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Voices raised: Voter rally inspires civic action with song and speech


“We must continue to raise our voices if our nation persists in its perverse ways,” Color Me Human’s Tracy Pepper said, repeating Martin Luther King Jr.’s words during a Monday voting rights rally outside the Eric Rood Administrative Center. “The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation.”

Those words were spoken at rallies across the country Monday, which invoked King’s memory and mission to highlight how progress made by the American civil rights movement had been diluted by private interests and public corruption.

Nevada County resident Sydnie Crumrine said the nationwide effort was led by the Poor People’s Campaign, which models itself after King’s movement by forming coalitions.

Five local nonprofits helped put on the event, which was attended by about 70 children, adolescents, artists, intellectuals, retirees and spiritual authorities.

About 70 people gathered under partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures to celebrate the work of local election officials with song and multicultural dance.
Rebecca O’Neil

Pepper said Color Me Human, the Peace and Justice Center of Nevada County, Earthjustice Ministries, Creating Communities Beyond Bias and the Universal Unitarian Community of the Mountains worked together to host the event, which highlighted performances from different cultural traditions.

A Hawaiian dancer and traditional Chinese fan dancer performed, and local activist Evan Steel sang, “Doctor, won’t you heal our wounds.”

Nevada County is the whitest county in California, Steel said. Census records state Nevada County’s white population is 93.3%.

“It’s also one of the more conservative counties in California,” Steel said. “It’s important for folks in this county to know that our privilege and easy access to voting is not universal across the United States.”

Traditional Chinese fan dancer and Nevada County resident Patience performed an original song on the ukulele about the world’s future.
Rebecca O’Neil


Steel said locals with little understanding of the injustices taking place in states like Georgia may take their voting access for granted.

Steel referenced the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed federal oversight of election laws in Southern states.

“I think it’s also important to recognize that there are ways of community organizing which, like this event in particular, follow in Dr. King’s footsteps of nonviolent activism,” Steel said.

The campaign unites its platform over basic voting rights, Crumrine said, which highlights the “interlocking injustices of systematic racism (and) ecological devastation,” among others.

Colorfully painted linen signage read “Defend Democracy,” “No More Wars,” “For Racial Equality, Inclusion & Peace,” “Stand Up For Your Voting Rights” and King’s phrase, “Give Us the Ballot.”

The civil progress made six decades ago must be restored, fortified and continued across the United States, Crumrine said. Then, King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech was read by 16 Nevada County residents — Debra Ellias, Imani Walker, Kevin Tarsa, Ruby Chow, Kristine Alcamo, Evan Steel, Serena Mitchell, Jonah Platt, Jeffrey Gottesman, Malina Mitchell, Ingrid Hjord, Tracy Pepper, Rev. Rafe Ellis, Anthony Pritchett, Jamal Walker and Daryl Grigsby — and watched by several Nevada County employees, including Clerk-Recorder/Registrar of Voters Gregory Diaz.

“Dr. King’s words were precautionary and prophetic, … providing both a diagnoses and a cure … for our nation’s gravest illnesses,” Crumrine said, adding that denial of health care, the war economy, general militarism, racism and poverty and a “false moral narrative of religious nationalism” are just a few other issues tied to ongoing voter suppression.

The event began with a recognition of the Nisenan people and concluded in silence.

“Yes, this is preaching to the choir, but the choir leads so much of the singing,“ said Rev. Kevin Tarsa of the Universal Unitarian Community of the Mountains. Tarsa invited the audience to register the beating of their own hearts with their hands and to take a moment of silence.

“Silence shared has a different texture, quality and power than the silence we hold alone,” Tarsa said.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

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