Monday, April 28, 2014

Action for the UCSC 22 and Leon Panetta Protested for War Crimes at UCSC Alumni Weekend

Two different political demonstrations were held during the first day of Alumni Weekend at UC Santa Cruz on April 25. Members of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs protested an appearance by former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who spoke at 'Launch', an exhibition of various student projects at the university. At the same time as the Panetta protest, students in support of the UCSC 22 demonstrated at another Alumni weekend event, the Graduate Alumni Cocktail Hour, which was held at the Graduate Student Commons.

Panetta Protest

At the Panetta protest, individuals held signs with the statements, "Jail Panetta", "What about the drones, Leon?", "Panetta Supports Torture", "Panetta is a War Criminal", and "Drone War is A Crime." Issues highlighted in literature distributed outside of the event included Panetta's involvement with drone warfare as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 to 2011, and his involvement in the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan when he was Secretary of Defense from 2011 to 2013. The topic of Panetta's speech to the crowd inside was "America in the 21st century — is America in renaissance or decline?" 

The event was held at the College Nine and Ten dining hall and cost $150 to attend for the dinner option, and $50 for dessert only. A number of local politicians were present, including Santa Cruz City Council member Hilary Bryant and 2014 City Council candidate Richelle Noroyan. When Santa Cruz Mayor Lynn Robinson entered the event, one demonstrator stated sarcastically, "its nice to see all of our government officials here."

Four police officers were on the scene of the protest and one asked demonstrators what time they planned to leave. After a short, awkward silence he then explained that the temperature outside was becoming cold and he wanted to go. Five or six UCSC community safety officers were also on hand. They were paying close attention to the protesters. One CSO could be heard saying on the phone several times, "We got protesters." The main duty of the public safety officers was to notify students who were arriving at the dining hall that it was closed, which had only officially been announced to them by email an hour before the event was to begin.

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs serves free vegan and vegetarian food outside of the Santa Cruz Post Office on Saturday afternoons. Globally, independent chapters of the organization share food in over 1,000 cities to protest war, poverty, and the destruction of the environment. The organization is dedicated to recovering and sharing food, as well as changing society through nonviolent direct action. The first meal shared by Food Not Bombs was outside of the Federal Reserve Bank during the stock holders meeting of the Bank of Boston on March 26, 1981, to protest the exploitation of capitalism and investment in the nuclear industry.

College 9/10 dining hall

UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal

Security and police meet before the protest

Santa Cruz Mayor Lynn Robinson

Santa Cruz City Council member Hilary Bryant

Protesters left their signs at the end of the demonstration

Support for the UCSC 22

The group of students who interrupted the cocktail social at the Graduate Student Commons spoke out against the charges the UCSC 22 face. They carried signs and left several fliers attached to the commons bulletin board, including a poster that read, "22 unjustly arrested so far, who will our admin take next?" During the social function graduate alumni mingled while sipping on drinks and nibbling on cheese and other snacks.

The UCSC 22 comprises 22 students who were arrested and charged in association with the UAW Graduate Student Workers strike that was held April 2-3.

Supporters have stated the students were engaging in a peaceful, legal picket line, and their arrests were part of a series of intimidation tactics used by the university which they say included the close video surveillance of those who participated in the labor action.

Most of the 22 charged face their first court hearing in Santa Cruz on May 6.

UCSC Graduate Student Commons

22 Arrested at April 2-3 UAW Strike at UC Santa Cruz

During both days of the April 2-3 UAW Graduate Student Workers strike at UC Santa Cruz, riot police were outfitted and deployed at the west entrance of campus. Graduate and undergraduate student demonstrators at UC Santa Cruz continued to face what they call intimidation while attempting to maintain a peaceful picket line across the university's two entrances during the Unfair Labor Practices strike. Additionally, the university continued to video tape legal strike activities. UAW Local 2865, the labor union that represents Graduate Student Workers and Teaching Assistants, said in a press release that the measures the university took were, "simply an attempt to intimidate individuals involved in lawful conduct."

On the first day of the strike 20 students were arrested by police. The first arrested was union organizer Josh Brahisnky, who according to eyewitness reports was forced to the ground by a group of police who "crowded" him and forcefully handcuffed him. When he returned to the picket line after a stay in jail, Brahinsky's arms were still red in a variety of places from the handcuffing. There were also reports that one student's foot was injured when a police officer stepped on it during their arrest. City on a Hill Press reported early in the day on April 2 that tasers were used on demonstrators at some point during the arrests, but taser use was denied by UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis, who also denied aggressive force was used.

