By James Clark
As shoppers perused the rows of vegetables, breads and other goods at the Farmers Market in downtown Santa Cruz, many stopped to listen to and join in on the revelry and resistance of the drum circle protest.
Regulars of the Wednesday market mingled with demonstrators in their mutual appreciation of the city’s tradition. People in suits stood among those in shorts and skirts, and all took part in the impromptu protest.
The drum circle is a ceremony that occurs every Wednesday at the Farmers Market, according to one participant. But on Jan. 9 the musicians gathered in defiance of a new city ordinance.
The Santa Cruz Municipal Code Chapter 9.64 concerning the use of and trespass upon parking lots and garages was amended in October and went into effect in mid-November, 2007. The law prohibits any person from staying in a parking garage or lot for more than 15 minutes. If the person refuses to leave, he or she will be charged with trespassing.
According to a flier distributed by Robert Norse from Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF), the citations can be between $100 and $1,000.
Zach Friend, spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Police Department, stated that no citations have been issued, though police have given warnings and have dispersed the last two farmers market drum circles.
To the protesters, the law is another ordinance that targets the poor and homeless. “It’s just another effect of the dominance of money trying to target undesirables,” said Glenn Smith, a regular at the market drum circle.
Sonja Brunner, the manager of Old School Shoes on Pacific Ave., shared her thoughts on the issue. “I’ve been involved with it from the beginning. It’s not a homeless issue, it’s a matter of safety.” She added that there have recently also been a number of cars broken into downtown.
Friend echoed Brunner’s concerns. “We passed [the law] because we were having a lot of illegal activities going on in the parking lots and we didn’t have a point of contact. If we saw people gathered in the lot for an extended period of time, we had no way to approach them.”
Norse, however, questions whether the law is really justified. “[The city gave] no comparative figures. It gave the statistics for only five parking lots, not the 20 they wanted to shut down,” he said. “[For] parking lot number nine, where the law had already been in effect, the city didn’t provide any statistics on crime.”
Norse sent a message to all UCSC students, encouraging them to get more involved in the issues that affect their community.
Attempts to contact Mayor Ryan Coonerty and the City Council yielded no response.
Musicians and passersby were surprised and upset that what many viewed as a fun and valued tradition was being prohibited. “We just came here to do what we always do,” one drummer said.
Rico Thunder, a member of the Trash Orchestra, gathered with his band at the protest to show his support. The Trash Orchestra is a band of musicians who make music with discarded items such as empty detergent bins, coffee cans and laundry baskets.
“We came here with the Trash Orchestra, ready to resist,” Thunder said. “The city wants to take all public space off the table, especially [for those who] don’t have money.”
Bob Patton, a local human rights activist, agreed: “The community and human rights organizations are being excluded.”