Sunday, Sep. 10, 2017 at 2:02 AM
Saturday, September 9, 2017
UPLAND - As many as a hundred people joined today's "United4Love2" rally against white supremacy and more broadly, the Trump administration's policies. The diverse crowd heard speeches, poems, and musical performances for several hours in Memorial Park.
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The organizers of the event, activists with the Defend Movement, had originally planned their action in response to a plan by the extreme right to hold an "America First" rally in Upland in coordination with the ACT for America nationwide day of action. The "American Congress for Truth" is the nation's largest Islamophobic group. Defend was supported by the faith-based Rise Against the Wall, which roots its anti-Trump activism in Christianity. Both are new groups that formed in the wake of the rise of Trumpism.
According to the ACT's website, "the original goal of the rallies was to show support for “common sense ‘America First’ security policies proposed by President Trump” — policies that “prioritize real protection over political correctness, and celebrate American exceptionalism.”"1
Local right wing Facebook activist Denise Ruiz had created a Facebook event for the Upland event, which was later modified to be a rally "in support of first responders." A leaked lineup showed that Ruiz would give the welcome, and that the "Three percenters," a group considered by many to be fascist, would be tabling.
However, when the national organization decided to cancel all public actions for the day and to hold instead an "online day of ACTion," the Upland rally was also cancelled. Other factors--namely, the inability of organizers to obtain a permit and the threat of a counterdemonstration, liked served as further persuasion.
Despite the cancellation of the ACT rally, the Defend Movement opted to proceed with their rally, which they dubbed "United4Love2," having previously "United for Love" in Yucaipa in response to a similar rally planned by the extreme right there.
Similarly, the local xenophobic group, "We the People Rising," refusing to be deterred by ACT's cancellation, scheduled their own rally for the day--this one held outside the Upland Public Library where a veteran's memorial stands. Apparently they couldn't brook the idea of not spewing hatred against Islam. They billed their event as a commemoration of 9/11, dressed in gawdy American flag gear, and sang horribly-off-key renditions of the jingoist ditty "God Bless America."
Seemingly unaware that the anti-immigrant Trump supporters manifested their hatred in spite of national orders, the Rise Against the Wall group named their Facebook event a "Victory" rally against racism.
People had already gathered at 10, holding signs towards motorists transiting bust Foothill Boulevard, and setting up a table for vending Afghani food.
At about 11, the event at Memorial Park officially began with a prayer from the Reverend Felicia Parazaider from the "Revolution of Love " ministry. Shortly thereafter, the speakers and performers began. Speakers and performers included Upland resident Breanna Patterson; Sylvia Merlos, who had confronted the alt-right at a rally in Venice Beach against Google; the Reverend Sally Willis-Watkins of the Upland Disciples of Christ Church; a singer named Saufty Cupples; Karla Alegría of the Los Ángeles chapter of the Freedom Socialist Party; a singer named Mellani; a poet named Janah; Charlene McKinley-Powell of the Riverside Democratic Party; hip hop artist Dukalion; Stephen Yorba of Pomona's Urban Mission; Crystal Keshawarz, who was the main organizer of the event; hip hop artist and MC for the event Samerai the 7th; Reverend Lee Yates of the UCC church in Covina; activist Tania Singh; Donovan of the IE chapter of Black Lives Matter; Fontana-based activist Bobbi Jo Chavarria; and "Amber" from the RCP front group "Refuse Fascism." Community activist Gustavo Ramirez also shared some words.
While the artists were very talented and some of the speakers shared moving messages, the experience was, in this writer's experience, wholly awkward. The new crop of activists who are responding to the new threat posed by the Trump administration are mostly folks who are not well-versed in the traditions of the movement, do not have very well-defined politics, put together ad hoc coalitions not designed to last longer than an event, and emerge at a time when activism is defined by social media presence more than genuine community or political work. They are successful in putting on events and drawing unlikely allies to them, such as the artists that shared their talents, but only time will show whether they are here for the moment or to stay.
Personally, I hope that they remain in the movement and learn the value of solid coalitions, of eliminating predatory groups, and more precisely define their own politics. But for me it was a very awkward experience, and in all honesty, the only reason I supported with my presence was because it was being held in Upland, which is sorely lacking a grassroots movement. While my hope that a local response to an Islamophobic rally would be the impetus for the formation of a permanent organization to do grassroots work in Upland were not met, I still hold out hope that the people of Upland can organize and push for change in their city, where the Minutemen are based and where anti-houseless vigilantes recently committed a chemical attack against an individual collecting recyclables near the Goodwill on 7th and Mountain.2
This is not to mention the long history of racist behavior on the part of Upland police, the lack of political representation of the poor and people of color, and poor administration of the city's treasury, none of which will be solved in the absence of a genuinely grassroots movement to defend human rights in the city.
2. Marquez, Lizet. "Upland resident reportedly sprays homeless man with weedkiller, pulls out gun." Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, September 8, 2017.