Over 70 Sonoma County residents peacefully gathered at La Plaza Park in downtown Cotati Sunday the 13th to stand in solidarity with Charlottesville, where a violent white-supremacist and Neo-Nazi march killed 32-year-old counter protester, Heather D. Heyer and injured several others during the Saturday, August 12 clash after a car barreled through the crowd.
Attendees from towns all over the county; including Penngrove, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, convened at the park around 6 p.m., where they sang songs, held up peace signs and lined up with similar signs along Old Redwood Highway and West Sierra Avenue, according to Cotati resident Jenny Blaker.
Laurie-Ann Barbour, another Cotati resident, organized the impromptu event after learning that Petaluma and Santa Rosa were planning to hold similar events and wanted to plan one that was closer and more accessible for Cotati and Rohnert Park residents.
“I had gotten an e-mail, it might have been from MoveOn, that said ‘stand in solidarity with Charlottesville’ and it immediately seemed appealing to be part of it. It was so shocking and sad to see what had gone on there and so I clicked on the link and it showed that the nearest one was in Petaluma Sunday night,” Barbour said. “Everybody was kind of saying the same thing, wishing there was one (event) closer. So I went to bed then I woke up and thought, I’m just going to do it.”
Barbour then used social media such as Facebook, to create an event page and sent out emails to all of her neighbors and friends.
“I clicked the link and made the event and followed the steps, which honestly wasn’t that hard and we have a tradition for doing things in La Plaza Park, so I already knew where it would be,” Barbour said of the spur-of-the-moment planning process.
Barbour also said she was surprised that the event turned out to be so well-attended since she didn’t think her post and emails would be seen by many.
“I thought if only six people show up then that’s OK. I just had no idea what the response would be and I had a busy day, but I looked twice back on the Facebook page and there was a dozen people interested,” Barbour said. “So at 10 to 6 I went down there and grabbed my sign… thinking that if only a few people come then at least we’ll feel together. But when I got to the park there were many people there and more and more started coming and I thought, ‘oh my gosh’.”
The event started with introductions and a few shared words, however, Blaker said it was a bit difficult to hear since there was no formal sound system, but that it nevertheless was rewarding to see so many people speak their mind.
“With so many people in such a large circle in the park and with noisy traffic nearby and no sound system, it was hard to hear everything that was said, but there were personal introductions, sharing of experiences, thoughts and feelings and a few moments of silence, which I personally found very moving,” Blaker said.
Yet the main message of the gathering was to stand up for community and love and to resist hate and racism. One community member even brought her young daughter in order to express her thoughts and be a part of the harmonious event.
“One women introduced her 10-year-old daughter, wanting her to see people come together in love and community and stand up against hatred and justice,” Blaker described. Later the crowd sang songs of hope such as “We Shall Overcome,” and “This Land is Your Land.”
Barbour said she was pleased that the solidarity gathering was such a success and that many people thanked her and were glad to attend an event that promoted peace and love.
“I think everybody was surprised and pleased and touched by how many people had shown up. It just kind of sparked a chord that everybody wanted to be connected to each other and with peaceful people and to show Charlottesville that we’re peaceful and we care. So many people were glad to be there and show support,” Barbour explained.
Blaker echoed Barbour’s thoughts, saying of the event, “All in all, I think everyone found the event heartwarming and inspiring and were grateful for the opportunity to come together in solidarity and community to honor our common humanity.”
Despite the startling and violent events taking place over hundreds of miles away, Barbour mentioned that she believes it is important for small towns like Cotati to recognize and stand in solidarity where places of tragic events that shake the country happen far away.
“I think it’s really important for the people who come together in their community to feel that they’re not alone so in that sense I think it’s important for people to come together anywhere and to feel that they could maybe do something… And I think it would help if every little event was reported (like Cotati’s), because if that’s not known in the larger world it’s still important for people in every small place and Cotati to come together. There’s value there,” Barbour explained.
Last Saturday’s rally, which was one of the largest white-supremacist events in recent history, sparking outrage across the country, was organized in opposition to city plans of removing a statue of Confederate General, Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville. The violent weekend started with a march at the University of Virginia, carrying torches and chanting sayings such as, “white lives matter,” and carrying Confederate and Nazi flags.
When asked what the most disturbing aspect of the events in Charlottesville was for Barbour, she sighed and paused for a moment, emotion heavy in her voice.
“It is kind of hard to know where to start, but I think the fact that someone thought it was a good idea to run through people with a car, it’s unfathomable to me… And I’ve been checking in a lot on news articles and social media about the reaction to this because I have been really upset that President Trump… had said there were blame on both sides and it upset me that he wouldn’t say that white supremacists were the cause of this death and this violence,” she said.
Trump had been met with sweeping criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for not directly calling out white supremacists saying in a tweet that “many sides” were to blame.
While she didn’t attend the event, Mayor of Cotati Susan Harvey said of the gathering of people in the park, that she’s glad that residents have a public space to come together, support each other and show love in the face of events such as these.
“It is a very important gathering place in our community,” Harvey said of such events that take place in La Plaza Park.
When asked what she would say to the mayor of Charlottesville and the community as whole to offer comfort and support, she too expressed thoughts of solidarity and peace.
“I feel horrible for what happened in that city and I hope that love comes out of it and I hope it brings the community together and that things can be different in the future, it is awful that such a bad thing had to happen. And so I hope that the community will be a far better place in the future,” Harvey said. “I send my thoughts and prayers to the families involved.”