On Saturday, Apr. 2, Merced Autonomous Brown Berets hosted a caravan march and a protest to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and LGBTQIA+ farmers, street vendors, and essential workers who have been the most negatively impacted by COVID-19. The event occurred early afternoon at the Justice Corner (the corner of M and 16th streets) in Downtown Merced, where empowered community members came together with powerful posters and huge flags to show solidarity for these workers.
“We have to realize that California’s economy is the largest in the United States, and if California was a sovereign nation, it would rank as the world’s fifth largest economy. The reason being is due to its farm workers, immigration population workforce that contributes to capitalism because they are being exploited,” community member and Jaraka Movement organizer Julissa Ruiz Ramirez (She/Her/Ella) said.
Community and Merced Autonomous Brown Beret member, Jazmin Diaz, opened up the event with a Land Acknowledgement stating that everyone present is on unceded and occupied Indigenous Yokut Land. This is to remind everyone present that colonialism is an ongoing process that we must be mindful of since we are subconsciously participating in it.
Shortly after, City Council District 1 representative and Merced Brown Beret member Jesse Ornelas explained that white supremacy, a system of race-based oppression, is the root cause of all these issues, such as racism, poverty, violence, and capitalism is what comes with and feeds white supremacy.
“I believed street vendors specifically are getting targeted due to ignorance, a rise in xenophobia and white folx being openly and comfortably racist in public,” Andres Garza III (He, Him, His), a community member and Master student at UC Santa Cruz, said. He added that “certain events and people made it okay to be outwardly racist and violent towards the BIPOC community”.
Ornelas continued by taking the time to honor a pioneer in the farm working movement, Al Rojas, who passed away on Mar. 20. He was a leader in the Grape Strike and Boycott movement and a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. Ornelas emphasized on the importance of continuing to boycott Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry distributor , so that they can support their unions as they fight for better working and living conditions for their workers.
After multiple community members took the stage to highlight and share their life experiences and stories of overcoming barriers and accomplishments coming from immigrant backgrounds, the caravan commenced.
Simultaneously, there was another rally going on regarding Asian American and Pacific Islanders Lives Matter a couple streets away that was hosted by the Laos Association of Merced. The caravan decided to rally and drive around them in order to show solidarity with Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community due to the increasing number of hate crimes against them.
Afterwards, the caravan made its way through South Merced and ended up in Planada where Merced Autonomous Brown Berets distributed food boxes with the help of the folx that attended the rally. The food boxes were composed of frozen meat, milk, yogurt, vegetables and fruit. It was heart-warming to see some actual farmer workers from the crowd of people receiving food, come up to us and grab a food box. There were plenty of food boxes left over, so we started going door to door in the community and distributing more food.
Lastly, the whole group came together in a circle and started highlighting their favorite moments and parts from the action. In the beginning most of the people participating did not know each other, but by the end we had connected with each other and made new friends and allies. The circle was mostly used to create space to honor Al Rojas and to grieve him for he was an admirable elder and organizer whose contributions shaped the lives of countless people.