San Luis Obispo 2019 Lights for Liberty Rally

Support the human rights of all people.

Saturday, hundreds of people in San Luis Obispo joined a worldwide movement protesting the inhumane treatment of people at U.S. immigration detention centers.

My spouse and I were among the participants.

Over the past many months, I have been reading with growing horror and outrage, the news reports detailing the inhumane and illegal treatment that children, women, and men are suffering in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers located on our borders and around the country.

Especially distressing is that thousands of children have been separated from their families and are living in what are basically prisons. Imagine if it was your child or a child that you love. These children will be scarred for the rest of their lives by the experiences they are enduring now.

This cannot be happening in the United States of America—but it is.

When I spotted the Lights for Liberty announcement in my social media feed, I could easily have scrolled past it. But I didn’t. As I sat looking at the image of the Statue of Liberty on the event poster I found myself wondering “What would she do?”

Just two weeks ago, for Independence Day, I wrote a post entitled 4th of July – Patriotism and the Environment about the intersection between patriotism and environmentalism. I included Emma Lazarus’ beautiful sonnet that is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Here is an excerpt from the end of the sonnet.

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I think of myself as a patriot and an environmentalist, but if I am not willing to stand up for the human rights of other people, then what kind of an American am I?

I knew participating in the Lights for Liberty rally would not fix the situation immediately but I do believe that people in the streets can affect change. So I asked my spouse to join me, marked the date on my calendar, and transformed my reusable sign into the one you see above.

Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo

Many Lights for Liberty events around the country were held on Friday, July 12 in the evening and involved lights. Our San Luis Obispo, CA rally occurred on Saturday, July 13 during the day. It was organized by Allies for Immigration Justice, SLO County and Women’s March San Luis Obispo.

On Saturday morning, I slathered on sunscreen, filled up my reusable water bottle, and found a strap for my spouse’s camera so that I could wear it around my neck at the rally.

Crowd Listening to Speakers at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo on July 13, 2019
This is part of the crowd listening to the speakers at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019.

We arrived late so we missed the first speakers. The crowd of several hundred people was split into those willing to stand under the hot sun close to the courthouse steps near the speakers and the rest of us trying to find a bit a shade under the trees.

We heard the harrowing story of a local man who had been arrested and detained by ICE. Some people held large photos of people who have died in ICE custody as we listened to their histories being recounted. After each name was read, the crowd repeated the word presente as a way of remembering them.

This KSBY video provides an overview of Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019.

One speaker talked about the importance of calling your elected officials to voice your concerns and ideas. She mentioned a group called 5calls.org that provides scripts for calls on a variety of issues. I liked her suggestion for phone averse people (like me), which is to call at night and leave a message.

The last speaker said something that I think is very important and she asked the crowd to repeat it several times (I hope I remembered it correctly).

Do the right thing.
Don’t turn away.
Stand up.

I understand the desire to turn away from things that are frightening or painful to think about, I feel it, too. But you and I can choose to do the right thing and stand up for the human rights of all people.

After the rally and vigil, we did a sidewalk march through downtown San Luis Obispo.

That means we peacefully walked down the sidewalk carrying our signs and chanting things like “Free the kids, close the camps,” while making room for the people going in and out of the stores and restaurants.

We obeyed traffic signals resulting in there being a number of marching clusters. One thing I realized is that each cluster needs someone willing to suggest chants and to keep them going. I am not that person, but a few of us in our cluster did the best we could.

Lights for Liberty Sidewalk March Cluster in San Luis Obispo, July 13, 2019
My spouse and I were walking with this sidewalk march cluster that was patiently waiting for the signal to change during Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019. In the upper right corner, you can see my spouse’s sign “Families Belong Together” and the back of my sign “Close the Camps.”

After the march, my spouse and I walked to a local ice cream store for a cool and refreshing treat and then we headed home.

What Can You Do?

Below are just a few ideas of things you can do to help. (These ideas are pertinent to all kinds of human rights issues like racism, homelessness, and discrimination, to name a few.)

  • Participate in rallies, protests, and marches.
  • Contact your elected officials. (I contacted Senator Feinstein, Senator Harris, and Representative Carbajal.)
  • Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
  • Donate time and/or money (see the resources section for articles that contain suggestions).
  • Find out what is going on in your community.

We are all human beings deserving of life, liberty, and a chance for the pursuit of happiness.

SLO Climate Coalition at Lights for Liberty Rally in San Luis Obispo, July 13, 2019
If we had been on time, we could have been in this photo with fellow environmentalists from the SLO Climate Coalition at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019. From left to right: Scott Lewis, Rita Casaverde, Dylan Stafforini, Janine Rands, John Smigelski, June Cochran, and Lauren Rueda. I got this photo from June.

