UPDATE 16 JUNE 2021, 6:03PM: This article was updated to include leaked private Instagram messages between Monterey County Protest, Serendipity Farms and Juneteenth Coalition.
UPDATE 17 JUNE 2021, 2:45PM: This article was updated after the deadline for comment by the parties LCRW reached out to passed.
A Monterey County nonprofit is calling off an event where people do unpaid labor in a field to somehow commemorate Juneteenth, the newly-recognized Federal Holiday celebrating the emancipation of slaves at the end of the Civil War. The aptly–named (or maybe not) Juneteenth Coalition’s event, “Anguish of the Elders” (archive,) was to be held in the wealthy Carmel Valley. The plan was for people to fast “from sunup to sundown,” show up to Serendipity Farms on Carmel Valley Road and “[perform] 246 minutes of field work for 246 years of enslavement.”
“The premise behind the fasting and field work is to empathize with the struggles of slaves who had to work in unbearable condition,” Juneteenth Coalition’s description of the event read before it was taken down Wednesday afternoon.
“We suggest a $25 donation to participate in this immersive experience.”
The event sparked outrage with local activists at Monterey County Protest (MCP), who started a change.org petition referring to the event as “Pretend to be Enslaved Day.” As of this writing, 468 people signed the petition.
“The fact that someone planned this event thinking they were being “woke” is gross,” one signer, Karmina Beltran, wrote.
The “Anguish of the Elders” event is followed by a “feast” with a “soul food menu” and a higher suggested donation for those who don’t participate in their “immersive experience.”
“If they don’t pretend to be an enslaved African, then they have to pay $50.” MCP wrote on the petition.
“You have a rich farm in Carmel getting free work done by people pretending to be enslaved, and then people have to pay $50 for a meal if they choose not to work for it. What is this supposed to demonstrate? Who is the intended audience? $50 is a costly price for a meal, and then pretending to be enslaved and working for a wealthy farm in Carmel in order to eat is nothing but exploitative, disrespectful, and disgusting,” they said.
In addition, MCP objected to the event on the grounds that it reduced the evils of slavery to forced labor.
“The enslavement period was not just Africans being forced into the fields to work, it was mass rape, lynching, whipping, starving, separating family, breeding, dehumanizing, murdering, beating, EATING (and yes, Slave owners used to eat enslaved Africans...literal cannibalism), robbing of mother tongues and culture, destroying any sense of identity, forced conversion, and MORE. 246 minutes of more-than-likely non-black people pretending to be enslaved on a field in Carmel does not reflect anything of the enslavement period. Years can't be replaced by minutes.”
MCP also pointed out that slavery lasted over 400 years, not the 246 figure that only counts the years 1619 to 1865. Slavery continued formally and informally in the United States through Jim Crow and persists today, most notably through penal labor programs. The United States has 2.3 million prisoners–almost a quarter of the total prison population of the world.
MCP planned to picket Serendipity Farms over the event, but in response to public outcry, the farm said this morning that the event was cancelled.
“The Juneteenth Coalition farm event has been cancelled. It was never our intention to host an event that would cause further trauma. Please accept our sincerest apologies,” farm owner Jamie Collins wrote on an Instagram post.
MCP says they reached out to Collins and she was the only person associated with it to apologize. In a private Instagram message that MCP shared on Twitter, Collins said she “provided a space for 3 black community members to host their event” but “can see now that this could be offensive.” Collins tried to facilitate a meeting between Juneteenth Coalition and MCP. She also pledged to “donate organic produce on a regular basis” and said that “the black community has been disproportionately underserved with access to healthy food.”
Serendipity Farms did not respond to LCRW’s request for comment at press time.
We will not be protesting the event since it has been canceled. However we are still asking for the Juneteenth Coalition to apologize for the harm they caused to members of the Black community. pic.twitter.com/wT7M38EnWD— MontereyCountyProtest (@CountyProtest) June 16, 2021
MCP claims they had video conference with Juneteenth Coalition and offered to collaborate to reorganize the event as something more respectful. On an Instagram and Twitter post, MCP claim they “were immediately met with disrespectfulness and condescension.” They claimed when the minutes ran out on the free version of Zoom, they tried to call Juneteenth Coalition back and message them to continue the meeting but messages were read and ignored. MCP also posted private Instagram messages between themselves and Juneteenth Coalition. There are many lengthy messages explaining MCP’s position, but only one response from the organization.
“We will like an apology issued,” MCP wrote.
“You know what…give us the wording and we will post whatever,” Juneteenth Coalition replied.
MCP rejected the offer to write the first draft of the apology for them and further messages were ignored.
Monterey County Protest did not respond to LCRW’s request for comment at press time.
The Juneteenth Coalition announced on Instagram that the “feast” portion of the event “will now be held at a private location.”
“We will be reaching out to ticket holders with updates. The 246 minutes of labor will not take place,” they wrote.
MCP announced around 4:30pm Wednesday that they are no longer protesting the event.
“We are leaving the petition up because there hasn’t been any apology statement issued by the Juneteenth Coalition,” they said.
The Juneteenth Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit born out of Carmel, California’s first ever Juneteenth celebration last year. They claim their goal is to “understand and uplift at-risk communities through advocacy, immersive experience and the fostering of local economies.”
After you scroll through paragraphs of corporate-friendly prose with little substantive discussion of racism, the bottom of their website has a marquee of local business partners like ‘Captain Stroker Coffee Roasters’ and ‘Adventures by the Sea’ kayak rentals. One section of their website is about “corporate giftgiving,” where they implore corporations not to just make donations to anti-racist orgs, but to become “a “B Corporation” and adding language to your mission statement to integrate positive change into the goals of the entire organization.”
Juneteenth Coalition did not respond to LCRW’s request for comment at press time.
A GoFundMe for the group has raised $4,926, including, apparently, a $500 donation from GoFundMe itself.
GoFundMe did not respond to LCRW’s request for comment at press time.
The pretend-we’re-slaves LARP isn’t the only event Juneteenth Coalition has planned for the weekend. MCP noted that a Juneteenth event at Laguna Grande Park on the border between the cities of Seaside and Monterey Saturday the 19th is listed on Juneteenth Coalition’s site—despite them not being the organizers. It’s pretty obvious when you look at the slogan on the flyer—“Free-ish since 1865”—much more radical than anything else on the organization’s site.
However, Juneteenth Coalition does have another more on-brand event on the 20th. Said event is billed as “Golf inclusivity at the newly designed short course, The Hay by Tiger Woods, located at the world-renowned Pebble Beach Resorts.” The “charity golf event” is $45 a person, $90 for a two person team.
The golf event is called “Black Drives Matter.”
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