By Noma Faingold
How old do you have to be to become an activist?
Sarah Geronemus was encouraged to do something before she turned 4 years old about her strong desire to see a matching rainbow on the Robin Williams Tunnel in Marin County.
Last year, to get out of the house during the COVID shelter-in-place restrictions, Sarah’s family would often drive from their Outer Richmond District home to the open spaces of Marin. A rainbow is painted on the southern entrance of the Robin Williams Tunnel.
On the way back, Sarah repeatedly commented about the lack of a painted rainbow heading south toward the Golden Gate Bridge.
“She grew increasingly frustrated,” said her father, Greg Geronemus, 35. “She kept asking us why.”
“I like rainbows,” Sarah said. “I want the rainbow on the other side. It’s only on one side.”
Greg, a former New Yorker, grew up in a family where he was taught to speak up. His father was “always writing letters when he had something to say.” Greg saw how Sarah’s near obsession with the boring side of the tunnel could be turned into something constructive.
He did a little research and found out David Kim, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CSTA), was the right person to contact regarding any changes to the Robin Williams Tunnel. Father and daughter collaborated on a hand-written letter and a matching tweet. Sarah illustrated the letter with an impressive drawing of a rainbow.
“Amazingly, we got an immediate response from Secretary Kim’s office,” Greg said. “They assured us they were already working on it.”
Greg, owner of Sausalito-based boutique investment firm Footbridge Partners, got a voice mail from Garin Casaleggio, deputy secretary for Communications and Strategic Planning Department of the CSTA, who had high praise for Sarah’s drawing, saying it was “the most beautiful rainbow he’d ever seen.”
Sarah was so excited about the response that she asked her parents if there was anything else she could do to make the double rainbow a reality. In May, around the time she turned 4, she started a petition. As of mid-June, the number of online signatures (on Facebook) had reached nearly 900, and Sarah had captured more than 100 in person. She has approached people ages 2 to 80 at the playground, school, camp, the farmers market, among other places.
“She was overwhelmed that someone else other than her parents thought it was a good idea,” said Sarah’s mother, Dr. Katherine Pier, 34, who specializes in addiction psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco.
Sarah has gradually gained confidence in approaching people with the petition.
“She brings her clipboard. It makes her feel official,” Pier said. “Her little sister (Anna, 2) is excited about it, too.”
Pier is not surprised by Sarah’s activism.
“Sarah was born into the Trump era. She was in utero when we marched on Washington. We went to the March for Our Lives when she was 8 months old,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of animated discussions in the house. We would explain to her how it’s okay to be frustrated and that it’s good to be passionate about things.”
Sarah’s parents, who have known each other since the eighth grade, explained to her that it may take some time for the rainbow to be painted, but they are optimistic.
“We told her we can do things, like the petition, so they don’t forget about us,” Pier said. “It’s teaching her self-efficacy. She might be just the right person to make it happen. I don’t see this being the only time she does something like this. Sarah is extroverted. She has a dramatic flair and is very determined. And a little stubborn.”
If the south-bound rainbow is eventually painted, Pier expects she will drive through the tunnel with extra pride.
“The tale will be told,” she said.