 "Police officers were denying students their legal right to a moving picket when the crosswalk indicated they could walk, instead blocking pedestrians and allowing motor vehicles to cross the picket line." --UAW Local 2865

On April 3, demonstrators began gathering at the west entrance of UC Santa Cruz at 5:30 am, and shortly after that they formed a picket line in the cross walk in front of it. At the same time, the formation of a picket line at the main entrance of campus triggered a shut down of that entrance by police, which was maintained by the university for most of the day. 

The west entrance of UCSC at sunrise

On the westside, officers with UCSC's police department were very "hands on" with the picket line, insisting with threat of arrest that individuals not cross the street for extended periods of time. When traffic was moderate, police allowed demonstrators to maintain the picket line, which they did legally by obeying the timing of the traffic lights and cross walk indicators. 

At approximately 7am, an undergraduate woman was the first to be arrested when she and one police officer became involved in some sort of physical contact. UAW has reported that the student was being pushed by police officers when she told them to stop pushing her, and that their response was to arrest her.

A short while later, another undergraduate woman intentionally acted to have herself arrested as an act of solidarity with the first woman arrested, and so that she could keep her company in jail.

Later in the morning a large group of demonstrators marched from the main entrance on Empire Grade road to the west entrance. This caused police to close off the road, which effectively shut down campus. When marchers arrived at the west entrance, a large rally was held along the cross walk in dispute. Many of those who were arrested on April 2 gathered in the cross walk and several spoke.

Students march from base of campus to the west entrance

Shortly after the rally was initiated, a black Santa Cruz Police Department transport vehicle arrived with a group of SCPD officers outfitted in riot gear, which included two of their department's grenadiers. SCPD's Deputy Chief of Police Rick Martinez was on hand all day at the strike assisting UCSC's Chief of Police Nader Oweis to direct police operations. SCPD's Lieutenant Dan Flippo was also on hand and outfitted in riot gear.

SCPD vehicle

UC riot squad

SCPD riot squad

SCPD grenadiers, SCPD Lt. Dan Flippo, SC Sheriffs

A small riot squad from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's department arrived with the SCPD and were grouped with them.

The regular UCSC beat officers that had been directing traffic all day then retreated so that they could outfit themselves in riot gear. Additionally, a group of UC police officers from Berkeley were on hand, and one higher ranking officer from that group was directing some of the day's operations.

In total, 30 police officers or more were dressed in riot gear.

Two UCSC shuttle loop buses were parked and ready to be used to hold and transport arrestees if necessary. Many students at the demonstration expressed that they were particularly offended by the use of their shuttle buses for this purpose, and there was no clear plan in place for how students were to be processed after arrest. UCSC's Chief of Police Nader Oweis refused to answer any questions about the subject, and Director of Public Information Jim Burns said he did not know how long students would have to remain on the bus after being arrested.

Interior of detention bus

Police set up audio equipment and prepared to issue a dispersal order for the group of approximately 200 people, which included several children.

After a short discussion, a large segment of the demonstrators decided to march through campus. As they marched away, the riot squads dissembled, and individuals at the west entrance again attempted to maintain the picket line. The marchers eventually rallied in Quarry Plaza, and then made their way to the UCSC police department for a short protest. 

The police riot squads dispersed, and eventually those remaining at the west entrance marched to the main entrance of campus where demonstrators ended the picket at around 4pm.

In March, UAW Local 2865 voted to authorize the two-day strike to call for an end to the UC's intimidation of its members, and additionally to protest the UC's refusal to bargain over class size.

Day one of the strike was planned for union members to protest the specific Unfair Labor Practices that have occurred on their own campuses, and on day two all nine campuses would join together for a statewide strike.

UAW claims that in December the University refused to negotiate with the union over class size and TA/Student ratios, insisting it was not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. The union has stated this is an Unfair Labor Practice because labor law makes clear, "the ratio of students to teacher, like the ratio of nurses to patients, is a mandatory subject of bargaining."

At the same bargaining session in December, the union claims management would not bargain over the subject of the 18 quarter limitation on teaching assignments. The union feels labor law is clear in this case as well, because management must negotiate over the terms of employment, "that affect workers’ eligibility for rehire or that limit the duration of their eligibility for employment." They have recently filed a charge with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) against management for their refusal to bargain over this.

At UC Santa Cruz, two specific incidents of worker intimidation have UAW members particularly concerned.

In February, the union filed a charge claiming the director of the Writing Program at UCSC threatened a group of union members, “If you strike, you will not work in this program again.”

The union felt the threat was perceived as particularly severe to members because the Writing Program’s hiring process at UCSC is, "left almost entirely in the director’s hands".

Additionally, UAW was outraged that on November 20, graduate student workers were video taped at UCSC when they participated in a solidarity strike to support AFSCME members who were picketing on campus.

Statewide, UAW Local 2865 has filed a number of ULP charges against the UC.

