Sebastopol’s usual Friday demonstrations take on a new urgency

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 9, 2021

Gary Abreim, left, and another man visit each corner of the Main Street and Highway 12 intersection in downtown Sebastopol with a banner that urges people to “HOLD AMERICA TOGETHER.”

Three people held signs in support of American troops in front of the Abacus Wealth Partners building while Steve Einstein carried a large, upside-down American flag across the street in front of the Westamerica Bank alongside a handful of others with various left-leaning signs, including calls against Trump, the National Rifle Association and the GOP.

Einstein said the Women in Black who began the local tradition of Friday protests in global solidarity with Palestinian human rights are older and do not appear much due to COVID-19 risks, and neither do their more conservative counter-protesters.

“It’s kind of almost a face-off between me and this guy,” he said, referring to the man in a U.S. veteran hat carrying a sign with pictures of U.S. Marines.

The man in the veteran hat has also been coming out for years, according to Einstein, along with one of the veteran’s companion demonstrators, although he refused to interview unless Einstein’s American flag was turned upright and because he said he had been previously misquoted in the media.

Both sparse camps received a significant amount of supportive honking, thumbs-up, middle fingers up, waves, nods and shouts, positive and negative.

Einstein blew a whistle behind his mask as passing drivers lay on the horn. While the protests occur weekly, the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was on some minds.

“Right now, it’s to scream out and say this is just wrong and if what happened two days ago isn’t evidence that something is horrifically wrong with the picture here, then I don’t know what is. And I think the vast majority of the country sees it and understands it that way, and the people that stormed the Capitol don’t really represent more than a much smaller minority,” Einstein said.

He explained the whistling is in honor of the whistleblowers who revealed the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian government. His upside-down flag motions to the thousands dying of COVID-19 daily, he said.

Marty Roberts said she attended in solidarity with Einstein, who she said made all their signs, and because she can’t wait for President Donald Trump to leave office.

“I really would like a sign that says ‘Invoke the 25th Amendment.’ But I didn’t make one,” she said.

Roberts said she was also frustrated with Congress members who let Trump’s actions slide over the past four years. “And even after that horrible invasion, many other Republicans still wanted to go ahead and deny the election, people’s votes. It’s outrageous.”

In front of the Abacus building, Linda, who declined to give her last name, said she started attending weekly since July 4, 2020 in protest of “the rioting and the looting and the speaking so ill of our country,” that summer.

“And I just felt like I needed to stand up here with the flag and hopefully say our country is a chosen land, that it was founded by inspired people, that our Constitution is inspired and we need to protect and defend it,” she continued. “I didn’t come down here for Trump.”

Linda said she was worried about attending Jan. 8 but felt the nation needed to speak on their different views and avoid fighting and hatred.

“I think the biggest threat to this country comes from within,” she said, and more specifically, antifa and the founding principles of Black Lives Matter, “that it really is a socialist, communist agenda, from what I understand.”

At one point, a man approached the side calling to support the U.S. military and confronted one of the demonstrators on why she did not have a Trump sign out this week.

“It’s a yes or no question, did you have your Trump flag up here? You did,” he said as she told him she hadn’t brought one in the past.

“No, no, no, don’t side-swipe, lady. I’ve seen you out here so often with your Trump flags,” he said and asked her repeatedly if she voted for Trump. “Actually, I’m going to get my sign for you. Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you!”

He left and later lingered near the demonstrators at the Westamerica Bank.

“See that? Accusation. I have never held a Trump sign out here. Never,” the woman said. The man ultimately departed and did not return.

Two men held a banner with an image of Abraham Lincoln that read “HOLD AMERICA TOGETHER,” alternating corners of the intersection. One of them, Gary Abreim, said their message originated from the Braver Angels organization that began in 2016, seeking pledges for a peaceful transition of government and to depolarize American politics by seeking common ground.

“More than ever, this message became ever more important in terms of holding the country together because what happened in the Capitol was tragic. And very indicative of the polarization in the country where we saw violence coming from white people,” Abreim said, adding people expected violence from Black people and other people of color.

“It brought it to the surface where everybody got to see, the whole world got to see that we’re not quite the country that we like to project ourselves as,” he said.

By 1:05 p.m., the pro-military demonstrators disappeared, and others prepared to head out.

Editor’s note: Steve Einstein, quoted in the beginning of this article, is a columnist for Sonoma West Times & News.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com