On Thursday, June 11, Dezi Rae Kai, a 17-year-old student at Analy High School, organized the largest protest yet to happen in Sebastopol over the death of George Floyd and the issue of police violence against black Americans.
More than 300 protestors, many of them high school students, started at the Sebastopol Plaza and marched down Main Street to Starbucks, circling back to the Barlow and ultimately to the police station, where they took a knee in silence for nine minutes in honor of Floyd.
The original organizer of the protest was on the verge of canceling the event, uncomfortable as a white person, about organizing a Black Lives Matter protest.
“She felt that because she was not a person of color, her voice maybe wasn't as important on this issue as someone who was of color,” Kai said. “So, I reached out to her and I said, ‘Hey, I'm a person of color. I would love to help you or take over, however you want to do it.’”
They passed the baton in a group chat and Kai went to work, getting the word out on social media and setting up speakers.
“Luckily I had a lot of friends of color, and they were very willing to come and speak about their experience,” Kai said.
Kai said she got a lot of support from the community at large for her efforts.
“Honestly, this community is so great. They got together and got us waters and snacks and made sure everybody was staying cool because it was a really hot day,” she said.
Kai also contacted the Sebastopol Police to tell them her plans.
“I told them what we were doing, and the police chief was very open to working with us and making sure we were safe, which I was very thankful for,” she said. “They stopped all the cars which was great. When we went to the police station, they were all around and they were able to witness it, really just take in what was happening without trying to work against us, which was really nice.”
Activism isn’t new to Kai.
“My mom has been an activist her whole life, mostly animal rights, so I was raised around a ton of people who are activists,” Kai said. “But though I've been to the Women's Marches and Pride, I’d never really stepped into the whole Black Lives Matter movement until now. I have been going to all the protests around here — probably like 20 or 30 — but this was the first time where I organized it myself. It was really cool to be able to put my thoughts and my ideas into this protest and see it come alive.”
She decided to organize the protest in part because of all the push back that she was seeing from other teenagers on social media who were opposed to the protests.
“Sebastopol is such a small town that all the teenagers kind of know each other. So when all this started happening, we all see each other's views on what is happening, and there's a lot of people that are not liking it, like ‘Why are you guys protesting?’ It was important to me to come out and as a teenager in this community, to show people like ‘I'm here, I am part of your community, and I would love for you guys to come out and support me.’
“I wanted it to be a peaceful protest and it was. There was no violence, nothing. I think a lot of the times, the media just shows the violence and looting, and that's not the case for many, many protests so I think it was really important to show that,” she said.
Kai said she was amazed at the number of people who are showing up for these protests, not just in Sebastopol, but in Santa Rosa and elsewhere.
“I think what struck me the most is the amount of people that are coming out, given the fact that we are in a pandemic,” she said. “It's really cool to see how many people are out there, how many people are supporting the movement, and it really touches my heart. Growing up as a black teenager, it’s very dear to my heart to see everybody out there fighting for my rights and my life too.”