In one example, UAW points to an email that UCLA administrators sent out to international student workers warning them that participation in the strike could result in the loss of work visas. Their work visas allow them to remain in the country legally.

UAW Local 2865 represents 13,000 Academic Student Employees, Tutors, Readers, and Teaching Assistants, at the nine teaching campuses of the University of California. 

UCSC Chief of Police Nader Oweis and SCPD Deputy Chief of Police Rick Martinez (on the phone)

A group of UC police from Berkeley

Alison Galloway (on the left), Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of UCSC

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

San Benito Residents Reach Fracking Ban Signature Goal

Today on Earth Day, April 22, members of San Benito Rising will submit nearly 4,000 petition signatures to the San Benito County elections office in order to qualify a local initiative to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods for the November 2014 ballot.

Since March 21, San Benito residents have been collecting signatures to ban fracking in their county, and volunteers secured twice the number required to qualify the initiative in less than two weeks.

The five original proponents of the initiative will deliver the signatures this afternoon in Hollister using Native American baskets. This will be preceded by a short Earth Day ceremony lead by Ann Marie Sayers, a local Ohlone tribal leader, and one of the original proponents of the initiative.

San Benito Rising has organized the local ban on fracking in order to "protect local groundwater, residents’ health, agriculture and tourism," the group stated in a press release. The initiative, if approved by voters, will also ban oil and gas development in the rural residential zones of the county. Opponents of fracking in San Benito County now include a growing coalition of vintners, ranchers, farmers, teachers and small business owners.

Once the signatures are submitted, the County Elections Office is required to count them within 30 business days, and certify the results to the Board of Supervisors.

Background (published April 8 at

San Benito County Residents Halfway to Signature Goal for Fracking Ban Ballot Initiative

Community members in San Benito are hoping they will be the first "frontline" county in California to ban fracking and other methods of extreme oil and gas extraction. Since late March, volunteers across the county have begun collecting signatures for a fracking ban initiative they hope to have on the 2014 ballot in November. Progress is moving quickly: after only two weeks of collecting signatures, the organization San Benito Rising announced they are nearly halfway through their drive.

From the beginning of the process, organizers have been optimistic about achieving their goal of obtaining 3,500 signatures. They feel that the small population of San Benito County, with less than 17,000 voters, has made a grassroots campaign easier to conduct. They are required to collect 1,642 signatures to succeed in having their initiative placed on the ballot by the county.

Members of San Benito Rising filed the notice of intent to circulate the petition with the county clerk in late February. That notice states that they have begun the process in hopes of "protecting the county’s groundwater supplies and preserving its rural heritage." They believe the county is at a "tipping point" and hope the fracking ban will prevent the possibility of what they call a "proliferation of proposals" to conduct hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other high-intensity petroleum operations in the county’s unincorporated areas.

Residents consider San Benito to be a "frontline" community because they currently have oil and gas drilling in their county, which sits on top of the Monterey Shale formation.

The Monterey Shale or the Miocene Monterey Formation, is an oil formation that stretches from Santa Barbara to Monterey County. Much of the oil in the Monterey Shale is not easily extracted using traditional oil drilling methods. With the increased use of fracking and other extreme extraction techniques, however, oil company interest has placed a new, intense focus on these reserves.

In San Benito County, there are many dry or abandoned oil wells near San Juan Bautista, and near Hollister there are active wells, in addition to many that are dry or abandoned. In 2013, environmentalists began fighting a proposal to bring oil operations near Pinnacles National Park. San Benito Rising is concerned that the oil and gas industry could re-stimulate the abandoned, old wells using new extreme drilling techniques such as cyclic steam injection, acid fracking, and acid matrix stimulation.

The initiative to ban fracking, if passed by San Benito voters, will prohibit the use of any land within the county’s unincorporated area for fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations. The initiative will also prohibit the use of land for any petroleum operations within the county’s unincorporated residential areas.

"Even conventional, low-intensity petroleum operations can have negative effects if located in the wrong places. These operations can increase noise, traffic, and odors, and also degrade neighborhood appearance. Hence, they are incompatible with residential uses and should be prohibited in all residential areas," the notice of intent reads.

A group of San Benito County residents signed the notice: Paul Hain from Tres Pinos, who is a farmer and rancher; Ann Marie Sayers from Hollister, who is the Tribal Chairperson of Indian Canyon; Margaret Morales Rebecchi from Hollister, who is a retired teacher; Tony Boch, a San Juan Bautista City Council Member; and Jan Saxton, a small business owner from Aromas.

The notice lists the following points as examples of why fracking should be prohibited in San Benito County:

* Fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations typically inject massive amounts of water, steam and/or chemicals into the ground at high pressure, putting our residents and farms at risk for accidental toxic releases, groundwater contamination, sinkholes, and earthquakes. Given our County’s high seismic activity (San Andreas and Calaveras faults), these risks are unacceptable.

