Dozens March for Unity in Gilroy Thursday

More than 50 students, parents and members of the community marched nearly two miles through Gilroy to City Hall Thursday at noon to celebrate unity and diversity, things they said were absent in the campaign rhetoric of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

The march, organized by the Student Democratic Club at Gavilan College and including local middle and high school students, started at the old CVS store on First Street and continued along Hanna to City Hall, where the peaceful gathering concluded with speakers and a sharing circle on the complex lawn.
 
As they marched they chanted “Unity through diversity,” “The people united will never be divided” “Hey Ho Racism has got to go.”
 
Noshava Afzao, a Gilroy educational consultant who trains teachers, and wore a hijab said she was there with a flag to accent that liberty and justice “was for everyone.” She worried about how the election would affect that.
 “There’s a lot of disappointment,” she said.  “The election is a wake up call. I thought we lived in a country that had made progress and this just shows how much progress we need to make.”

As word spread that students at Gavilan College were planning a citywide walkout, school administrators scrambled to inform high school parents.

“Gilroy is a lovely little bubble of people who are not always proactive. We want to acknowledge voices and create a coalition,” said Sarah Najar, Vice President of the Gavilan Democratic Club.

An email to Christopher High School parents from Principal Paul Winslow said: “FYI High School Parents: Someone is encouraging students to cut school” and “while we definitely support free speech, the right to assemble peacefully, and the right to express opinion” students who missed school to participate would be penalized and not be able to make up work.

Lisa Ruiz, a parent of Gilroy students with special needs, said she received a call from the GUSD the night before alerting her that any absence would be considered unexcused, but felt she needed to come anyways.

“I got to be here in solidarity with the minorities in the community and to see what we can do to help to unify everyone not be divided and hopefully we can get together in love.”

As people gathered in the parking lot, members of the Gilroy Police Department kept an eye on proceedings.

 Sgt. Wes Stanford had a team of motorcycle officers  charged with making sure the demonstrators were safe walking the mile and a half between First Street and City Hall. The department was notified of the march, but organizers didn’t know they would need a permit.
 
“We want to make sure that it’s peaceful, that they are allowed to voice their opinion and whatever views they have and they get to City Hall in a safe fashion.”
 
Stanford said the city has had sporadic marches over the years with the last one he remembers an Occupy Gilroy march of eight people.

The well-behaved crowd began their march up First Street – along the sidewalks and stopping at all intersections, using the crosswalks – the sound of honking cars mingling with chants calling for unity.

Iris Cueto, 23, a Gavilan biology major, said “The election is making me feel sad, but it’s also making me feel happy to have youth standing up for their rights. It’s nice to see them out here protesting in a peaceful way.”

 

Holding up a coat hanger poster that read, “Never Again,” Summer Diaz, 18, said: “I believe everyone should have their rights. I believe that women should make their own choice and politicians should stay out of women’s rights. “

 

When the marchers got to City Hall they were offered bottled water by the student organizers who then thanked the crowd for obeying all the traffic laws and the police for “keeping us safe.”

 

Addressing the group, Dr. Enrique Luna, who teaches history at Gavilan, said “we don’t want to be here, but there is a need.”

 

Thanking the march organizers for putting on the event, he said at times he was both laughing and shedding a few tears during the march to city hall.

 

It’s hard to build a community, it’s easy to destroy a community. And we are here to do the hard work.”  



 
 

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