demanding the state to reopen and the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Several dozen protestors chanted and held signs reading, “The pandemic is over,” “Destroying small businesses is not the solution,” “Open schools now” and “We want to work.”
The protests, coordinated by WeHaveRights.org, concluded with passing around a petition to recall the governor. They highlighted the economic struggle of businesses and families, along with the impacts of the closures on mental health.
A restaurant-specific rally occurred as well in Montecito, where dozens donning masks came to support Tres Lune restaurant on Coast Village Road. Speakers said they were worried about employees being laid off and the fate of some local, decades-old restaurants.
In October, a group of around 40 Santa Barbara Unified School District students protested the board’s decision to delay in-person learning. The students held signs reading, “We miss school” and “Stop putting yourself before the students,” and they received support from parents, community members and some local political candidates.
Also in October, many parents of SB Unified students gathered to protest Teen Talk, the district’s newly approved, controversial middle school sex education program. Attendees said that the program was pornographic, lacked family values and they cited age-appropriate concerns.
On a much smaller scale, a group of four to five protestors gathered in Solvang in early October to protest the city’s horse-drawn carriages and trolley rides, and to honor the memory of the late Hazel Mortenson, an animal rights activist who campaigned for years against Solvang’s use of the carriages.
In late July, the Society of Fearless Grandmothers, in collaboration with 350SB and the Greta Thurnberg Fridays for Future organization, held a shoe strike outside the County’s Administration Building. More than 500 pairs of shoes were placed on the steps, representing the people who would have physically protested had it not been for COVID-19.
The protestors demanded the government deny any new permits for fossil fuel projects, respond to COVID-19 by transitioning from the fossil fuel economy, and protect people and the environment, not corporate profit.
Twelve days after the election results were certified by the media, residents of Santa Barbara gathered at the County Courthouse for a “President Trump Prayer March,” as a “clarion call for God to intervene.” Marchers claimed the election was fraudulent and demanded widespread recounts.
In early March, UCSB students rallied against oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing at Storke Plaza by dressing in black to simulate oil. They gave speeches and read student poetry as part of the California Public Interest Research Group’s Phase Oil Out protest.
Way back in January, the fourth annual Women’s March took place on De la Guerra Plaza, where residents marched in support of racial and sexual inclusion, women in politics, equal rights and denounced President Donald Trump.
Protests also included those in late May and early June, after the now former police officer, Derek Chauvin, was captured on video kneeling on the neck of George Floyd and murdering him.
The video went viral, and resulted in mass protests, riots and continued calls for social justice across the country. Locally, the Santa Barbara City Council was criticized by residents in public comment for not showing more support, and Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow signed a letter to the city, calling the murder “preventable” and bringing attention to “harmful and hurtful actions by officers whose poor decisions tarnish the profession.”
Several local rallies were held in the following days to protest Mr. Floyd’s death, one consisting of Isla Vista residents who marched from Storke Tower to Sands Beach, and another with Santa Barbara residents who marched from the County Courthouse down State Street.
Protestors chanted things such as “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace.” They also knelt in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, representing the amount of time Mr. Chauvin knelt on Mr. Floyd’s neck before he killed him.
The week after the murder, there was another protest, where residents began in De la Guerra Plaza and marched down State Street to Stearns Wharf. Event organizers spoke to “deep-rooted issues of systemic racism, white supremacy and racial inequality,” but also reminded attendees of the protest that police officers in Santa Barbara “do believe black lives matter” and “do know how to de-escalate situations.”
In addition, Santa Barbara County residents found other ways to show solidarity for George Floyd besides protests and marches.
Local artists stepped up and asked to paint murals on walls of businesses to raise awareness, both on the side of EOS Lounge on Haley and Anacapa Streets and on Brownie’s Market on De La Vina Street.
Danny Meza painted the large mural on Brownie’s Market free of charge. The image shows two hands, one black and one white, holding each other, and features the Nelson Mandela quote: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Seven months later, the artist told the News-Press he hasn’t seen much social change from the protests and civil unrest due to the pandemic, but his mural got plenty of positive attention.
“I knew some people would not agree with it. I was afraid it would get defaced, but fortunately, that did not happen,” Mr. Meza said, referencing the mural on EOS Lounge that was defaced. “That got fixed immediately, but it really bummed me out that some people want to make it all about themselves.
“I think Santa Barbara needs murals like this more than ever when things like that happen. I’m going to continue to treat every single person like a human being, and hope everyone will start doing the same.”
The other mural on EOS Lounge features a large portrait of Mr. Floyd, and next to him in big letters, the words, “Please, I can’t breathe,” which is what he cried out as he was suffocating, and “Rest in Peace” on the other side.
An unidentified vandal sprayed “All Lives Matter” in yellow spray paint over the words “Please, I can’t breathe,” but it was cleaned up the next morning.
Chadillac Green and XGriffinX were the artists behind the painting. Mr. Green told the News-Press in June that they hoped to “Say his name, keep him alive, keep everything alive, keep it going.”
Another way locals showed support was through a paddle out in early June, where hundreds of surfers, swimmers and regular beachgoers showed up at Leadbetter Beach to honor the memory of Mr. Floyd. Per the Hawaiian tradition to pay tribute to those who have died, the attendees took to the waves on surfboards, SUPs and kayaks, chanting and throwing flowers in the water.
They spelled “Unity” out in the sand with their boards, and auctioned off surfboards with arts and prints, with all the proceeds going to local black organizations.
Chris Ragland was the organizer of the paddle out, and seven months after he put on the large event, he told the News-Press, “In terms of social justice, 2020 was a yard sale and everything must go. The caveat is that the price to pay is firm.
“Every moment seemed to make us aware of the cracks in our country, and every one of them deserves immediate attention. I’m feeling optimistic knowing that so much leadership emerged this year — myself included.”
While some of the protests may have been supporting factors in change and some not, those who marched, held signs, paddled, painted or chanted made their voices heard in a peaceful way.