Two dueling demonstrations are scheduled Monday on the De La Guerra Plaza lawn in front of the Santa Barbara News-Press offices.
At 1 p.m., a teach-in followed by a rally and march will be hosted by PODER (People Organizing for the Defense and Equal Rights of Santa Barbara Youth), which has voiced loud and consistent criticism over the newspaper’s use of the term “illegals” to describe unauthorized immigrants.
At 1:30 p.m., an anti-immigration group out of Claremont called We the People Rising will put on a public show of support for the News-Press and its right to free speech. Both organizations said they’ve notified the paper and the police of their respective plans.
The upcoming face-off comes three weeks after the News-Press published the headline “Illegals line up for driver’s licenses” above a news story about a new California law (AB 60) that allows immigrants to apply for a driver’s license without proving citizenship. Critics argued the label “illegals” is racist and dehumanizing, and they took offense to the story’s accompanying photo that featured identifiable but unnamed men and women waiting at the DMV. They demanded a retraction and staged a protest the next week that drew around 200 supporters.
The paper’s management has countered that describing someone living in the country illegally as an “illegal” is accurate and appropriate. They’ve dismissed the detractors as “thugs” and open-border advocates who are attempting to dictate a publication’s editorial choices, and they’ve repeatedly equated the spray-paint vandalism that hit their offices to the Charlie Hebdo attack. This Friday, the News-Press published another front-page story about AB 60, this time with the headline “Driving legal opens door to illegals’ past.”
PODER representative Savanah Maya called Friday’s headline and story “fighting words.” She said the paper’s intention was clearly to provoke a response, which she promised PODER will deliver on Monday. “With their blunt and blatant use of racism again — when they know people are offended by it — they are taking the stance that our opinion is completely disregarded,” she said. Maya said the second provocative headline will “make our stance even stronger” and that it “just shows they’re getting defensive and trying to flex their power.”
Robin Hvidston, executive director of We the People Rising, said her group’s planned demonstration is necessary because PODER and others are wrongfully “seeking to dictate to a newspaper what they can and can’t do, what type of language they can use.” With an estimated 500 members nationwide and expected showing of about 50 people on Monday, We the People Rising was formed around three years ago, Hvidston said, and will hold signs and distribute literature in De la Guerra Plaza. Jamiel Shaw Jr., whose son was shot and killed by an unauthorized immigrant, will be their event’s keynote speaker, she said.
“We will present a faith that both sides can agree with: freedom of speech,” Hvidston went on, referencing the Charlie Hebdo killings and the News-Press vandalism. Very different actions were at play in each incident, she said, but people seeking to stifle free expression perpetrated both. “Freedom of speech is not about pleasantries,” she said. “It can generate opposition, but that’s what it means to live in this great country.”
A number of unrelated Martin Luther King Jr. Day events are planned for this weekend, including a Monday morning rally at De La Guerra Plaza. Read more about them here.