* San Benito County gets much of its freshwater from limited groundwater supplies. Fracking and other high-intensity operations will deplete our precious groundwater by using hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per well. In addition, these operations can produce large volumes of wastewater containing hazardous chemicals that must be stored or disposed of in underground wells, which could leak and contaminate groundwater.

* Fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations threaten to fragment and industrialize the County’s agricultural areas. The noise, truck traffic, accidents and congestion found in fracking boom areas would destroy our rural way of life.

* High-intensity petroleum operations undermine tourism in the County by diminishing the natural beauty of our area, making our State and National parks and agricultural assets less appealing to visitors.

The petition drive began over the weekend of March 22-23, and San Benito County Supervisor Robert Rivas was the first to sign it. During that launch of petition-related activities, 33 signature gatherers were trained. Training meetings for the gatherers have been held at the Hollister Public Library and also in Aromas.

The ballot initiative language for the ban was drafted by an environmental law firm located in San Francisco, Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. San Benito Rising retained their services pro-bono.

In June of 2013, San Benito Rising formed and started meeting in public libraries. That month the organization held its first protest against fracking. Group members have spoken out against fracking at local meetings held by the Bureau of Land Management and the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources. Protests have also been held in downtown Hollister and at Pinnacles National Park, and most recently the group traveled to the California state capitol where they joined thousands of people at a large rally to urge the governor to ban fracking statewide.

San Benito Rising is an all volunteer organization made up of residents who live in San Benito, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties, and has its roots in another local community organization, Aromas Cares for Our Environment (ACE). ACE was formed in 2012 after residents found out a company was exploring the potential for fracking in their community. Aromas is a census-designated place that straddles Monterey County and San Benito County.

The oil prospectors interested in Aromas were identified as Watsonville-based Freedom Resources, which is a subsidiary of the construction company Granite Rock. The focus of ACE then became to learn about fracking, and to educate the public, as well as to monitor the process of oil exploration in their community.

Based on advice from experts on extraction regulation issues in California, the ACE coordinating committee decided to focus on updating the permitting process for oil and natural gas extraction in San Benito.

As a result of ACE's efforts, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on June 18, 2013 to approve a new ordinance that put in place novel notice, chemical disclosure, bonding, insurance, water testing, and other requirements that expressly apply to the operators of wells that engage in extreme drilling, fracking, and other well stimulation activities.

Recently, members of San Benito Rising have been organizing to convince the city of San Juan Bautista to ban oil and gas drilling within the city. Organizers feel this would mostly be symbolic, but that it will help build political momentum for the county wide ballot initiative. San Benito Rising believes, based on the public comments made by San Juan Bautista city council members, a city ban may happen "soon". They say the city has been "quite receptive" to the idea of becoming a model green city.

"We believe that advocating for sustainable economic development and green energy are essential to do in parallel with our political work – i.e., making a case to ban fracking and shift away from fossil fuels. We need to provide a vision of an alternative future if we want to be successful at persuading the public to vote against fracking and extreme extraction. Hence, we've been working to make San Juan Bautista a "model green city". If we succeed with San Juan Bautista, we'll work on Hollister next," San Benito Rising said in a press statement.

Members of San Benito Rising are feeling good about the signature gathering process for the fracking initiative, and they have planned a celebration. On April 19, the group will gather at Indian Canyon near Hollister to celebrate Earth Day, as well as to "celebrate the successful conclusion" of the signature gathering process.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tax Day Protesters Oppose Sending Israeli Military $8 Million in U.S. Tax Dollars a Day

Community members gathered in downtown Santa Cruz today on Tax Day, April 15, to protest the U.S. government's subsidy of $8 million a day in military aid to Israel.

Tax Day is when federal income tax returns are due in the United States, and demonstrators held signs that indicated what the government should be spending citizens' hard earned dollars on, if the money wasn't wasted on military aid to Israel. They also held signs that read, "Apartheid: Wrong for South Africans, Wrong for Palestinians."

One individual was dressed as a 100 dollar bill, and the group distributed a brochure with information from the organization If Americans Knew.

According to If Americans knew, Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since 1976, and in the last 20 years economic aid to that country has been slowly phased out in favor of military aid. Israel receives about $3 billion ($8 million a day) directly from the United States in military financing each year, which is about one-fifth of what is allocated for the entire foreign aid budget.

Approximately 25% of the financing received from the U.S. is used by Israel to purchase military equipment directly from Israeli manufacturers. The only country allowed to do this with American aid is Israel, and their arms industry benefits from the subsidy. According to the Congressional Research Service’s report “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel," between 2001 an 2008 Israel was the, "7th largest arms supplier to the world with sales worth a total of 9.9 billion.”