Friday, June 26, 2015

Sitting Freely in Downtown Monterey

At their latest monthly sit-in, community members protesting the sit-lie ban in Monterey sat freely on the sidewalk on Alvarado Street for the first time since beginning their protests. At each of the four previous sit-ins, demonstrators were pressured to discontinue the protest, either by the police or by downtown business owners. They have been gathering on Alvarado Street monthly since February to oppose the new Monterey ordinance, which outlaws sitting or lying on commercial sidewalks in the city between the hours of 7am and 9pm.

They have scheduled their demonstrations monthly to avoid being cited under the law. To receive a citation, an individual must first be warned by police. "No person may be cited for a violation of this section until a peace officer first warns said person that his or her conduct is unlawful and said person is given a change [chance] to stop said conduct," the ordinance (Sec. 32-6.2) reads.

"One warning by a peace officer to a person who is violating this section is sufficient for a thirty (30) day period as to any subsequent violations of this section by said person during said period."

Community members involved with Direct Action Monterey Network (DAMN), the group that has been organizing the demonstrations, say the sit-lie ban is a discriminatory law which targets homeless people and travelers. By organizing the sit-ins they hope to clog Monterey's legal system with citations.

So far no one has been cited at any of the demonstrations, but the city has expended a certain level of police resources in their responses to the actions. In February, six Monterey police officers watched the group of demonstrators for two hours, and at the May sit-in, three police officers issued warnings to over a dozen individuals who were sitting on the sidewalk. In March and April, business owners argued with them and threatened to call the police on the demonstrators if they didn't leave.

At the June 5 demonstration, approximately 16 people were in attendance, with about eight people sitting. As people walked by (and through) the group, one woman greeted people by saying, "homelessness is not a crime," and then offered them literature about the protests. Literature was also available on a table, along with free coffee.

Another member of the group of sitters that day communicated continually to passers-by that the sit-lie law is being, "selectively enforced by the business community."

Whether it was an example of selective enforcement or not, the demonstrators were left to sit free from police interactions on June 5.

Members of DAMN say they will continue to organize the actions on the first Friday of every month from 4pm-6pm. 

Photos are from the Monterey sit-lie demonstration held on June 5.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

UCSC Highway Six Back in Court June 29 & 30

The six UCSC students charged in association with the March 3 blockade of Highway 17, where it meets Highway 1 in Santa Cruz, will be back in court on June 29 and June 30. On June 29 at 10:00am, there will be a hearing in Santa Cruz County Superior Court to finalize their sentence, and on June 30 at 1:30pm there will be a restitution hearing.

The defendants and their supporters gather May 7 at the Santa Cruz Court House.

The students all pleaded "no contest" to two misdemeanor counts each at their last court appearance on May 7, which was followed by a press conference where three members of the group, Sophia DiMatteo, Ethan Pezzolo, and Lori Nixon, discussed for the first time publicly what motivated them on March 3.

The students each face a possible sentence of 30 days, and the prosecution has estimated the amount of restitution they are seeking is approximately $40,000.

They have issued a call for court support: "We need to fill the court room with supporters to let the judge know that the community stands with us. That our action was FOR the community, NOT against it. We need to hold the cops, the judge, the university, and the state accountable. This means the community needs to physically show up and be seen. So please come, stand with us against the powers that be. Bodies make a difference!!!"

[Photos and video are from the the Highway Six press conference in front of the Santa Cruz Court House on May 7.]

Press conference.

Ethan Pezzolo and Sophia DiMatteo.

Lori Nixon.

Sophia DiMatteo.

Julia of Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs reads a statement of support.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Taking the Pledge to Mobilize at the Climate Mobilization Rally

Community members in Santa Cruz gathered at the Town Clock on June 14 to rally and share information about climate change in order to encourage individuals to take the Climate Mobilization pledge, which demands a "WWII scale" effort by society to create a 100% clean energy economy by 2025.

A copy of the pledge was available for signing at the Town Clock, and after a variety of community leaders spoke about climate change from both a local and global perspective, the group marched around the downtown.

The Climate Mobilization is intended to rapidly transform every sector, and supporters say that because the world's poorest people are the ones most adversely affected by climate change, there will be a strong social focus.

"This campaign has to be about social justice as well as environmental justice," speaker Gillian Greensite, Chair of the Santa Cruz Sierra Club Conservation Committee, said at the rally.

