The crowd at the Feb. 27, 2017 Petaluma City Council meeting was as large as anyone has seen at our Eisenhower-era City Hall, with every seat in the chamber taken, folks standing behind them and against the walls, a sea of people flowing all the way down the hall and out the building’s double doors.
Some came to tell their stories, and speak of the sometimes unimaginable realities they now face. Some gathered to make certain what had begun as a statement of community principles around our civil and human rights, crafted by concerned citizens and known as the It Won’t Happen Here resolution, remained the demand to protect our citizenry it was intended to be.
Contrary to reports in Sonoma Media Investments’ local papers, the Press Democrat and its weekly Petaluma stepchild, the Argus-Courier, the resolution considered this winter evening was different in character than any yet adopted in Sonoma County.
As Sonoma County activist Susan Lamont – the driving force behind the It Won’t Happen Here statement – has repeatedly noted, Petaluma’s resolution, unlike Santa Rosa’s or the subsequent variations based upon it, specifically refers to several populations most threatened by Trump policies, not just undocumented immigrants. Most resolutions have been limited to calls for “speaking out” on behalf of targeted people, which sounds nearly meaningless considering we’re discussing the possibility of families being broken up by ICE. Petaluma’s resolution articulated a principled refusal “to cooperate with any demands from the federal government to institute detentions, deportations, registries” etcetera.
The Santa Rosa City Council rejected language similar to Petaluma’s which had been offered by Councilmember Julie Combs.
In Petaluma, however, the crowd need not have been concerned about the watering down of their resolution. What they ultimately got was a remarkable statement of conscience and principle, which recognized that “the rights, freedom, and dignity of all people are under threat and that children and families face potentially devastating and permanent harm.”
Weeks of community organizing in Petaluma by a expanding group of locals – Sam Tuttelman, Chuck Sher, Carol Crabill, Rebecca Kagin, Marjorie Helm and many others insured the resolution before the Petaluma City Council would be well-regarded. Thousands of people signed an online petition. Hundreds of civic organizations, businesses, associations, and non profits endorsed the statement.
A subcommittee of Councilmembers Kathy Miller, Dave King and Vice Mayor Teresa Barrett, appointed by Mayor David Glass to craft a resolution using the It Won’t Happen Here statement as a guide, came up with an unequivocal and strongly worded measure that easily won the unanimous support of Petaluma’s seven-member council.
It was the poignant, impassioned, sometimes heartbreaking commentary from the public that sealed the deal this evening. The huge crowd helped amplify the powerful emotions they expressed, the fear, the anxiety and the love, not to mention raise the room’s temperature on an otherwise chilly night. The significance of the evening was abundantly clear, but I don’t believe any of us were prepared for the heartbreaking reality of their comments.
The speakers were exceptionally diverse: very young and elderly, students and teachers, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, businesspeople, laborers and realtors – residents all. Some had come from Mexico at one time or another, others from Pakistan, and some all the way from Bennett Valley. Some traced their ancestry in the United States of America to the Revolutionary War. Others helpfully reminded us that this was all once part of Mexico. It was, I believe, a small group of young Latina students who caused so many in the crowd to break out their tissues.
“I want to thank the public. Okay?” said Mayor David Glass after the commentary had concluded.
“You did what I think hasn’t happened in any other community with this issue – we had people on both sides speak, and we had [a respectful] demeanor, and you’re to be thanked for that. That should be the story in the paper tomorrow.”
He went on to remind us all that the battle was just beginning, and it would occur everywhere, not just in Petaluma.
Moments later the council voted unanimously to approve the resolution, causing a thunderous eruption of applause from the crowd as we stood to celebrate. It was one of those rare and beautiful moments of such love and joy it’s rendered unforgettable.
This night Petaluma acknowledged that we are all of one community here, each and every one an integral part of the whole. We are Petalumans, we are Californians, and we are most definitely Americans, and we intend to take care of our own.
Of course it was also a truly loud and proud SCREW YOU to Donald J. Trump and his despicable, racist, and cruel policies.
Read on for a partial transcript of the evening’s unforgettable public commentary, take care of each other, resist.
Note also the strong statements from Councilmember Dave King and Vice Mayor Teresa Barrett.
