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Anthony Messer 1985-2013
Friends and family from coast to coast are mourning the loss of 28-year-old Anthony Messer, who died in Santa Cruz on the evening of December 2. Funeral services were held for him on Monday in Chipley, Florida. Anthony was well known in Santa Cruz as a veteran of the U.S. military, a political activist, a traveler, and a generally friendly person who exuded positivity. Anthony made a big splash in the Occupy movement after having first participated in Occupy Sacramento. After leaving Sacramento, he traveled to Santa Cruz in February of 2012 with a strong desire to revive the Occupy Santa Cruz occupation of the court house steps. Much to the chagrin of many involved with OSC at that time, who had become acutely image-conscious and occupation-weary, Messer embarked on a one person demonstration at the court house steps dubbed "Re-Occupy," where he held teach-ins and attempted to maintain a 24/7 presence. [Top photo: Anthony (on the right) during "Re-Occupy"]
Anthony actively organized events with Occupy Santa Cruz, and he contributed several articles to the OSC website. In March of 2012, he participated in Tent University at UC Santa Cruz, as well as the associated campus shut down. He also participated in many of the larger Bay Area and Northern California events that occurred during the Occupy movement, which included marching with supporters of the S.F. Commune during the occupation of 888 Turk Street in San Francisco.
He produced a number of video blogs about his activism, and he developed websites that culled together his political experiences, along with many of his thoughts and ideas, and photos of demonstrations in which he participated.
In the section of his website titled "Setting the Bar," Anthony outlined his four "growth" goals:
1. Perform effective actions.
2. Educate the public to government and corporate injustices.
3. Homeless and houseless community out-reach.
4. Act, operate, and support the Occupy movement.
Anthony left Santa Cruz for a short period of time, as he was apt to do as someone who loved to travel, and when he returned he participated in the vigil for Ed Frey in August of 2012. The event took place as Frey was to turn himself in to the county jail after being sentenced to serve time for sleeping at the court house during the PeaceCamp 2010 protests against the sleeping ban in Santa Cruz. Anthony was one of several people who occupied the court house steps overnight during that vigil, after sheriffs had tried unsuccessfully to chase the group out earlier in the evening.
He described himself as being in the military for seven years, and when asked about the difficulty of sleeping in public, enduring the cold and the police, and occupying space as an activist, he would often comment that his experiences as an occupier were easy compared to what he went through in the service.
Anthony had his demons. He would proudly claim they were not a result of his seven years of service in the military, but he struggled to maintain sobriety from drugs and alcohol. Anthony wanted to live a sober life, but he never achieved that goal for long.
He was often without a roof to sleep under when he stayed in Santa Cruz, and according to a report on his death in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, his body was found on the beach near San Lorenzo Point. Higher up on that cliffy point was a campsite where possessions of his were found. The county coroner stated he appeared to have died due to complications from a fall. The authorities say empty liquor bottles were also found near the campsite.
Located where the San Lorenzo River meets Monterey Bay, San Lorenzo point is about a mile and a half away from the Santa Cruz court house. Like most of the cliffs along the coastline, the side of the cliff on the point is not ideally suited for camping, compared to the more level locations closer to the court house. The high, slippery rock faces can be splashed out of the blue by "sneaker waves."
During February 2012's "Re-Occupy" at the Santa Cruz court house, Anthony created several political signs, and one read: "Cruel Broad Laws Are Not A Good Answer. Better Lighting, More Patrols, Real Shelter Solutions, Public Education + Real Deliberation." One of the teach-ins he planned was a discussion based on the book "Corporations: Examples & Explanations" by Alan R. Palmiter.
On one evening of that occupation, officers with the Santa Cruz Police Department spotted Anthony at the court house steps lying on his sleeping bag on the sidewalk. They aggressively talked him out of staying there. Anthony was very polite to the officers, but he firmly insisted on knowing what the legal grounds were that prevented him from lying on the sidewalk.
One officer then suggested that because Anthony was an occupier, he must not have a job. Anthony remained silent and did not mention his seven years of service in the military. When another individual present asked the officers if it made any difference that Anthony was a veteran, the officer who accused him of being jobless profusely apologized.
Anthony was a person who loved traveling, and he was also a person with strong personal ties to the Santa Cruz community. Following his arrival in 2012, much of the local political rhetoric has focused on issues surrounding homelessness.
In the summer of 2012, the Santa Cruz department of parks and recreation, along with public works and the SCPD, conducted a series of raids on San Lorenzo Park and areas near the court house that made life even more difficult for people looking for a place to sleep. Patrols were dramatically stepped up in the former location of the Occupy Santa Cruz camp, and homeless people who had previously slept in the park were either forced to endure more frequent interactions with the authorities or find other places to sleep.
At that time the Santa Cruz city council also enacted new legislation where individuals accumulating multiple infractions for minor offenses, such as sleeping in public, could be prosecuted criminally and sentenced to jail.
Increased patrols aimed at eliminating sleep related activity near the San Lorenzo River have continued into 2013. More security was hired for the park, the court house, and the county government center, which all border the river.
The sweeps led to reports of increases in homeless people looking for places to sleep in areas closer to the beach, which in part fueled the first ever long-term curfew and night closure of a beach in Santa Cruz, Cowell's Beach, which is close to where Anthony was found.
Much of the recent rhetoric surrounding the discourse on public safety has to do with limiting the access homeless "travelers" have to local services. One member of the city's public safety task force, which was formed in 2013 and has largely focused on issues of homelessness and drug addiction, rashly echoed that sentiment when he said he would be "fine with junkies dying," as long as it was outside of the Santa Cruz area.
On the minds of some of those who knew Anthony is how this could be allowed to happen to a homeless veteran.
Was Anthony forced to find a more remote location to sleep, that was far more dangerous than those he slept at during his initial arrival in Santa Cruz, because of the recent political crackdown on homelessness?
Did Anthony die from what he so passionately fought against, the injustice of the criminalization of sleep and homelessness in Santa Cruz?
Video blogs featuring Anthony Messer can be found by searching for "Occupy Chop" on YouTube, and one of Anthony's websites can still be seen at:
Anthony Messer's obituary:
"Occupy Your Mind!!!"
"Cruel Broad Laws Are Not A Good Answer. Better Lighting, More Patrols, Real Shelter Solutions, Public Education + Real Deliberation"
"Anthony is Hot," Ed Frey Vigil