In addition to Greensite, speakers at the rally included one of the leaders in a successful ban on fracking, Mary Hsia-Coron of San Benito Rising; Richard Nolthenius, Chair of the Astronomy Department at Cabrillo College, who created the "Planetary Climate Science" course; and Bruce Daniels, who has a PhD from UC Santa Cruz in Hydro-climatology, and is on the Board of Directors of the Soquel Creek Water District.

The rally was sponsored by 350 Santa Cruz, with co-sponsors Santa Cruz Sierra Club, WILPF, and Communities for a Sustainable Monterey County.

Communities for Sustainable Monterey County.

Pauline Seales of 350 Santa Cruz.
Mary Hsia-Coron of San Benito Rising.

Gillian Greensite, Chair of the Santa Cruz Sierra Club Conservation Committee.

Richard Nolthenius, Chair of the Astronomy Department at Cabrillo College.

Bruce Daniels, Board Member, Soquel Creek Water District.

Santa Cruz Residents Rally in Solidarity with Indigenous Movements to Oppose Sainthood for Serra

Local residents rallied is Santa Cruz on June 14 to oppose the Catholic Church's plans to canonize Junipero Serra this September, which was approved by Pope Francis. Serra presided over the brutal California mission system during its founding in the 18th century. The purpose of the rally was to educate the public about the Native American lives that were lost at the missions and the torturous conditions that were imposed there, as well as to encourage community members to contact Priests and other religious and spiritual leaders, including the Pope, in order to attempt to change his mind about granting Serra sainthood.

An event announcement released before the rally described the intentions of the participants:

"In Solidarity with our indigenous neighbors - we stand for a correct history. We stand for the greatness and the wisdom the native Americans hold. We stand because they are human like us and only want to live in a society of truth and understanding.

"Junipero Serra, the father of the California Missions, insisted that kidnapping, slavery and torture be used to forward his radical evangelical movement. Now the Catholic Church wants to cover up it's crimes against humanity in a shroud of Sainthood - but not before we help tell the real story - not before we stand tall with our indigenous neighbors in opposition."

The rally was held in front of the Catholic Shrine for St. Joseph located on West Cliff Drive. Individuals held signs and distributed fliers containing information about Serra's rule and accounts of the conditions endured by those in the missions.

One of the fliers described how Indigenous people hated Father Quintana of Mission Santa Cruz because of his penchant for flogging them "freely."

"He fashioned a horsewhip tipped with iron barbs to use against the Indians," the flier read.

Messages on the signs included several key quotes used widely in opposition to Serra's sainthood.

A quote from Serra himself from 1780 was displayed on one sign: "I don't see by what law or reason my Indians should be exempt from whipping," and a portion of 1779 letter from the King of Spain, Carlos III: "Mission Indians Fate Worse Than Slavery," was displayed on another. 

Shrine of St. Joseph.

Family Seeks Justice for Jose Velasco after Violent Arrest by Salinas Police

On June 13, a demonstration seeking justice for Jose Velasco was held on North Main Street in Salinas, the location where the 28-year-old was tased and beaten aggressively with batons by police officers with the SPD on June 5. Velasco's three sisters and his mother, Rita Acosta, were in attendance at the demonstration, as were the families of three of the men killed by Salinas police in 2014.

Jose Velasco's sister, Isabel.

Velasco's beating, and subsequent arrest, was captured on video by multiple witnesses on June 5 after the Salinas resident was seen walking into the traffic lanes of North Main Street and exhibiting erratic behavior. Acosta was with her son that day, and she attempted to get him out of the street, but was not able to. She called emergency services for medical help, and individuals watching in cars on North Main phoned emergency services as well. Five officers with the Salinas Police Department arrived. Velasco was tased almost immediately, and then the police proceeded to beat him with their batons. One officer continued to hit him after he was pinned to the ground. Velasco was eventually transported to the hospital and then to jail.

Before the demonstration on June 13, Velasco's family visited him in jail. His sisters said he is still seriously bruised, and one said he has a "hole in his leg" that had to be "filled" with gauze bandages.

His family members have all been seriously affected by the incident, and were visibly exhausted and deeply hurt themselves. One of Velasco's sisters says she keeps seeing the video of the beating, and hearing her mother's 911 call, over and over again in her head. She said she is having trouble concentrating as a result.

Acosta herself works in the field of Homeless Services and said she never expected to experience something like this with the police.

Those at the demonstration are demanding better training for Salinas Police Officers. One sign held by individuals stated, "CIT Training Needed" and another read, "Mental Illness is Not a Crime."

Acosta held a sign that read, "Un Año Sin Justicia, No Es Vida" which refers to those killed by Salinas police in 2014.

The father of Frank Alvarado, Frank Sr., held a sign that read, "S.P.D. Cops Abusing Their Power - No Respect."

Frank Alvardo was killed by Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton, both of the Salinas Police Department on July 11, 2014.

Also in attendance at the demonstration were relatives of Carlos Mejia, who was killed on May 20, 2014 by Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd, both of the Salinas Police Department, and Angel Ruiz, who was killed on March 20, 2014 by Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter, all of the Salinas Police Department.

Jose Velasco's mother, Rita Acosta.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

UC Santa Cruz Lecturers Mark Expiration of Contract with "St. Precaria's Picnic"

On June 1 the Lecturer's labor contract at UC Santa Cruz expired, and union members with American Federation of Teachers Local 2199 and their supporters marked the day by picketing - and picnicking - at the base of campus. Messages in support of adjunct-faculty members and a more democratized University of California system were displayed as individuals held several large, colorful puppets. Food was served, and the day-long event was dubbed "St. Precaria's Picnic."

Lecturers are non-tenure track adjunct-faculty members. They say that they are not treated like professionals, even though they teach classes, engage in writing and research, and hold advanced degrees from top universities. Across the University of California system about one-third of all classes are taught by Lecturers, and contingent faculty members teach over half of the UC's undergraduate credit hours in total, if graduate student teachers are included in the equation.

The majority of Lecturers are hired year-by-year or quarter-by-quarter as "temp" workers, which leaves them with no job security. Additionally, a full-time Lecturer's workload is typically twice that of a tenure track professor, yet they are paid significantly less.

Many of the picket signs displayed at the picnic communicated around the theme of precarity. One such message, "A Precarious Faculty = A Precarious University," was emblazoned on a gold flag along with the stencil of a fist holding a pencil.

Precarity has been defined as a condition of instability in the workforce created in postindustrial societies when management seeks to increase its own strength by limiting job opportunities to temporary and or part-time work.

In February, organizers of the National Adjunct Day of Action adopted "Saint Precaria" as their "icon saint" and individuals at UC Santa Cruz continue to develop themes surrounding precarity.

"All these movements that we are building together are really interconnected, all the student movements and the union movements that we have been working on for many years together," explained Josh Brahinsky at a mid-day rally held at the picnic. Brahinsky teaches courses at both UC Santa Cruz and San Jose State University.

"We're all facing a certain kind of neo-liberal budget where they play with it, and mess with the money," he said. "They don't spend the money on undergraduate education, which is what we are all here to make happen."

Brahinsky said that the University of California has, "made a priority out of administrative spending," noting that it has increased by over 250% in the last 20 years. The growth of faculty spending over the same time period has only increased by 50%, he said, adding that 20 years ago there were five faculty members for every two administrators, but the figure has shifted dramatically, and presently there are only five faculty members for every six administrators, on average.

"The administration is growing and has surpassed the faculty," he said.

"The priorities of the UC are something that ought to be democratic," Brahinsky said. "We can have a say in that, and so we should."

To learn more about the University of California's budget, Brahinsky recommended attendance at a workshop to be held by Autonomous Students UCSC, a student organization that was tabling at the picnic.

AFT Local 2199 President Roxi Power also spoke at the mid-day rally, as did Mike Rotkin, AFT's longest running President at UC Santa Cruz.

After the speakers were heard, a street theater segment was performed with UC administrators portrayed as top-hat wearing characters from the Monopoly board game. Many participants were dressed in graduation gowns, and union members distributed the lyrics to a variety of songs to those in attendance so that the group could serve as the musical chorus in the skit.

One song was titled "Carry that Debt" and was performed to the tune of "Carry that Weight" by the Beatles. The lyrics were modified with new verses such as "You never give me your money, You only give me your crowded classrooms, And in the middle of negotiations, You break down," and a chorus of, "Oh, you're gonna carry that debt, Carry that debt a long time." 

Roxi Power, UCSC Lecturer and President of AFT Local 2199, speaks.

Mike Rotkin speaks.