Ramon Ponce, Associate Pastor at St. Vincent de Paul, serves a predominantly Hispanic congregation at the church, bonded by the Spanish language and their faith. He spoke of parishioners unnecessarily living in fear over their possible deportation, of children afraid to go to sleep at night for fear their parents would not be there when they awakened.
“I really do not think that this particular situation we are living in now in Petaluma and around the country is helping in any way to make America great. America will be great again when our children can live without fear, protected and nurtured by their parents.”
Another young female Latina lived in fear of losing her parents and declined to provide more information than her first name, Lizbeth. She’s a straight-A student at Casa Grande.
“Overall, with everything that is going on, I’m afraid to leave my house in the mornings because what if it’ll be the last time I see my parents? You just never know what the future holds, coming from an immigrant. My parents had to give up seeing the rest of their family just to give my brother and I a better life. I don’t want to have to go through what my parents did. My Dad couldn’t even go to his mother’s funeral. My family gave up everything so I wouldn’t be split up from them. That’s why this ordinance is so important.”
Lupita, proud daughter of immigrants, grew up in fear of the police. Her mother had always been afraid of being pulled over by the police when she was little, out of fear of being deported. She spoke of the shame she now felt over not understanding how difficult her mother’s challenges were when Lupita was younger, working several jobs to pay rent and never being available to help with school fundraisers and attend PTA meetings like other mothers.
“I don’t want to live in a place where undocumented immigrants are afraid to walk out of their houses. I don’t want to live in a place where children fear the possibility of their parents not making it home.”
Saudah Mirza, a Muslim of Indian descent who was born and raised in the Bay Area, decried the racist rhetoric of President Trump, and noted how fortunate she was to be raised in a supportive multicultural community where diverse peoples could thrive.
“As a mother raising three young children in this town, I want to ensure my kids grow up in a Petaluma and an America free of hate and intolerance and ignorance. Instituting registries on the basis of religion, or immigration bans or the racist rhetoric coming from our leaders all go against what America stands for, and the great strides that have been made in this country over the last several decades.”
“My own family consists of people from business owners to laborers to tech workers, flight attendant, lawyer, government employees, my husband is a doctor in this town, and the list goes on. There is a saying in the Muslim tradition that the prophet Muhammad said “‘None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,’ ‘brother’ here meaning all of humanity.”
Lizbeth Verasco, who appeared to be around 12 or 13, came to speak on behalf of those who could not.
“We want to support and help our people that contribute a lot to the community. How can people say we steal or take jobs when we’re doing the work that no one else wants to do?”
“It’s upsetting to know that one day one of my family members or friends could be gone without even a goodbye. We should put an end to the devastation caused by the separation of families,” she said, her voice beginning to tremble. “Life is very different without parents or guardians around.”
“We are not criminals. Our people come for a better life, not only for themselves but for their children so they can have a better education than their parents had, so they don’t have to struggle like their parents do; so they could become stronger and educate others; so they can become the next great generation. Take it from a Latina/Chicana/Mexican-American, but most importantly a human being who has seen through her own eyes the struggle her parents had to go through, who sees how hard they work and how tired they are every single day; who sees how their bodies ache after long shifts…..[paused, weeping here]……just to give the kids the necessities. She sees their gentle smiles when their daughter or son score a good grade.”
“Our people should not fear being targeted for wanting to live the so-called American Dream. Making Petaluma a safe city will protect the families, workers and citizens who are here to make a better future for themselves and their loved ones. Thank you.”
Marilyn Jaffe noted the “funding issue” a few residents seem so concerned – potential financial liabilities to the city – means nothing to her if we’re not moral people. We’re all human beings with human rights on this Earth, she insisted.
George Lorenzo Ortiz Blanco, a Rincon Valley resident of Mexican ancestry, noted the racist, anti-immigrant nature of the administration and said the very large Latino population is here to stay.
“Well, kind of what he said. Wow!” exclaimed Robert Ramirez, referring to Mr. Ortiz Blanco.
“He forgot to mention that, by the way, we’re standing in Mexico, formerly.”
Ramirez noted that virtually everything that happens in town, including the affordable housing we’d like to build, is going to take a whole lot longer if we send everyone who does the work back down south.
