LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Cheri Cabot introduces us to the activists who have protested about national political issues on Main Street and Garfield Avenue since 2003.
Fourteen years ago, with the onset of the Iraq war, Alavaro Maldonado decided to protest. He made signs and stood on the corner of Main and Garfield in Alhambra. That was how on a Friday night in 2003 the San Gabriel Valley Neighbors for Peace and Justice was born.
Others soon joined Maldonado, including Lilia Aceves, who happened to pass by one Friday evening in 2003 and wondered, “What is this?” She joined the group the next week and has been coming ever since. Lilia, an Alhambra resident, is now retired after working for LA County for 23 years.
The group has changed over the years. Maldonado recently retired from protesting, while others started splinter groups in other towns. Some moved across the country. Jim, a former Alhambra resident, also joined the group around 2003 when he brought his daughter to a movie at the theater on the Plaza. He liked what the group was doing, decided to join, and even though he now lives in La Puente, he drives back every Friday night to protest.
Chris–a calculus lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona–is another long-time protester who drives from Whittier every Friday. Bertha, a newly minted American citizen from Peru, and a math instructor at a community college, rides along with him. David, the youngest member of the group, lives within walking distance.
“President Trump” is the newest addition, joining just six months ago. He too was driving by, stopped to see what it was about, picked up a sign and is now a regular. With his Trump mask and pin-covered lapels, he is a crowd favorite. Folks take his picture and pose with him for selfies.
The group, which can range from 5 to 15 protestors, gathers on the corner of Main and Garfield at about 7-ish with their handmade signs. The signs vary in size and statement; some are small, some are large, some on black paper with neon lettering to make them easier to read, while others are just white foam board with black lettering. An extra sign is brought along for anyone to pick up and use.
Lilia’s sign, however, has the most status. It is a large sign on white foam board that reads “Books Not Bombs” with drawings of bombs on the bottom. The edges are a bit tattered, and there is a large crease in the middle after weathering years of protest, but it attests to Lilia’s longevity to the group. She quietly pushes her walker/chair to the curb, sits down, props up her sign and waits for people to respond. Her quiet protest is powerful.
“I have been anti-war all my life. Protesting is just a little something I do,” she says. “You never know who you are going to impress. It has become a ritual for me.”
While Trump walks around the plaza engaging passersby, the other protesters stand on the curb, always keeping their signs turned to the street, even while chatting with curious folks. They encourage friendly discussion, but discourage offensive discourse. Cars honk as they drive by and wave and give thumbs-ups to the group. They smile and wave back. This is a peaceful protest.
At about 8:45, the protesters tuck their signs under their arms and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner and camaraderie. On this particular Friday, they walk across the street to Thai Purple. Several platters of food are ordered to share and lively conversation and laughter ensues. They finally head home about 10:30 p.m., full and happy. Mission accomplished for another week.
Over the years the group–including the newbies–have formed a strong bond. They celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Sometimes they gather to watch political T.V. or movies. There have been divorces, romances, health issues and occasional political disagreements but the core group, bound by friendship and political ideology, has managed to stay together and continue to meet every Friday night.
Protests, large and small, have been popping up across the country. Some have grown, others have disappeared, but for 14 years, the San Gabriel Valley Neighbors for Peace and Justice has stayed the course.
Cheri Cabot is an Iowa transplant who has lived in San Gabriel, CA for 17 years. She is an avid lawn bowler and loves to read, walk and stay involved in the community.