Featured Image at Top: This is my reusable sign transformed for Lights for Liberty.

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Global Strike for Future – San Luis Obispo

Young climate activists rock!

Last Friday, I stood near the back of a crowd of students at a Global Strike for Future rally in San Luis Obispo, CA holding a sign that said, “I’m with them.”

My spouse and I arrived late so we naturally ended up at the back of the group. Rather than politely weave in and out of the crowd to get closer to the speaker as I would normally do, I hung back.

This event was not for me (an adult many years out of school). It was for the young people who were striking from school to protest inaction on climate change by the adults that are currently in charge.

I was not even sure if I should be there at all. However, I wanted to show support for the school strikers and you can never have too many people at a rally.

Global Strike for Future Rally in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 15, 2019
Part of the crowd near the end of the Global Strike for Future rally in San Luis Obispo, CA on March 15, 2019. My spouse is holding my sign in the back under the tree while I take photos.

So why were kids striking on a school day?

Fridays for Future Movement

On Monday, August 20, 2018, instead of showing up at school, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg decided to skip school to stand outside the Swedish parliament building holding a sign saying “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). She did this every school day until the Swedish general election on September 9, 2018.

After the election, she continued to strike on Fridays protesting the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing and why she was doing it on social media and it went viral. This was the beginning of the #FridaysForFuture movement.

During her 3 ½-minute December 2018 speech at COP24 (the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change) in Katowice, Poland Greta Thunberg put world leaders on notice.

“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”

Young people all over the world have joined the #FridaysForFuture movement.

The day before the Global Strike for Future Greta Thunberg received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Global Strike for Future

The Global Strike for Future was a worldwide event with student actions occurring on Friday, March 15, 2019, in thousands of cities in over a hundred countries.

From reading news accounts and social media feeds it appears that hundreds of thousands and maybe even more than a million kids took time off from school to demand that world leaders live up to the Paris Climate Agreement and take action to keep global warming below 1.5° (C).

Sure, these kids could hold rallies and marches after school or on weekends but it would not be nearly as impactful. I think the civil disobedience aspect of skipping school as well as the sheer number of kids doing it is what is making the world take notice.

San Luis Obispo Rally

I first heard about the San Luis Obispo Global Strike for Future events when Brandon O’Rourke showed up at the March 7 SLO Climate Coalition meeting. He told us that students at several schools would be striking and that a student rally was going to be held outside the courthouse.

By the next day, Brandon O’Rourke, Tara Hale, Carmen Bouquin, Noel Clark, Erika Wilson had posted an event page on social media with more specifics. They posted updates during the week. That is how I knew when and where to show up for the rally.

The organizers held a sign-making party for students and had signs available at the rally. I recycled my Women’s March sign with materials I printed from the FridaysForFuture website.

During the rally, there were speakers, chants, and singing. The crowd was mostly young people with a few older people like me sprinkled here and there.

Luke Dunn at Global Strike for Future in San Luis Obispo, CA

Luke Dunn took the microphone for a couple of minutes and invited participants to join the SLO Climate Coalition, which is a community group working to create a carbon-free San Luis Obispo city and county.

As the rally was wrapping up, I took the opportunity to talk with a few people and take photos. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the note in my smartphone with their names (sigh).

A follow-up session was scheduled for Sunday at a local park to give the students an opportunity to debrief and talk about the next actions.

What Can You Do?

I was heartened to see local young people taking an interest in keeping Earth habitable for themselves and everyone else. We are all in this together, now.

School protests related to climate change may be a relatively new phenomenon but students have been making their voices heard on and off campus for decades.

For instance, the 1970 Earth Day teach-ins held at thousands of schools across the United States energized the environmental movement and led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency and far-reaching legislation like the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Endangered Species Act.

People in the streets demanding action get things done. That includes kids.

Having kids participate in school strikes can present challenges like ensuring everyone’s safety, making up for missed classes, and respecting kids that do not want to strike. This is an opportunity for older people to help the younger generation become active members of society.

Let’s engage our kids and work with them to enable them to make their voices heard, be safe, and get their homework done. Here are a few thought starters.

  • Support actions kids want to take.
  • Help kids and schools with logistics.
  • Provide transportation.
  • Give financial support.
  • Be a mentor.
  • Host a sign making party.
  • Rent or loan audio/visual equipment.
  • Provide a meeting place.
  • Offer your expertise.
  • Spread the word.

I am looking forward to what these young climate activists do next.

Featured Image at Top: Global Strike for Future Logo.

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