Ventura County is a study in wide contrasts. Comprised of bedroom and beach communities, it's a mashup of conservative and progressive values weighted toward the edges with smatterings in the middle. But until this past month, the conservatives have dominated public office and the public eye.
That has changed, and changed in a big way. Saturday's OccupyVentura gathering was peaceful and happy, but it carried a heavy undertow of determination to see change.
I brought the camera to listen and observe, while talking to some of the people who came to Mission Park on a Saturday to speak against those who, in their view, are stealing their futures and those of their children.
There was Melody Joy Baker, a homeless woman who is running for a seat on the Ventura City Council. She is determined to do what she can within her power to help people who are homeless and living in poverty. This is important in Ventura -- many homeless live in the Ventura River bottom, and many of those living there are drug and alcohol addicts. Melody says she is determined to do something to help them.
There were others. One was a high school student who said his father is a socialist and his mother is a banker, so he sees both sides of the duality. In his words, "that duality is severely out of balance right now." Indeed, it is.
There were students and grandparents; mothers and fathers. There was a place for children to play under careful supervision while their parents marched down Main Street to the local Bank of America, which closed early to avoid confrontation with the people pictured above. There were men in masks and unmasked men, all carrying the same message: They are tired of being the silent ones.
Two policemen stood in the corner of the park, relaxed and smiling. There was no tension between them and the people in the park. None. Our numbers weren't huge, but for this area, they were more than I've seen in the over-twenty years I've lived here.
Remarkably, those who drove past our group were unanimously supportive. Unlike other demonstrations I've attended, where there's a mix of haters and supporters, no one was anything less than supportive. At times the burst of car horns blaring was a little jarring, but in a good way.
I left in the late afternoon as the crowd began to dwindle away, though I had heard there were some planning to stay the night, and for the first time in a long time, felt optimistic about the possibility that real change was coming, and this was bigger than a person or a candidate or a leader. It was a self-empowering moment where people were standing up for themselves and speaking. Finally.
Having found their voice, they will be silent no more. There is a determination to turn public energy into public action, to push for changes that will protect their futures. Change is going to come.
(Many thanks to Daily Kos blogger RL Miller for the ride up there and back. Couldn't have done it without her.)