Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peace Activists 'Banned for Life' from Bookshop Santa Cruz for Protesting Leon Panetta

On November 10, peace activists in Santa Cruz protested a book signing appearance by Leon Panetta, the one-time Secretary of Defense and CIA Director. Panetta is currently on a book tour promoting the release of "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace." Bookshop Santa Cruz hosted the event, which was held in the sanctuary at Peace United Church of Christ, with a crowd of hundreds in attendance. Initially, the book store and the church both attempted, with what little means they had, to prevent individuals from protesting near the actual location of the book signing. They released a set of rules for protesting at the event, which was only lightly enforced until the end of the evening. Eventually five individuals (including this reporter) were "banned for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz, in retaliation for activities related to the evening's peaceful protest.

Three of the four protesters who were "banned for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz for unfurling a large "Stand For Peace" banner inside the sanctuary during Panetta's talk. Scroll down for more photos of the protest.

Anti-war activists consider Leon Panetta to be a war criminal for a number of reasons, but primarily for his role in expanding the role drone warfare plays in the U.S. military. Demonstrators also cite the specific role he played in the targeted killing of civilians in drone attacks carried out by the CIA. In a National Public Radio interview, Panetta stated the U.S. military's drone program was necessary to "keep the country safe," but activists point to the inhumanity of the large number of civilian casualties, especially those of children, that drones have induced.

Panetta expressed his latest call for war when he was interviewed by USA Today last month.

"I think we're looking at kind of a 30-year war," Panetta said. The focus would be on the Islamic State, and could also include military activity in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and beyond, he said.

According to sources close to the New York Times, Panetta was advanced nearly $3 million to write "Worthy Fights." Tickets for the Bookshop Santa Cruz event cost $39.20, which would reserve a seat for the talk by Panetta, and included a copy of his book.

Panetta's publisher, Penguin Press, describes him on their website as, "a devout Catholic who opposes the death penalty but had to weigh every drone strike from 2009 through 2011."

Members from a variety of local anti-war groups participated in the protest, including Food Not Bombs, the Palestine Israel Action Committee of the RCNV, Project ReGeneration of the RCNV, and CodePink Santa Cruz. An event announcement for the event released by Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs stated that Panetta was, "promoting more than a book, he is promoting a thirty year world war," and further stated, "we support any and all nonviolent actions this evening."

Approximately two to three dozen protesters situated themselves in various locations around the church property on November 10. Most were concentrated on High Street. Several days before the event, Peace United's Senior Pastor David Grishaw Jones issued a set of rules that outlined where protesters would be allowed to gather, essentially limiting them to the location where they already were legally entitled to protest, on the public sidewalk next to High Street. The Panetta talk was to be held in the sanctuary, however, which is quite a distance from the street.

Many demonstrators made their way up to the sanctuary to communicate to those waiting in line to enter. Some held protest signs outside of the entrance way, and at the tops of the parking lot stairways.

Outside of the front doors to the sanctuary at Peace United Church.

Others who were curious attempted to look inside of the building's large cathedral windows. Peace United's property is sizable, and is home to several other church buildings that are used to host a wide-range of activities. Musicians we practicing their orchestration in the large community room next to the sanctuary on the evening of Panetta's talk.

Peace United's staff did not appear to be enforcing the protesting rules at all.

Casey Coonerty-Protti, a member of the family that owns Bookshop Santa Cruz and the store's manager, could be heard informing at least one protester to leave the area outside of the sanctuary. The man peacefully obliged her command and he left the area.

After the talk began, and Panetta was speaking in the Sanctuary, a group of four individuals dressed in white in the audience stood up and unfurled a long banner that read "Stand For Peace."

The activists left, and when outside of the sanctuary, all four of them reported they had been "banned for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz. The actual physical location of the store is in downtown Santa Cruz, a mile or two away.

At that time they showed off the banner they unfurled, which was torn by Panetta's "fans" inside of the talk who became angered by the action, the activists said.

Bookshop Santa Cruz is owned by a family with similar conservative, Democratic Party values to those of Panetta's. Neal Coonerty bought the store in 1973. He and his son Ryan Coonerty, who were both in attendance at the Panetta event, are both politicians who have held a variety of offices at the local level.

