May Day demonstrations in Santa Barbara this year will be conspicuous only in their relative absence. In the past, local installments of the May 1 event — which, also known as International Workers’ Day, commemorates immigrants and working people the world over — have been diligently organized and hyped. For instance, 2006’s May Day saw thousands of Santa Barbara demonstrators hit city streets in protest of H.R. 4437, the proposed — and ultimately failed — national bill that attempted to enact tougher punishments on illegal immigrants. Come Saturday, however, things around town will be much more subdued.
The lack of organized action is notable, especially in light of the recently enacted Arizona law — the toughest of its kind in the nation — that allows police in the state to actively hunt down, prosecute, and deport illegal immigrants. SB 1070 has been both lauded and attacked throughout the country, sparking demonstrations in favor and against the controversial legislation that President Obama himself denounced. This weekend, say local legislation critics, would have been a prime opportunity to protest it, as well as speak out against the city’s possible approval of gang injunctions.
No one perhaps is more surprised and upset that Santa Barbara will be devoid of any large-scale May Day activist activity than Osiris Castañeda, YouthCinemedia founder and director and creator of Parents Against Discrimination, Racism and Extreme Sentencing (P.A.D.R.E.S.). Castañeda, who’s known around town for shepherding at-risk youth off the streets and into the production room, recently began checking out what was in store on Saturday for filming purposes and discovered, to his dismay, that not much is. He vehemently opposes Arizona’s new law, characterizing it as an all-out attack on social justice and a cruel twist of the American dream.
Calling out PUEBLO and La Casa de La Raza — two area organizations whose platforms align against the Arizona bill and gang injunctions, and that have the manpower, contacts, and capability to organize sizeable demos — Castañeda says folks in charge at both places really dropped the ball. Although PUEBLO, said executive director Belen Seara, is bussing close to 100 people down to Los Angeles to take part in what will be a massive statewide rally, Castañeda says people here in Santa Barbara need to see the groups display a local presence as well. “It’s a disservice to the community to not have a rally or protest here,” said Castañeda. “It emboldens those who are discriminatory if they don’t see a physical presence of people who stand against injustice.” Representatives from La Casa de La Raza could not be reached.
Seara said that while she was a bit skeptical about not staging any kind of in-town event, it was up to PUEBLO’s immigration committee — composed of 20-30 volunteer members — to make the call. “We’re a bottom-up organization, not a top-down” she asserted. Part of the motivation to head south, she said, revolved around the fact that PUEBLO felt there wasn’t any local legislation to get behind and that they “didn’t want to march just for the sake of having a march.” The thought was, she said, that participation in a large-scale state event is part of a long-term strategy to generate area awareness.
While Castañeda lauds PUEBLO for taking part in the L.A. demonstration, and said he’s a huge supporter of the nonprofit, he also asserts that the group needs to act locally while thinking globally. “They’re missing the point,” he said. “What’s happening in Arizona could happen in California, in Santa Barbara. It’s time to show solidarity and to show the local government and Latino community, as well as others, that here we’re against SB 1070.” PUEBLO and others, continued Castañeda, have to take the lead to instill a sense of urgency in the community that’s not fear based, he said, but “grounded in sound American principles of demonstration and activism.” “If they purport to represent community,” he went on, “they have to be more tactical.”
Seara, while acknowledging her organization’s lack of May Day participation in the area, pointed to PUEBLO’s upcoming events this month including a 10-year anniversary dinner that will feature Angelica Salas, executive director of the L.A.-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. She also mentioned a May 15 community values forum that will address how the Latino community is treated by the police force, including a discussion about checkpoints she says targets illegal immigrants. The forum, Seara also mentioned, will speak to the county’s adoption of the federal Secure Communities Program.
But this coming weekend will be a crucial opportunity missed, argues Castañeda, and he and others are taking note. “I want this to be a reminder to those organizations that if they don’t keep in mind what’s best for the community, the community will remind them. We’re watching; we’re still here. If they don’t really do what’s in the best interest of the people they supposedly serve, we’ll be just as critical of them as we will be of the right-wingers in Arizona.”
Castañeda charged that while the organizations in his crosshairs care more about flexing their muscles in order to secure funding — sending out polished flyers and announcements way ahead of time and flaunting their ability to gather mass amounts of people to showy events — he’s more concerned with staging some sort of presence in Santa Barbara, no matter how last-minute or small. “It doesn’t matter if there’s two people, 200 people, or 2,000 people,” he went on, announcing the impromptu event he and YouthCinemedia will be holding at noon near the dolphin fountain on Saturday. “While the more support the better,” he said, “we don’t care how many people we have. This is real grassroots.”