MariaElena De La Garza, executive director of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, says she was feeling discouraged and hopeless the day before the Women’s March in downtown Santa Cruz on Saturday, Jan. 21.
“I know the organizers talked about 1,200 people,” says De La Garza. “In my head, I thought I was going to give a speech to a group inside of the Louden Center. And when I realized the magnitude of the movement, it took my breath away. I had a physical reaction to the magnitude of the moment. And I’m emotional about it still.”
According to SCPC, an estimated 10,000 came out to march. The crowd, which included not just women in a sea of knitted hats, but also boyfriends, husbands, men and children, with signs bearing a multitude of unique messages, was “overwhelmingly supportive [of police presence],” says Joyce Blaschke, SCPD spokesperson. “The crowd was energized, but there were no incidents of violence or vandalism.”
For De La Garza, who was among several community members to speak from the stage outside of the Louden Nelson Community Center following the march, the event reinstated hope.
“It reignited for me the power of what people coming together can do,” says De La Garza, who introduced herself as a 51-year-old Latina-Chicana-Mexican woman, born and raised in Watsonville to parents who came here for a better life.
De La Garza spoke in specific terms about what community action looks like here in this county: “Do you know that in Davenport there are 11 ranchos with over 250 farmworker families who are impacted by poverty every day—and they pick your Brussels sprouts? … Knowing it is one step. Agradeciendo, being grateful is a second step. And the third step is to be in action and solidarity and support who they are in your community.”
Just a few days after receiving a phone call from Dr. Ann López of the Center for Farmworker Families, De La Garza says 30 pallets of food were sent by the Food Bank to an undisclosed location in Watsonville for the indigenous Oaxacan community, who had been without food due to rain cancelling work and an avoidance of food distribution centers due to fear. “That is what community action looks like!” De La Garza said in her speech.
Small personal acts are just as important, says De La Garza, like finding a cause you’re passionate about and volunteering, or making a donation.
“I’ve been in nonprofits for 26 years, and one dollar makes a difference,” says De La Garza.
She also challenges community members to not only sit on boards and decision-making groups but to also have the courage to stand up for a leadership that includes people of color and fairly represents the community it’s responsible for representing.
De La Garza’s last point invited North County residents to take part in perhaps the easiest form of activism there is: “Do you know that in Watsonville, you can find the most amazing, loving, welcoming community that some people are afraid to go to? I ask you to shop in Watsonville, to eat in Watsonville, to visit the Farmers Market in Watsonville, to get involved in Watsonville. We need you.”