The book store's website boasts, "We also hold strong ties to the community with [...] Neal Coonerty, currently serving as a Santa Cruz County Supervisor and son, Ryan Coonerty, serving as a Santa Cruz City Councilmember and former Mayor."

Panetta is the son of well known merchants in Monterey. His family owned seven restaurants in the area.

Panetta profited from the military industrial complex through the release of this "tell-all" style book "Worthy Fights," in the immediate wake of his retirement from public "service." Ryan Coonerty was able to capitalize from the police state shortly after his last term on the Santa Cruz City Council. Coonerty became the "Director of Government Relations and Strategy" for PredPol, a company that provides a software product to police agencies that was first tested in Santa Cruz.

The four demonstrators were disappointed with Bookshop Santa Cruz for banning them for "life."

One of the demonstrators banned for life from Bookshop Santa Cruz is a member of Peace United and attends church services their regularly. Another demonstrator banned for life from the book store said she shopped their regularly.

Another of those banned, who also claimed to be customer, said she would be using to buy books in the future, because a portion of the proceeds are given to the charitable organization of the customer's choice.


Note to readers: As stated previously, on November 10, I was one of those "banned for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz.

An hour before the Panetta event was scheduled to begin, I approached Casey Coonerty-Protti and asked her if I could enter the talk as a member of the press. She asked what agency I was with and denied my admission when I responded, "Indybay." She at no time asked for my name and I do not think she ever looked me straight in the eyes. She was arranging a stack of Panetta's books that were for sale on a table in the lobby of the sanctuary. I was able to confirm later in the evening that she did not know my name.

Coonerty-Protti then stated she had "problems with Indybay" in the past.

I informed her that I had been with Indybay for years and had not heard of any problems with their business, and that to my knowledge Indybay had never been contacted by them.

In August, I documented a protest held at their downtown store. That day I noticed that Julia Sinn, the events coordinator, was speaking to protesters and in some cases was asking them to behave differently, but I was never approached by the book store's staff.

For my coverage of that event, see:

Protesters Confront Salinas Police Chief at Bookstore Appearance in Santa Cruz

I had felt good about that experience in August because the business appeared to be gracious to those who were documenting the event.

That was not the case on November 10.

After claiming she had problems with Indybay, Coonerty-Protti could not precisely state why. She then switched gears and told me I could not attend the Panetta event because it was sold out. I asked her if they were maxed out on attendance with regards to the fire code, though it was apparent there was a large amount of space where one could easily stand towards the rear of the sanctuary. Her answer was still a resounding "no" and it was at that time I decided to end my requests.

After a last, snarky exchange with her and Sinn, who was also difficult to deal with, I left the lobby of the sanctuary. Less than a minute later I noticed individuals were still purchasing tickets. When I asked Peace United's administrator, Brooke Graff, if tickets were still available, she said yes but that she would have to check to see if I could buy one because she was under the impression my admission to the event was restricted.

Reporter Terri Morgan and photographer Dan Coyro of the Santa Cruz Sentinel were both allowed to enter the event as press.

At one point in the evening, the doors were left open, and I was taking pictures of the inside of the lobby of sanctuary. Sinn yelled out at me.

"Way to support independent businesses," she shouted sarcastically.

I replied to her that Bookshop Santa Cruz had lost a 45-year customer when they refused to let me inside of the talk. There is no way I would shop there again. I had been a customer there since before the Coonerty family bought the business. I also found Sinn's statement intellectually dishonest considering Coonerty-Protti had apparently lied to me when she told me the event was sold out, and Sinn was witness to that "dialog." Either way, I was not there to "support" the business financially, and I was not going to pay to get in, even if they had given me the chance.

Peace United's website states the sanctuary seats 480 people for weddings. The Panetta event never filled up. Dozens of empty seats were visible from the outside.

Later in the evening I was assaulted by a member of Panetta's security team as I attempted to photograph him leaving the event.

A detailed description of the assault was first published here:

Indybay Journalist Assaulted by Leon Panetta's Security at Bookshop Santa Cruz Event

The location of the assault was next to the parking lot of the church. I had approached Panetta's vehicle and was about a foot away from one of his security guards when he grabbed my camera and hit me with it. I shouted loudly into the car that the guard had assaulted me. The guard then entered the car and closed the doors of the vehicle behind him. I hit the window once, trying one last time to alert Panetta's attention to the fact I was just hit in the face by his guard.

