Demonstrators gathered outside Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center Feb. 24 to show solidarity with the 17 Pomona employees fired in December when they could not produce immigration documents by the college’s deadline, and to support Workers for Justice, the pro-union group of Pomona dining hall workers. The event was scheduled to coincide with the Trustee-Faculty Retreat in Rancho Palos Verdes.
“We wanted to make sure that, as the Board of Trustees are in the greater area, that we sent a message that the people who really embody the values of Pomona and care about the values that the trustees purport to care about are workers, alums, students and faculty, and that we’re the community that is Pomona,” said Robin Rodriguez, an organizer for UNITE HERE Local 11, a southern California affiliate of UNITE HERE, a union representing workers throughout North America.
The organization of the event was a collaborative effort by WFJ, students and UNITE HERE Local 11. A group of supporters started the event by marching down Sixth Street, turning on College Avenue and ending on the lawn in front of the Smith Campus Center.
Once everyone had gathered on the lawn, students wearing suits took turns reading quotes from Trustee Paul Efron ’76. The actors pretended to defend the December firings to a jeering audience.
“Today’s event is a teatro, which was a form of community theater that was practiced by the United Farm Workers when they were organizing in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Natty Spielberg PO ’12 said. “So the teatro is kind of a way of mocking and singling out the fact that the Board of Trustees are meeting behind closed doors. There are no students, there are no community members, there are certainly no workers who are given a voice in any of those decisions.”
After the teatro, students, workers, professors, and community members made supportive statements, each ending with the declaration, “We are Pomona” or “I am Pomona.”
“We are decision makers,” Erica Reiss PO ’13 said. “Every person on this campus is just as deserving as the next to make decisions and to be fully included in our community. We cannot and will not force conditions of intimidation and fear that our friends at the dining hall currently have to endure every day. We are Pomona.”
In anticipation of the event supporting WFJ, a few members of the group We the People, California’s Crusader—a Claremont based, grassroots network that protests “employers that hire and exploit illegal aliens”—held a counter-protest outside Alexander Hall. They carried signs that read “Hire Americans” and “Uphold Our Laws.”
“The administration upheld and enforced employment verification and 17 individuals were terminated, and we are in support of that,” said Robin Hvidston, a member of California’s Crusader. “We are in support of hiring Americans.”
One of the pro-union protesters shouted “You’re disgusting” at the California’s Crusader members, but most of the WFJ and UNITE HERE supporters appeared to take little notice of the opposition.
“Obviously people are free to come and protest for whatever they want to,” Rodriguez said.
The event culminated outside of Frary dining hall, where WFJ supporters formed a circle around Frary fountain, held hands and sang in unison.