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Successful Protest Against Backpack Bigotry Restores Street Scene for Two Hours
by Robert Norse
Thursday Feb 20th, 2014 2:13 PM
Cafe HUFF's sidewalk stop-and-slp station fielded mini-cups of free coffee to musicians, activists, sign-totters, tourists, and students outside the Coffee Roasting Company. The focus was a protest on anti-homeless Backpack Bans infecting the Roaster, Peets, Starbucks, Lulu Carpenters and other businesses downtown. We encouraged Roaster patrons to question the policy and encourage the management to restore fairer treatment. Even the six cops assigned to surveille the decaf demo were invited to lift a cup (but declined). One angry defender of the police tore up a sign, but otherwise participants endorsed the protest with enthusiasm Well satisfied with the two-hour long anti-discrimination demo, they vowed to return next Wednesday to continue the public educational process.
HAPPY PROTEST
About 20 people maintained a persistent colorful presence on the sidewalk outside the Coffee Roasting Company and adjacent shops early Wednesday afternoon between 1 and 3 PM, tabling, singing, carrying signs, gathering information, and answering questions from passersby.

A number of us gave impassioned speeches urging fair or at least equal treatment of homeless people (i.e. those with fewer options for storing their backpacks), but the only response of the management was to (a) attempt to police the sidewalk in front of the entranceway by directing people away, and (b) apparently repeatedly calling the police, though Officer Azua wasn't specific about who was "complaining".

One impassioned street musician, who'd seen his friend Briana Brewer heavily harassed by "Hospitality" yellow-jackets, went in and tore up a dollar bill in front of the management. Another stood by the door way with a sign urging people not to enter.

BAD LAWS
Musicians and protesters splayed out along the sidewalk in what were arguably "illegal" positions under the Bryant-Robinson legislation. What I call the "Sidewalk Shrinkage" law changes passed last fall on a 5-2 vote. They limited performer space to telephone booth-sized 12 square feet, banned blankets on the ground, & added new forbidden zones (to "protect" the new red "Scared-and-Stingey is-the-new-Smart" No Sparechange meters and trash cans) and require "12' separation" between anyone with a political table, sparechange cup, open guitar case, or other "display device". The pretext for this 'sanitize the sidewalks' attack was "trip and fall" hazard (no instances cited), and "sidewalk sale-style clutter". Robinson, Comstock, and Mathews either explicitly or implicitly supported this picture.

CONFLICT AND CONFLICT RESOLVED
Passions got high at points. One confused homeless person, seeing a poster that pictured a gunman labeled Public Safety Task Force executing a homeless person (see http://www.indybay.org/uploads/2013/10/23/10-23_poster.pdf ) continued screeching that this was an libelous attack on her "friends" in the SCPD. She ended up grabbing the sign out of the hands of woman and ripping it up, then continued to loudly berate and threaten protesters. She finally calmed down when I threatened her with a formal complaint for theft and vandalism and ultimately shook my hand and said she'd replace the item.

A tip of the hat to Sgt. Bush and Officer Wilson, whose mediation skills (or perhaps suitable threats--I didn't hear the conversation) persuaded the sign seizer to back off.

POLICE AUTHORITY IGNORED
Police at instances acted as merchant security guards, insisting that people not stand with signs at the entrance of the coffee shop. In fact, Officer Azua didn't disagree that one only obstructed the sidewalk when you refused to move when asked to do so--and the lone protester who kept returning to the entrance of the cafe did not block anyone, but continued to be threatened by Azua. Azua repeatedly instructed the man "not to block the entrance"--which he wasn't. The young demonstrator held a sign with an "ask why before you buy" style message. Azua later urged me to "exercise leadership" and noted they had many photos that could be used as evidence. Evidence of standing or of actually blocking? No reply. The point being that merchants and police are not the arbiters of the sidewalk and protesters would not be bullied into surrendering that authority to them.

When Azua confronted me to demand as the leader of the protest that I "cooperate" with the police, a protester shouted out "he's not our leader" and I had to agree. Better days may be in store as people begin to make independent decisions in these situations and exercise their own leadershiip.

It seemed a hefty waste of public money to see five police officers standing across the street in front of Camouflage, apparently watching the protest for its first half hour or so. Deputy-Chief Martinez came out of Starbucks (another Backpack Banning joint). He declined to answer why his SCPD had stopped at-risk kids from getting bikes by freezing out the Bike Church for two years starting in 2012.

The police generally wisely refrained from pulling out ticket books and enforcing the mesh of downtown ordinance violations that conceivably could have been charged. The energy of the crowd and determination of the protesters--plus the fact that the absurd laws had nothing to do with any kind of real safety concerns--may have been a factor in restoring a two-hour return to a sane vibrant street scene.

IN THE WAKE OF THE EXILE OF THE GREAT MORGANI
Some folks videoed and hopefully they will post what they saw. Numerous long-time street singers stopped and played.

The protest came on the day the news about the exile of The Great Morgani hit. Looks like the use of these laws to scare away "unsightly" homeless have ended up doing what opponents have always argued would happen: land on the heads of traditional commercially-viable and attractive performers like the colorfully-dressed accordion player, who has left the scene in disgust after being threatened with ticketing.

Indybay's latest story is the shutdown of The Great Morgani by officious cops enforcing the Forbidden Zone and Move Along laws. The outrage against the exile of Morgani has been palpable and near-unanimous (even on the Sentinel's hate-happy Disquis Topix comments following the article: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/santacruz/ci_25186560/no-more-morgani-santa-cruz-accordionist-says ...).

Bubble performer and street performers guild activist Tom Noddy will be on Free Radio Sana Cruz tonight at 101.3 FM discussing the latest crisis in the Street Performer Crackdown. The show archives at http://www.radiolibre.org/brb/brb140220.mp3 .


FUTURE PLANS: NEXT WEEK BACK STRONGER
Protesters convened outside City Hall and debated their next move for another half-hour, deciding to return with a renewed and enlarged protest next Wednesday at 1 PM at the same place. There will be an interim organizational meeting 4:30 PM at the main post office during the Food Not Bombs meal. There was widespread satisfaction and enthusiasm at the success of the protest and the belief that continuing the educational campaign would ultimately lead to change.

In the meantime, contact your local cafe and ensure that they don't ban backpacks or discriminate against the homeless. Pass on what you earn here or more widely on Yelp and Facebook! Spread the word and bring your music down to the Coffee Roasting Company next Wednesday.