The security team knew I was photographing the event. I took photos in a similar fashion without incident when Panetta was arriving that evening, and one guard also recognized me from another event held in April when Panetta spoke at UC Santa Cruz.

After being assaulted, I noticed Coonerty-Protti was nearby, and I approached her to say I would no longer be shopping at Bookshop Santa Cruz because of her poor behavior that evening. I also informed her I had just been assaulted at their event.

Coonerty-Protti had witnessed, at the very least, the aftermath of the assault. She said she had seen me when I pounded on Panetta's car after the assault. She then informed me that I was banned from Bookshop Santa Cruz "for life" for hitting Panetta's car, saying that indicated the type of person I was.

I was still in shock from the blow to the head by Panetta's security guard, which made my neck snap back, and I kept repeating to her that I had been assaulted. I asked her if she cared at all about what had happened to me.

The sanctuary at Peace United Church of Christ.

The line to get into the talk.

Neal Coonerty and Casey Coonerty-Protti

Selling "Worthy Fights" in the lobby of the sanctuary

Leon Panetta entering the sanctuary through the rear entrance

Ryan Coonerty.

The Peace United sign on High Street.

On High Street.

Panetta speaks to the crowd in the sanctuary.

Empty seats.

Santa Cruz Sentinel photographer Dan Coyro entering the sanctuary

Background from one of the activists who was "banned for life"

One of the activists who was "banned for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz on November 10, who is also a member of Peace United Church, emailed me this account of the lead up to the demonstration and the pressures the church received from Panetta's security, as well as an account of the moment the group unfurled the "Stand For Peace" banner inside of the church. The individual wants to remain anonymous. This is the full account they sent me:

"Rev. Dave Grishaw-Jones was traveling in Israel/Palestine with a delegation from our church and Temple Beth El from October 26 through November 11. So, he was not present on the evening of Panetta’s appearance. Before he left, our church administrator was presented with instructions given by the Secret Service regarding control of demonstrators, and where on our campus demonstrations would be permitted. Rev. Dave and other church leaders were dismayed and unhappy being put in the position of taking orders from a secular authority concerning our use of our church campus, but we didn't feel we could cancel the event, which had already been arranged by Bookshop Santa Cruz with our church administrator. We have learned from this experience that we need to establish a protocol for use of our facilities by outside groups, so that any proposed use that would not comport with our core values of peace and non-violence will be referred to a church leadership council before the booking is agreed to.

"Our church has no staff other than our minister, our administrator and a custodian. Several of us among the membership are ministers, but we only have one minister serving officially - Rev. Grishaw-Jones. Some of us were asked by our administrator to help enforce the rules imposed on the church by Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Secret Service, but we made no concerted effort to do so. For my part, I chose to inform people of the terms of the engagement (I handed out a number of copies of the agreed-upon "rules") but I made no to attempt to enforce them, especially because I was not myself a party to the arrangement, and I myself intended to participate in a demonstration in the sanctuary during Panetta's appearance, which would be in violation of the “rules.”

"The banner, and our t-shirts, bore the words, "Stand For Peace." I had arranged with the other three demonstrators that we would stand up and display our banner silently as soon as Panetta began to justify the War on Terror, and that's what we did. I wanted there to be no violence on the part of the Secret Service agents or Bookshop Santa Cruz employees, and we had been warned by Ms. Coonerty that we would be forcibly removed from the sanctuary if we carried out a demonstration (she knew that is what we planned to do). So the four of us simply faced the audience with our banner, standing in between the chancel where Panetta was sitting, and the first row of seats (which had been reserved for the Coonerty family and their friends, and other dignitaries). Then we walked out of the sanctuary displaying the banner. The entire demonstration took no more than a minute. In the narthex, upon leaving the sanctuary, we encountered Casey Coonerty, furiously aggressive, and that is where she "banned" us all "for life" from Bookshop Santa Cruz. Briefly, one of the four of us verbally protested Ms. Coonerty’s retribution. Then I ushered my fellow demonstrators out of the building quietly and without any further protest."

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