“Your resolution isn’t going to make a huge difference, but it’ll make a huge difference for us. It’s one of many resolutions that will happen, that will build an impact in Washington because we do have someone in the Oval Office who is very disturbed, clearly.”
Jessica Moore, a nurse practitioner at the Petaluma Health Center, has seen a dramatic rise in stress-related illnesses, telling the council that dealing with these levels of stress can be extremely traumatic and debilitating.
Rachel Galdenaz, a teacher at Loma Vista elementary, has also seen dramatic changes in her students. Education is supposed to be the great equalizer in our society, but we have to provide safety and security. Her students are scared. The long term effects of this kind of stress can be life-changing.
“If they are not secure in their own homes, I cannot get them to higher levels of learning.”
Henry Walker, a 70 year old student of history, said he was very scared by what’s’ going on in Washington these days and had not planned to speak, but was motivated by the “very reasonable” man who suggested we slow down this process and wait and see.
“I think what’s happening is dangerous and I think it’s really important for people to ask themselves, who are they first, are they members of a legislature or are they human beings who have feelings and who have shame about the kinds of power that threaten the power we should have as citizens. Let’s have a gut-check and let’s stand up for our rights and for the rights of our brothers and sisters.”
Turning and gesturing towards the City Hall buildings front doors, Walker continued, “there are people out there – I’m amazed – there are people out there solid to the door out there. That means something, and it’s time for us to stand up. Stand up to the bullies. Thank you so much.”
A Pakistani Muslim gentleman who did not provide his name, who has lived in Petaluma for over 40 years was moved to speak by previous comments.
He noted that immigrants built this community, and echoed previous commentary suggesting that noted we are all a part of a beautiful fabric. “We are like the thread of that fabric. If you pull out the thread, there will be no fabric.”
Ron Wellaushen pointed out that his great-grandfather many generations removed had fought in the Revolutionary War as a Scotsman, but ended an American. He noted this was a beautiful aspect of America: “That’s the thing about America, we’re not founded upon any one ethnic identity like so many other countries around the world. To be American, all you have to do is come here.”
Diana Pacheco Garcia, a current junior at Casa Grande suggested that many of those present – particularly those on the Petaluma City Council – needed to walk a mile in immigrants’ shoes to understand what it is like to be an immigrant in America. There’s nothing easy about it. “I’m the eldest of five children. I didn’t choose to be born here and be a citizen, but my parents thankfully chose to come here to provide us a better future.”
“Textbooks will be written about this period of time. It’s your guys’ decision, and ours, what side of history we want to end up on. It’s not humane to allow ICE to come and take us and treat us as if we were animals.”
Vice Mayor Teresa Barrett, commenting in conclusion:
“I’m really surprised that so many people can get up here and say what they have said and not cry.”
“Morally, we’re all subject to this. It really pains me to think of the United States as always describing itself as the land of the free, home of the brave, where everybody talks about how much fear they have about everything, and this is a time where fear is being spread all over. If we as a council and a community can come together and alleviate some of that fear, so that children can sleep at night, so that parents can sleep at night, I think that’s actually incumbent upon us. When we opened our meeting today we said the Pledge of Allegiance, which talks about liberty and justice for all. That means ‘all’, not just ‘some’, not just the ones we want.”
“This is an opportunity for all of us to reach out and act as one. I’m happy to be a part of that.”
Councilmember Dave King said the council and subcommittee did receive some comments in opposition to this resolution, but morally and constitutionally the body is fulfilling its obligations to the community.
“I would ask everyone to read this resolution and tell me where we are not. We are not allowing our police force to participate in discrimination against people based on certain protected categories. That is a law that has been on the books in the United States for fifty plus years, and in California even longer.”
“I can take a little bit of pride in saying that I added the phrase that children and families face potentially devastating and permanent harm. For thirty years our federal government has failed to come together and reach some type of reasonable immigration policy for this country. One of the may effects of that is that cities – including this city – are dealing with that failure. People have come here, and worked here, and raised their families here, and had children here or brought their children here, and the effect of breaking those families apart will have an impact on this city. Not only the fabric of this city and the soul of this city but the operations of the city. When things break down, this is where people come, and if the family unit breaks down in a substantial part of our city, we have to fix it. This is a small way of trying to fix it in advance.”
King took particular exception to some public comments about criminal behavior among unauthorized immigrants.
