Photos by David Royal
By Joe Livernois
Almost 300 people gathered around what was once a golf course in Carmel Valley to protest the presence of a man in the nearby clubhouse.
With a mariachi band blaring “De Colores” in the background and a taco truck doing a swift business, protesters loudly and peacefully declared that Joe Arpaio, the disgraced former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, does not belong in Monterey County.
Siobhan Warwick Griffin Wolfe, the Carmel Valley woman who organized the rally, cited a list of Arpaio’s offenses while he led the department, a list that ended with his conviction for contempt after violating a judge’s order to stop targeting Latino drivers. Arpaio was ultimately pardoned by President Donald Trump, but Wolfe said that the former sheriff liked to brag that he ran his prisons like concentration camps.
“We do not accept that here,” she told the crowd. “We don’t accept it in Monterey County and we should not accept it in the United States of America.”
The atmosphere outside the clubhouse was festive, with sign-wielding demonstrators cheering a dozen speakers and singing along with Mariachi California de Javier Vargas from a makeshift stage about 100 yards from the clubhouse, where a crowd of conservatives cheered Arpaio during his luncheon remarks at the Central Coast Liberty Luncheon hosted by the Monterey Peninsula Republican Women Federated. The atmosphere did not mask the anger expressed by many of the demonstrators who were incredulous that Arpaio had been invited to the area.
“What’s the story today?” asked Luis “Xago” Juárez, a founding member of Baktun 12, a theater group from Salinas. “On which side are we going to stand today?”
Jesse Vallejo, a campaign staffer representing Rep. Jimmy Panetta, exhorted the crowd to vote to “drown out the voice of this man.”
And Blanca Zarazua told the crowd that American values and the U.S. Constitution dictate that all residents should be treated with dignity and respect. “They should not be treated like animals.”
Zarazua wore a long-sleeve shirt with a photo of her late father, Aquilino, on the front. She and her family had been raised not far from the site of the events, in housing off the old Odello Ranch at the mouth of the Carmel River, where her father worked in the artichoke fields. Blanca Zarazua is an immigration attorney and honorary consul general to the Mexican Consulate.
The simultaneous events were held at the Palo Corona Regional Park, off Carmel Valley Road. Until recently, the section of the park had been the Rancho Cañada Golf Course, but it was turned over the the regional park, which is allowing the golf course to return to its natural state while the clubhouse is still being used for special events.
Park and sheriff’s officials carefully kept the demonstrators separated from the Republican Women’s guests, surrounding the clubhouse with temporary fencing and moving vehicles to separate parking lots. Still, about 50 protesters greeted those who entered the compound in their cars at the gate, cheering those who honked their support and jeering those who were obviously there to hear Arpaio speak.
Among the demonstrators was Andrea C., a 23-year-old Salinas woman who is currently caught in the immigration battles that Arpaio seems to represent with people on both sides of the issue. (Voices of Monterey Bay is honoring her request to omit her full surname, due to uncertainty with her immigration status.)
Andrea said that she narrowly missed the deadline for DACA, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, when she arrived in the United States more than 10 years ago. She attended North Salinas High, Hartnell College and CSU Monterey Bay, and is now preparing to apply at various law schools.
“My parents and I pay taxes,” she said. “We are involved in church and I’m involved in social-justice issues of all types, not just immigration.” She said she feels vulnerable, even in a “state that’s as progressive as California” because she knows there are still people in her community who support the philosophies espoused by Arpaio.
“The fear is that there are people who believe what he believes,” she said.
Griffin Wolfe refers to herself as an “accidental activist” who suddenly got thrust into the leadership role of the demonstration after jokingly posting something on Facebook. While the usual crowd of familiar progressives attended the demonstration, none of them had been involved in the organization.
She conducted several television and radio interviews with a cigarette in one hand and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the other. “This turned out way better than I expected,” she told Voices as she stood at the perimeter of the crowd Thursday morning. “This all started out as a joke, and look at it now.”
Heidi Bates of Big Sur Tacos said the taco truck was busy all day, but a long line started to form shortly before noon, as the mariachi band moved from the stage to the edge of the fencing that separated the demonstrators from the Republican guests.
Griffin Wolfe and other organizers had been careful in urging demonstrators to remain peaceful, despite the obvious anger at Arpaio, the target of the protest. And they remained calm even as a couple of Trump supporters wandered through the crowd, waving Make America Great Again flags and trying to engage demonstrators in “conversations” while one of them recorded it all from a cell phone attached to a selfie stick.
At one point, in the interest of engaging in conversation, a representative of Baktun 12 invited the Trump supporters to a show the theater troupe has scheduled this weekend in East Salinas. “Why would I go to East Salinas to get shot at?” one of the Trump supporters answered in pigeon Spanish. He then wandered into the crowd, noting that someone was eating a torta from the taco truck.
“Torta,” the man with the selfie stick said.
“Tor-tah,” he repeated, in an exaggerated accent.
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