Activists promote free speech for everyone

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Graciela Sanchez, executive director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Coalition, Joleen Garcia, community organizer for Texas organization project, and Amy Kastely, pro bono lawyer for the Free Speech Coalition, speak at “The Right To Protest: San Antonio’s Free Speech Coalition Panel Discussion” Sept. 25 in Room 122 Gonzales. The panel discussed the importance of free speech on college campuses and how students should use their First Amendment rights. Geoffrey Hovatter

Esperanza Center advocates for social, economic and environmental justice issues.

By Andrea Herrera

Streets and public spaces belong to the people, a San Antonio activist said Sept. 25 in a panel titled “The right to protest: San Antonio’s Free Speech Coalition”

The panel was part of the 2019 Free Speech Conference on campus Sept. 23-26.

Joleen Garcia, Amy Kastely and Graciela Sanchez, of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, spoke to about 30 students, encouraging them to speak up and fight for their rights.

Esperanza Center, an organization with “a vision of social justice and cross-cultural understanding,” will fight the city when they do things that most of us don’t know they’re doing,” Garcia said.

The main focus of the panel was the possible outcomes of fighting for your rights.

Esperanza Director Graciela Sanchez, shared the excitement she felt in May 2006 when the protest “A Day Without Immigrants” happened across America.

It is estimated that about 2,945,000 people participated.

The number of people who showed up was beyond amazing, she said.

Education sophomore Bianca Cortez fans herself during a panel, “The Right to Protest: San Antonio’s Free Speech Coaltion Panel Discussion” Sept. 25 in Room 122 Gonzales. McAllister, McCreless, Gonzales, the chemistry and geology buildings and part of Loftin did not have air conditioning, forcing students to figure out other ways to stay cool. Geoffrey Hovatter

“It was more than anybody expected. It was great for me to see those numbers,” Sanchez said.

On Nov. 29, 2007, the San Antonio City Council voted to charge those who wanted to march and protest on the streets. The city would absorb the first $3,000 of expenses, and the applicants would have to cover the amount remaining, depending on the services required.

Sanchez explained that a short march going from The Alamo to Hemisfair  Park could cost up to $10,000.

“We need to temper the idea that we are the freest nation in the world because we are not,” Kastely said.

The Esperanza Center and other local organizations organized Las Calles no se Callan (The Streets will not be Silenced) Free Speech campaign as a way to spread the word about free speech being limited by the city.

The Esperanza Center and other organizations filed a lawsuit against the city of San Antonio regarding the parade fees.

 The Esperanza Center argued that it was not fair because there were a handful of organizations who were excluded from the ordinance and did not have to pay fees.

Also, it was a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly.

Eventually, after 11 years of many rallies and lawsuits, in March 2018, the City Council approved changes to the parade ordinance that removed application fees for future events.

 It isn’t just about protesting. It’s about the follow up and the effort the community puts in to see change.

At the end of the panel, Garcia explained her theory of change, where we are in the struggle with two fists.

She explained that one fist is people power and the other one is political power. People power is us, how we organize, the way we plan events and demonstrate what we want.

Political power is the decision makers, those who are going to look after us in the long run.

They work together, and by speaking up without the fear of being silenced we can accomplish great outcomes for the community.

Lastly, Kastely told the audience “to keep in mind what justice means. If you are being treated unjustly, reach out to other people. Go to Esperanza. Ask for help.”

Call The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center at (210) 228-0201 or visit


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