The annual Watsonville Peace and Unity March took place on Saturday, November 1, 2014. This year, for the first time since the initial event in 1994, the Watsonville Police Department was given a large role in determining the route of the march.
The march was founded in 1994 by the Watsonville Brown Berets, and the group remained primary organizers of the event from the beginning through 2011.
In 2012, the Watsonville Brown Berets were still key organizers of the event, however they also established The Watsonville Peace and Unity Coalition.
While promoting the event in 2012, The Watsonville Peace and Unity Coalition explained, “Today, the march is still organized by local youth, local community groups and the growing number of families who have lost loved ones to violence. We are also working with the City of Watsonville to make the march a permanent event, co-sponsored by the City Council.”
In 2012, a list of sponsors included “State Assemblyman Luis Alejo, Watsonville Mayor Eduardo Montesino, Watsonville City Councilman Felipe Hernandez, and Watsonville City Councilman Daniel Dodge.” It’s worth noting that in 1994, Luis Alejo was a Watsonville Brown Beret and one of the original organizers of the march.
By 2013, the Watsonville Brown Berets had disbanded as an organization. There was some doubt as to whether or not the annual event would take place. Members of the Peace and Unity Coalition, as well as the Springfield Community Grange, eventually took on organizing a march in 2013, and were the only two groups listed as sponsors of the event.
In 2014, the Peace and Unity Coalition was professionalized. People who donated their time and money in previous years, as well as novices, were paid this year to organize and promote the event. On October 31, the day before the event, organizers reported that “over 60 organizations are supporting this year’s march.”
Unlike previous years, the City of Watsonville both sponsored the event and waived all related fees. The City also placed a banner over Main Street advertising the Peace & Unity March.
The banner font was blue, and though this may seem like a minor detail, it was perhaps a bad choice while simultaneously declaring that “it is more important than ever for the entire community to come together to create a violence free community.”
Watsonville has gang cultures. Within those cultures, there is rivalry, including the use of red and blue colors. Red, as opposed to blue, is the predominant color seen in Watsonville. Black may have been interpreted as a more neutral and welcoming choice for the banner’s font, even if it wouldn’t have resulted in additional participants.
An announcement for this year’s event proclaims, “The Peace and Unity March has been a safe space for families of victims and our local community to come together to organize an event to speak out against violence in the streets in South Santa Cruz County.”
In 2014, the everyday reality of police brutality was highlighted in numerous realms of public discourse. Many people, especially those experienced with police violence and harassment, do not feel comfortable mingling or having any sort of association with police.
Despite widely held anti-police sentiments within and beyond Watsonville, the Peace and Unity Coalition collaborated directly with the Watsonville Police Department. The police were allowed to sponsor the event, and then given the final decision for the route of the march.
Prior to the event, in an expression of gratitude to the city and police department, an organizer wrote, “I also think we should thank the Watsonville City Council for being so supportive especially Mayor Karina Cervantez, Felipe Hernandez, Daniel Dodge Sr, Lowell Hurst, and Eduardo Montesino. Also want to thank Police Chief Manny Solano and Lt Jorge Zamora who have also been very supportive and working with us to help make this Year’s Peace & Unity march the largest ever.”
Speaking confidentially during the march, multiple organizers stated that the Watsonville Police Department imposed changes shortly before the event, which altered the planned route, thus eliminating many traditional stopping points and neighborhoods with historical significance to the march.
One organizer, speaking confidentially, said he was disappointed with the Watsonville Police Department’s orchestration of events leading up to and during the march. Many people who attended the march were receptive to the police presence.
Most participants in the march advocated for peace without presenting any solutions, demands, or critiques. An organizer told the Santa Cruz Sentinel that, “We’re not trying to provide the solution, we’re just trying to provide a structure for dialogue.”
On the contrary, some marchers displayed messages critical of police and prisons. Sin Barras, a community-based group out of Santa Cruz that works to eradicate the prison industrial-complex, carried a large banner calling for “Peace Without Police.”