“I want racists to be afraid,” activist and Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizer Leslie Diaz said.
Only days after footage surfaced of female Trump supporters taking down Black Lives Matter posters outside of El Diamante High School, Diaz and four of her friends quickly put together a protest to counter the women who tore down the signs.
There was originally no demonstration scheduled on Saturday the 27th. But after seeing the alarming footage and realizing one of the women was a part-time employee of the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE), Diaz and her friends were compelled to organize a last-minute protest on the corner of Caldwell and Mooney in Visalia.
Dozens of masked protesters answered the call despite rising temperatures.
Deyzha Gonzales, 21, one of the organizers, was particularly passionate when speaking about the movement.
“We want them to know we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.”
The organizers mentioned that activists are planning yet another protest at the same location and time on 4th of July. The name of the protest has not been determined. But some are calling it an “Anti-Fourth-of-July Protest.”
Organizers expect to have a BBQ and hand out information at the next protest. The information will focus on elected officials, the city budget, and board members of the TCOE. According to Gonzales, the goal is to educate the community about “racism and anti-blackness.”
When asked if Gonzales was concerned about protesting on arguably the most patriotic holiday in American history, she explained that she was not.
“It’s just another day for me…” she said. “We just want to keep the momentum going and it just happened to land on the 4th of July. I think we’re all very aware that America is not very for Black lives right now…It wouldn’t feel right celebrating America with all this going on still.”
El Diamante March and One Family’s Stand-Off
A few hours after the afternoon protest on Caldwell and Mooney, protesters changed venue and gathered just north of Akers and Whitendale to add their signs to the fencing around El Diamante High School.
By 5pm temperatures had reached triple-digits. Regardless, protesters marched up and down Akers chanting the names of fallen Black lives.
One family in particular stood out from the rest.
Cuauhtémoc Machado, 8, held up a “BLM” sign while his parents raised their fists in the air in front of a Visalia police patrol parked in front of the school.
“I was scared,” the boy explained as he reflected on the moment.
When asked why he was scared, Machado became very emotional. “Because I’m a darker skin color,” he explained, as he fought back tears and clutched his belly. “I felt sick when I saw [the cop]…Sick to my stomach.”
This wasn’t the first time Machado had done something difficult in the name of the Black community. The week of George Floyd’s murder, Machado expressed his desire to make a difference to his mom, who suggested raising money to donate to an organization of his choice.
He chose the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His first goal was $100. When he met that goal, he increased the goal to $300.
So far he has raised a total of $1,085 for the organization.
Machado’s parents were incredibly proud of their son. His mother was especially moved. She cried after seeing her son’s courageous actions during Saturday’s El Diamante March.
She explained that the boy’s grandfather lived during a time when people of color were discouraged and even punished for being themselves.
“They didn’t have a choice to be who they were,” she said. “Watching my son (who has a choice) follow what he believes is right, do the right thing, make change and stand up against those my father and grandparents couldn’t…Makes me so proud.”
The Protests (and the Signs) are here to Stay
Across the nation, BLM protests have continued despite mainstream media slowing their coverage of the movement. Americans are still hitting the streets in droves. Confederate statues are falling. Whole city blocks are under protester control…All in the name of change.
And it’s working.
Multiple cities in the U.S. have already enacted what some may call “radical police reforms.” City councils are finally listening and taking the opportunity to take action.
According to the Fresno Bee, the Fresno City Council recently approved a “controversial gun violence reduction program” called Advance Peace that would put $300,000 annually towards providing true public safety for all Fresno communities and residents.
Local BLM protests have been going on for over a month and show no sign of slowing until changes are made to the system. It’s for this reason that the protestors plan to attend city council meetings and continue to post signs at El Diamante High school, even if they get torn down again.
This is who tore down the signs today at El Diamante High School. pic.twitter.com/nKlPn63t1f
— Voices of the Central Valley (@_VOCV) June 29, 2020
Organizers are confident the movement will live on because pushback from people who disagree has only increased support for the cause.
“It acted as a catalyst,” Leila Mori, 30, organizer of the El Diamante March explained. “Every time [the signs] came down, there was more support.”
In fact, a small unit of community members have come together to form a group that watches over the signs outside the school every night. According to the founder, Lupe Ponce Wong, she decided to form the group on Facebook after witnessing the notorious footage and dubbed it the “Anti-Karen Brigade.” The name appears to be a nod to a string of Twitter and Facebook posts referring to the women who tore down the signs as a “pack of Karens.”
Diaz, Gonzales, Mori and Wong are only the latest in a long line of activists to take up leadership roles in the local BLM movement.
But the BLM movement does not have a singular leader. “We don’t really need someone like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X to create change,” Gonzales said. “Because our generation is very powerful in numbers and we all have the same goal.”
“It’s de-centralized,” Mori explained. “It helps people of all ages, all backgrounds to understand (no matter what your socio-economics are) none of that matters. What matters is we are human and we are united, protecting the most vulnerable groups amongst us.”