Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice advocates in the Santa Ynez Valley have found ways to make their voices heard. On Monday, October 19, the singer P!nk, with help from friends John and Lila Ormond, held a rally at Solvang Park featuring speeches from community members and a performance by P!nk — all with the goal of inspiring action to promote social and racial equity and inclusion in the Valley.
The event drew close to 200 people — virtually all of whom wore masks, though the distance between them often appeared to fall short of six feet. Attendees heard from 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who reminded the crowd that “There’s a strong sense in our culture that strength means denial of emotions, bravado,” Being vulnerable and sharing our hurt with others, Hartmann countered, is real strength. “Receiving those stories is a gift,” she advised.
Local musician John Ormond was the first to share such a story. His family recently found the Black Lives Matter sign in their front yard vandalized, with a blue stripe painted over the word “Black.” “My first thought was, ‘I need a bigger sign,’” Ormond joked. But the vandalism, he clarified, was nothing to laugh about: To him, it sent the message that some in the community don’t value the lives of black neighbors like him and his family.
In her speech, local activist Vashti Wilson asked rally-goers to “share the load” borne by people of color. She had the audience imagine her carrying a load of 10 bricks — one representing the burden of systemic racism, another the burden of sexism, another the burden of historical slavery, and so on. Too many well-meaning people, she explained, help carry a brick or two for a little while but give them right back once they’re tired. “I encourage you to stay in the arena,” Wilson urged, referencing a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. “I encourage you to not be one of those cold and timid souls.”
Wilson’s 7-year-old daughter, Madison, described the disappointment she felt at seeing so few people of color in movies and storybooks. In response, she’s started a crowdfunded project called Madi’s Treasure Box with the goal of raising money to provide local schools with multicultural books and crayons. The effort has now raised almost $43,000 and has become a nonprofit organization, receiving orders for multicultural school supplies from places as far-flung as Austria. Wilson also put the audience on notice for an upcoming YouTube channel, Madi’s Corner, in which Madison and four friends will offer crash-course lessons on world-changing people of color and read books with diverse character casts by authors of color. The show premieres October 30th.
Wilson credits everything to her daughter. “Madison selects every book for Madi’s Corner, all artwork created is personally approved by Madi every step of the way, and she writes all of her own speeches,” she says. “This is her initiative, period. My job is simply to make it happen.”
Community religious leaders also took turns to speak. The Reverend Chris Brown advised attendees to not just listen but to take action following the event, while the Reverend Randall Day led a prayer, saying, “May our actions be blessing, and may new policies and new social structures formed by us be blessing for everyone.”
Rabbi Debi Lewis took a more direct approach with her remarks. “Leadership sets a tone. It either is divisive or it unites us. It either appeals to ‘very fine people on both sides,’ or it unequivocally rejects it,” she said, referencing comments made by President Trump following protests over the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. “There is no such thing as a ‘very fine’ white supremacist.”
While all speakers gave thanks for progress already made, a brief moment during the rally spoke to the gap in understanding still lying between certain groups in the community. As John Ormond spoke, a man driving by interrupted, waving a small American flag and shouting from his truck, “Trump 2020!” Several rally-goers raised middle fingers in response; one retorted, “F*** you!”
The event continued peacefully otherwise, concluding with a list of goals meant to address moments like this. Speaking in English, Spanish, and the Samala language of the Chumash, a group of local children called on the community “to explore with honesty and empathy the role that race, gender, sexual orientation, and immigrant status play in our current climate” and “to embrace ideas and opinions different from our own and to disagree peaceably in order to foster better understanding and solutions.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the event was organized by Inclusion SYV. It was in fact organized by P!nk with help from John and Lila Ormond.
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