“To use that anecdotal, hackneyed evidence to suggest that people are here to commit crimes and only commit crime, is an injustice, and it’s wrong, and it’s factually inaccurate. Take a look at our crime statistics. The vast majority of people that commit crimes in this country are here legally. There’s no connection between one and the other and it is a specious, weak argument.”
“The second piece here is the economic argument. I heard people say that unauthorized immigrants don’t pay taxes. That’s not true. The New York Times editorial – the main editorial in yesterday’s paper – noted that unauthorized immigrants pay $13 billion annually into Social Security, and receive back the sum of $1 billion. It also stated, and I believe this part to be absolutely true, that the cost to our national gross domestic product, if all 11 million unauthorized immigrants were to be removed would be $1 trillion. There’s a lot of impact of $1 trillion, it’s more than 5% of our gross domestic product. So the economic argument, that this is a drain on our society, which I read in multiple emails tonight, is also a false statement of fact, or an non-fact. Where are all these children going to go if their parents are deported? Are they going to go to foster homes? What is the cost of that?”
“By the way, if you attended the State of the County economic summit a month ago, a month and a half ago, more than half the agricultural workforce in this country are unauthorized immigrants. More than 50% in this state. So the economic arguments, the constitutional arguments, and the criminal arguments I don’t think bear any fruit and shouldn’t affect our decision to vote for this resolution today.”
Noting he was the grandson of immigrants, two of whom did not speak English, King concluded with the comment that “you could look around this room, you could look around this city, and you could look around this country and at some level we’re all immigrants, and when my grandparents came, at some level if you didn’t announce that you were anarchists and you didn’t have the plague, you got to stay.”
Here is the It Won’t Happen Here statement, as posted on December 10, 2016.
A statement of conscience to the elected representatives of Sonoma County:
IT WON’T HAPPEN HERE DECLARATION (English and Spanish)
WHEREAS, to safeguard the equal and inalienable rights and inherent dignity of all people that is the foundation of the relationship between a government and the people;
AND whereas, we recognize that the rights and dignity of all people are under threat;
WE, the undersigned organizations, call upon all Sonoma County governing authorities and law enforcement agencies to pledge in writing to protect all of the County’s community members;
FURTHERMORE, we call upon these authorities and agencies to proclaim publicly that they will refuse to cooperate with any demands from the federal government to institute detentions, deportations, registries, conversion therapies, imprisonment or any other acts that target or discriminate based on immigration status, race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, ability, political affiliation, economic status, age, gender-identity or sexual orientation;
FURTHERMORE, we, the undersigned organizations, in obedience to our consciences, pledge to protect all community members and will support our local governments as they move to resist these undemocratic and un-American practices in order to reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity, respect and dignity.
ESTO NO SUCEDERA AQUI – Resistencia del Condado de Sonoma a la Agenda de Trump
CONSIDERANDO que, para proteger los derechos iguales e inalienables y la dignidad inherente de todas las personas, que es el fundamento de la relación entre un gobierno y el pueblo;
Y CONSIDERANDO que reconocemos que los derechos y la dignidad de todas las personas están amenazados;
NOSOTROS, los abajo firmantes que residen en el condado de Sonoma, CA, pedimos a todas las autoridades gubernamentales del condado de Sonoma y las agencias de aplicación de la ley que se comprometan por escrito a proteger a todos los miembros de la comunidad del condado;
ADEMÁS, exhortamos a estas autoridades y agencias a proclamar públicamente que se negarán a cooperar con cualquier demanda del gobierno federal para instituir detenciones, deportaciones, registros, terapias de conversión, encarcelamiento o cualquier otro acto que apunte o discrimine basado en el estatus migratorio, Raza, origen étnico, religión, país de origen, capacidad, afiliación política, condición económica, edad, identidad de género u orientación sexual;
ADEMÁS, los abajo firmantes, en obediencia a nuestras conciencias, nos comprometemos a proteger, en la medida de nuestras posibilidades, a todos los miembros de la comunidad y apoyaremos a nuestros gobiernos locales en su intento de resistir estas prácticas antidemocráticas y antiamericanas para reafirmar su compromiso con la inclusión, el respeto y la dignidad.
Link to sign and share the petition online: