Thursday, January 28, 2016

Community Sleepout #29

Attendance increased at the 29th Freedom Sleepers community sleepout held at Santa Cruz City Hall on January 26, possibly due to the dry and somewhat mild evening's weather. The next sleepout is planned for Tuesday, February 2.

Since July 4 of last year, group sleepouts have been held once a week at Santa Cruz City Hall to oppose local laws that criminalize homelessness and sleeping in public. Some of the demonstrators have their own homes to go to and some do not, and participants say the location continues to be the only safe place for people to sleep outdoors in downtown Santa Cruz on Tuesday nights.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Remembering the Occudome

The construction of the Occudome at Occupy Santa Cruz in 2011 represented a radical act of reclaiming public space, and the physical structure itself became an object of affection to many involved in the movement. I was looking through my archives and found this set of photos that document activities at the Occudome over the course of its lifespan. Most of these photos have never been published before.

Early in November of 2011, members of Occupy Santa Cruz constructed a large, geodesic dome next to the steps of the Santa Cruz Court House, which was the location the group held their general assemblies every day for months. The structure served as a shelter space that was separate from the large Occupy encampment located steps away in the San Lorenzo Park Benchlands. It would soon be named, the "Occudome." Individuals use of the dome evolved everyday. Inside it were couches, a kitchenette, a tower heater, audio equipment and musical instruments, and information tables. Artwork adorned the interior walls. At one point occupiers installed a solar panel on its exterior.

Inside the dome during a general assembly

An occupier warming their face

Solar panel

Empathy Cafe

"Dome is Where the Heart Is"

"Police Are Puppets"

A tribute to the dome

The early days of the Occudome

Gathering before an Occupy Santa Cruz march

Using the Occudome to dry clothing

Santa Cruz Sheriffs eventually made a move in early December of that year to dismantle the Occudome, arriving outfitted in riot gear and blocking off Water Street during the process. For an excellent photo essay by Bradley Allen that documents the destruction of the dome, see:
Santa Cruz Co. Sheriff's Dept. Dismantles Occupy Santa Cruz Geodesic Dome and Structures at Courthouse

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The "Winter" Freedom Sleepers

A small but dedicated group of "Freedom Sleepers" are facing all the conditions winter has to offer them as they continue to sleep outside of Santa Cruz City Hall on Tuesday nights. The rain stopped just before the beginning of the 28th community sleepout held on January 19, but the city hall area stayed wet all evening, as did some of the sleepers' possessions. Individuals, some with and some without houses of their own to stay in, have been coming together since July 4 for the sleepouts, which are organized to protest local laws that make homelessness and sleeping in public a crime.

The City of Santa Cruz continues to take measures to prevent the sleepers from occupying the city hall courtyard and lawn area. The entire complex at city hall is closed to the public at night, and police have issued countless citations and arrested many during the course of the protests, in order to keep the area clear.

Security guards were on duty all night at city hall on January 19, watching over protesters. For months "Area Closed" signs have been in place surrounding the lawn area, and even in more puzzling locations such as the center of the main brick walkway that leads to council chambers, where the city council meetings are held.

The rain had stopped, but items such as the Freedom Sleeper's tent stayed wet.

Security guards watch over city hall all night during the protests.

An "Area Closed" sign placed in the middle of the main entrance to Santa Cruz City Hall.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Sleepouts at Santa Cruz City Hall Advance to 2016

Homeless individuals returned to sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall on January 5 for the twenty-sixth community sleepout. Facing intermittent downpours of rain, some slept in a large tent on the sidewalk in front of the city hall courtyard. Signs attached to the tent read, "No Sleep Til Justice." Some individuals successfully slept under the eaves of the city offices building itself, which is a no-trespassing zone at night. One person slept directly on city hall's brick walkway with out a blanket. Regardless of the sleep location, it is illegal to sleep in Santa Cruz anywhere in public between the hours of 11 pm and 8:30 am.

Since July 4, community members, many of them calling themselves "Freedom Sleepers," have been organizing the sleepouts one night a week at City Hall to protest laws that criminalize homelessness and the simple act of sleeping. 

Initially they attempted to sleep on the lawn in the courtyard area of city hall, which is also a no trespassing zone at night. In response, police conducted raids at nearly every one of their sleepouts. After many were cited and or arrested in the courtyard, the sleepers moved the location of their sleep-protest to the sidewalk in front of city hall. Eventually the police raids subsided.

To keep the courtyard free of sleepers, the city has instead chosen to hire all night security patrols, who often stand watch over the sleepers for hours at a time. Staying up all night has weighed heavy on some of the guards, who are employed by First Alarm Security Services. Several guards have been caught sleeping in their cars, which is a violation of the camping ban, the very same law the sleepers are directly protesting themselves through civil disobedience. Some of the guards have expressed frustration with the protesters, a homeless woman was roughed up while they were arresting her in the courtyard.

According to reports from the Freedom Sleepers, there were transgressions from the guards at the last sleepout as well.

Toby Nixon, of the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, said that at about 4 am on January 6, a First Alarm security guard began to shine a bright light on the activists' tent and attempted to initiate a "conversation" with the individuals inside it. After exiting the tent, Nixon says he insisted the security guard stop harassing them as they attempted to sleep. He claims the guard responded that he was working there and that it was his right to do whatever he wished.

According to Nixon the First Alarm guard left after some coaxing, and the sleepers inside made it through another night at Santa Cruz City Hall.

Two sleepers under the eaves of city hall during the January 5 protest

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Community Members in Watsonville Demonstrate in Support of Driscoll's Berry Boycott

On January 2, community members in Watsonville picketed in front of the Mi Pueblo Food Center on Freedom Boulevard in support of the international boycott of Driscoll's Berries. The headquarters of Driscoll's Berries is located in Watsonville, and Mi Pueblo is a large chain supermarket that sells the brand. The action was organized by the Watsonville and Sacramento Brown Berets, who noted this was the first event organized for the Driscoll's boycott in Santa Cruz County.

According to organizers of the international boycott, Driscoll's is the largest distributor of berries in the world and the company has a history of repressing union organizing. The boycott of Driscoll's has been initiated in response to the poor treatment of farmworkers who grow their berries in San Quintin, Mexico, as well as at Sakuma Bros. Berry Farm in Burlington, Washington.

In 2013, workers at Sakuma organized an independent labor union named Familias unidas por la Justicia, or Families United for Justice (FUJ). FUJ is asking that Driscoll’s and Sakuma Berry Farms recognize them as the official union representing farm worker harvesters. Additionally, they have issued the following demands:

a- $15 per hour minimum wage and overtime pay.
b- IF a piece-rate wage process is accepted it must be negotiated as an ongoing process with worker representation- Sakuma Farms already agreed to a mutually acceptable process in 2013. The piece rate wage process has been used by Sakuma Farms as a wage theft mechanism that FUJ wants to end.
c- A medical plan for all harvesters paid for by the company.
d- No children or youth in the fields younger than 17 years.
e- Negotiate equitable hiring and firing practices.
f- A pesticide safety committee with union representation.
g- Union representation in the development of supervisor training program.
h- A union label on all harvested products.

In 2015 Families United for Justice issued a statement in support of individuals who grow berries in the San Quintin Valley of Mexico that are distributed by Driscoll's. A general strike was observed by over 50,000 San Quintin farmworkers that year. They organized as an independent union called the Alliance of National, State and Municipal Organizations for Social Justice. The farmworkers initially demanded their wages be increased to 300 pesos a day, but they lowered that figure to 200 pesos, which is about $13. Most of the workers earned $7 to $8 a day before the strike began.

"Farmworker families in both WA and Mexico are asking people to stop buying Driscoll's Berries until they have legally binding union contracts that ensure they have justice and dignity in the workplace. People all over North America are taking action in solidarity with this movement. Tell your local grocery store manager that you support the boycott and ask them to remove Driscoll's berries from their shelves," read a flyer handed out at the January 2 boycott demonstration in Watsonville.

In addition to being organized by the Watsonville and Sacramento Brown Berets, the action was sponsored by the Fresno Brown Berets, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (Sacramento Chapter) AFL-CIO, SEIU 1021, Sacramento Central Labor Council AFL-CIO, Organization of Agricultural Workers California, First of May Civic Union, The Organizer, United Public Worker For Action, Women Take Back The Night.

Homeless Activists Maintain Protests, Continue to Sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall

Facing temperatures below the freezing mark, a small group of activists stayed the night for their twenty-fifth community sleepout at Santa Cruz City Hall on December 29. The next sleepout is planned for Tuesday, January 5.

A street sweeper buzzes by homeless advocate Toby Nixon as he lays in front of Santa Cruz City Hall at 6 am on December 30 during the twenty-fifth community sleepout

Since July 4, community members in Santa Cruz have been sleeping one night a week at Santa Cruz City Hall to protest laws that criminalize sleeping in public places. Their main focus has been on the repeal of the local sleeping/camping ban, which outlaws sleeping in public (with or without blankets) in the City of Santa Cruz between the hours of 11pm and 8:30am, in addition to prohibiting sleeping in cars.

