More than 1,500 people gathered in downtown San Luis Obispo on Saturday morning to protest the U.S. government's immigration, family separation and child detention policies.
That rally, the latest of several rallies that took place across the county, was just one of hundreds taking place nationwide, organized nationally by the liberal activist group MoveOn.org. Another protest took place in Nipomo on Saturday, with a protest also scheduled to take place in Santa Maria.
As the throng grew Saturday morning in the plaza in front of San Luis Obispo County Superior Courthouse, local organizer Alex Lancaster, a copywriter from Arroyo Grande, fired them up with a speech.
Lancaster, who was one of several speakers, asked those gathered whether they felt hopeless when news broke that Anthony Kennedy — the conservative swing vote on the Supreme Court of the United States — was retiring, when ProPublica published audio of children crying as the U.S. Border Patrol separated them from their parents, or on Election Day 2016.
"Hopeless isn't really the right word. We're here together because of hope," Lancaster said.
Lancaster told the crowd that this was the first protest she had ever organized.
"I've never led so much as a dance," she said.
But Lancaster said her anger compelled her to do something.
"It just grabbed me and wouldn't let go," she said. "You can use it to argue with people on the internet, or you can use it as fuel."
Protesters used that fuel Saturday to march down Monterey Street to Mission San Luis Obispo, then up Higuera Street and back to the courthouse. Lancaster said there was not enough time to secure a protest permit from the city that would allow marchers to walk in the street, and so protesters kept to the sidewalk, crossing the street on green lights.
It was that anger that fueled Abby Adams and Rusty Moore, both of Morro Bay, to turn out to Saturday's march. Moore said he was protesting "the Stalinization of America," while Adams, a former elementary school principal, said she was appalled at the government's traumatic treatment of small children.
"I would have called Child Protective Services on someone who was doing that," Adams said.
Many of the protesters came from around San Luis Obispo County, but one Pasadena woman, herself an immigrant, was in town for her child's swim meet when she decided to attend.
Kubeshini Penman, who originally hails from South Africa, said she moved to the United States in 2002.
"I made a better life for myself, and I think people should be given the opportunity to come and make a better life," she said.
Penman said she was horrified at the U.S. government's policy of taking children as young as infants away from their parents and housing them in detention facilities that critics have likened to the Japanese internment camps of the 1930s or the Native American concentration camps of the late 1800s.
"I have kids myself, and I can't imagine if they were taken away from me how I would feel," Penman said.
She added that while she supports controls on immigration, the United States would suffer without it.
"This country needs immigrants," she said.