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Monitors at Gaza Protest Try to Rein in Sign-Holders on the Median Strip
by Robert Norse
Monday Aug 4th, 2014 12:16 PM
At the Friday August 1 rally against the Israeli massacres in Gaza (and the Hamas rocketings), two activists reported hassle and pressure from several fellow activists who tried to persuade them to abandon the more prominent and visible protest positions on the median along Water St. between the Town Clock and the post office. At issue was the protest-coralling (and anti-homeless) "no lingering on the medians" law that was passed by City Council last year. Keith McHenry, a well-known Food Not Bombs activist and his friend were concerned to see harassment of a long-time video journalist who had gone to the median with a sign and went out to join him. They reported that other activists called the police to try and drive them away.
The Gaza protest is colorfully displayed by indymedia photographer Alex Darocy at . I only wish he'd included photos of the brave three who stood on the median with signs--though perhaps he was doing that as a courtesy so as not to provide evidence that three were violating an abusive local ordinance passed to deepen the criminalization of local homeless people.

I applaud the massive support for ending the Gaza massacres. Activists may disagree on tactics, but it concerns me when some first use threats, then actually call the police to harass others asserting their rights and incidentally getting out the message more effectively.

I was disturbed to hear reportS that monitors at the protest attempted to pressure Keith McHenry, his friend, and another well-known journalist from holding signs on the nearby median in the center of Water St. next to the Town Clock. I replayed my interviews with Keith and his friend at (3 hours, 18 minutes and 30 seconds into the audio file for McHenry's account; 3 hours and 10 minutes for his friend's).

It's understandable that police engage in this kind of repressive harassment, but even more frightening when it happens directly from or instigated by activists concerned to maintain a "respectable" appearance and to "be legal". Such an attitude enables and empowers the repressive forces in the community. Those who support this kind of "respectability" are hobbling themselves in future protests and blind to the implications of this kind of packing with police. No doubt, it stems from a well-intended but toxic "control freak" mentality. I'm not sure of the proper way of managing this kind of internal activist turmoil, but I find my sympathies on the side of those who stand up for the rights of protesters and homeless alike.

I had a similar experience last year at the annual July 4th Ocean St. protest when a protest organizer began denouncing me for standing on the median on Ocean St. with a sign (though I was garnering plenty of honks).

Last year the City Council, in its right-wing rush to pander to the Take Back Santa Cruz faction, passed a law making it illegal to stand on any medians or roundabouts in Santa Cruz, either with or without a sign. See "Round Two--The New Anti-Homeless Laws Return for a Final Reading" at .

The law, as one cop candidly told Keith and his friend. was designed to "address panhandlers". This candid acknowledgment (completely true, of course) indicates the unconstitutional anti-homeless objective of a City Council. Robinson's Council has a greater interest in increasing "forbidden zones" for poor people soliciting help to drive them out of sight than for the general rights of the community to have access to public spaces. Such visible access on public roads is particularly important in times when the government is supporting mass murder abroad.

Keith and his friend were threatened by Officer Azua and other police with citations. The two said they preferred arrest to leaving the median. Police eventually left without ticketing them--indicating they were bluffing or perhaps planning to "do a Wes Modes" on them later. (Wes Modes is an activist who exposed police chief Kevin Vogel's political spying in 2006 in the Last Night DIY Parade scandal. Four years later Modes was one of many in the 2009-10 DIY Last Night parade downtown. Months later he was cited and dragged into court for walking in that parade with hundreds of others, complements of Sgt. Mike Harms See "Three Decisions in Court in the Wes Modes 'Parading Without a Permit' Case " at .)

Keith and his friend also reported that they had far greater access to cars passing by (who were stopped in the left turn lane) and more extensive dialogue with the drivers on the Gaza issue. They also said it felt to be safer than engaging driver's from the Town Clock area.

This contradicted the claims of police and the those who called them, who used the "safety first" excuse along with the follow-up "it makes the protest look bad". Since it actually makes the protest look good and is a safer way of communicating with those who have stopped for the light--this is nonsense. Dangerous nonsense, of course, since it's intended to rationalize the First Amendment cutbacks that have been happening in Santa Cruz steadily without meaningful visible opposition from the community.

For activists to "fit in" to this straitjacket perhaps after writing a token protest letter or two (all the ACLU seems capable of doing right now) is to abandon the struggle before it begins.

My hats off to the three who stood their ground and made the Gaza protest more visible.
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Two NotesRobert NorseThursday Aug 7th, 2014 12:32 PM
Participant in the protestRen TawilThursday Aug 7th, 2014 10:53 AM
Protest in Santa Cruz.GTuesday Aug 5th, 2014 3:53 PM
The whole good protester/bad protester thing is on another level in Santa Cruz.wowMonday Aug 4th, 2014 10:05 PM
Thanks...Robert NorseMonday Aug 4th, 2014 5:06 PM
Police speaking with demonstrators on median stripAlex DarocyMonday Aug 4th, 2014 1:31 PM