Individuals are also sleeping at city hall to encourage officials to open public parks to those looking for a safe place to sleep at night. The courtyard area of Santa Cruz City Hall, which is closed to the public between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, was the primary sleep location of the protests until the city, and the Santa Cruz Police Department, began to take extreme measures to keep the area clear. For several months, police conducted nightly raids at the sleepouts, issuing dozens of citations in total, and even arresting some.

In the past two months the frequency of the police raids has declined, due in part to the city's decision to dramatically increase security patrols at city hall. It was reported in a recent commercial media article that the sleepouts have cost the city over $24,000 in extra expenses due to the protests.

Presently, the majority of protesters choose to sleep on the sidewalk in front of city hall to avoid the wrath of the authorities. Some individuals also take shelter in the landscaping area of the public library, as well as the surrounding properties.

The December 29 sleepout was the first time the sleepers experienced freezing weather during the course of the protests.

Homeless advocate Toby Nixon was one of the few individuals who slept through the night at city hall on December 29. Nixon, who is homeless himself, said he would be facing the same kind of temperatures regardless of whether he was protesting at the sleepouts or not. He lives outside full-time.

Nixon is involved with the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, an organization he describes as working to end the criminalization of homelessness by, "giving a voice to the voiceless," through media and information sharing. He said he has the desire to travel to Washington DC as part of his advocacy for the homeless, but financing his goals so far has been a challenge. As a result, Nixon focuses on issues "regionally." Most recently, he has traveled to other homeless protest actions in Northern California that are similar to the community sleepouts being organized at Santa Cruz City Hall. In 2015, sleepouts and occupations have been held at the civic centers of a variety of other cities in California, including Berkeley and Sacramento. A number of actions to end the criminalization of homelessness have also been held in Eureka.

The group that first initiated the sleepouts in Santa Cruz in July was mostly comprised of homeless advocates who themselves have fixed froms of housing, and warm homes of their own to go to. They served as the principle organizers of the sleepouts, with support from a wide variety of unhoused activists and individuals, and eventually named themselves the "Freedom Sleepers."

By December, most of the original Freedom Sleepers stopped sleeping at city hall. The present organizational duties have now been assumed by a group of individuals who are all homeless themselves. Some had planned to "rename" the protests, but through a consensus process they decided to continue with the Freedom Sleepers name.

Toby Nixon has said that as long as local homeless people from Santa Cruz are still interested in participating in the protests, he will continue to sleep at Santa Cruz City Hall every week.

In front of Santa Cruz City Hall at the 23rd Community Sleepout, held on December 15

Security guards watch over the city hall courtyard at the 24th Community Sleepout

Community Sleepout #24, December 22

Community Sleepout #24

Toby Nixon, of the Homeless Advocacy & Action Coalition, at Community Sleepout #24

Santa Cruz Food Not Bombs shared food during the afternoon at Community Sleepout #24

Community Sleepout #22

On December 8, community members in Santa Cruz joined together for their twenty-second sleepout at city hall. The sleepouts were initiated on July 4 by unhoused and housed community members to oppose laws that criminalize sleeping in public places within the city.

Sunrise in front of Santa Cruz City Hall
Over the course of the protests, the Santa Cruz Police Department and city staff have taken extreme measures to prevent people from entering and sleeping in the city hall complex at night. The area is marked "no trespassing" between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.

Police raids have been the norm for the majority of the sleepouts, with SCPD officers ticketing and sometimes arresting demonstrators for their participation.

No one was arrested or cited at the December 8 sleepout, but a group of security guards stood watch over, and patrolled, the city hall courtyard all night long.

Despite the heavy security presence, a small group of sleepers have made it through the night for every one of the protests since July 4. Protesters have mostly slept on the sidewalk, but some also take shelter in the landscaping area of the public library.

Organizers of the sleepouts typically have a variety of food items to share with those in need, and breakfast is also served each morning. Sometimes bedding and sleeping supplies are also provided, but those items go fast and people with no possessions usually sleep on cardboard.

On the nights the protests are held, the location has generally been the only place for people who have nothing to go.

Sleepers on the sidewalk in front of Santa Cruz City Hall

A sleeper creates a shelter next to the library

A sleeper uses an emergency blanket next to the library

Two sleepers on the sidewalk in front of city hall

A sleeper airs their clothing out in front of city hall

The no trespassing sign in the courtyard of city hall. Security guards watch on.

Breakfast was served at 7 am