“Strength of conviction has never been a problem for Santa Cruz,” former Mayor Scott Kennedy said at the kick-off of the Occupy Santa Cruz action, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement happening on the opposite coast. According to occupytogether.org, more than 430 similar occupations have sprung up in cities and towns across the nation as of press time.
Kennedy, seated on a park bench after dusk, engaged in political banter with Robert Norse, a well-known local activist who works with Free Radio Santa Cruz. The two, who do not always see eye-to-eye (especially considering the lawsuit hanging between them), sparred, speaking to past, present and future local and national issues.
Such conversation characterized the general atmosphere of the evening. Springing up via word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook and other various forms of online communication, and inspired by Occupy Wall Street, a leaderless group that began meeting in New York City’s Liberty Square on Sept. 17, Occupy Santa Cruz is modeled on the same principles of open, participatory and horizontal organization between attendees.
After three weeks of camping and occupying the New York City square, the movement has spread across the nation to other major cities, including Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, District of Columbia, Raleigh-Durham and now Santa Cruz.
In San Francisco, the movement began with rallies held in front of Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve. The federal reserve in Union Square has become the headquarters for protesters and the movement’s “camp.”
Protests have continued systematically, using the medium of social media to bring attention to their cause. Events are planned and discussed on online forums such as occupysf.com.
On Oct. 1, Occupy SF took to the streets to raise awareness to passersby and discuss the best way to utilize attendees.
The occupation continues at 101 Market St.
“There is a lot of work to be done, the first stage is definitely getting more people here to help us fight this battle,” college graduate Adrian Martinez said while participating in one of the divided groups gathered on the front lawns of Union Square.
Although the Bay Area protest consistently remains non-violent, on Thursday, Sept. 29, six protesters were arrested for the charge of occupying the private space of a Chase bank.
In Santa Cruz, demonstration began shortly after the San Francisco actions.
On Oct. 4, a closely huddled crowd of approximately 300 people held ad hoc demonstration signs high above the crowd. Some of the slogans read “End imperialist war and capital exploitation” and “Rage against the machine.”
When the general assembly began at approximately 5 p.m., the crowd simultaneously vocalized their concerns, opinions and demands. After a slight, confident young woman ordered people to speak one at a time, the discussion became more orderly. The assemblage discussed spaces for a more permanent occupations, such as the Santa Cruz Courthouse and the empty building on Pacific Avenue that previously housed Borders bookstore.
By a show of hands, a consensus was reached. The occupation will be in San Lorenzo Park beginning today, Oct. 6. Along with the planned march to banks such as Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, reports of demonstrating at the county courthouse were heard as well.
Some of the primary aims of the Occupy Wall Street movement are to take back the United States government, which demonstrators say has been hijacked by banks and corporations. In Santa Cruz, as in New York, the people who form the movement are saying the same thing: the corporate profiteers, corrupt politics, and the “too big to fail” banks need to come to an end.
How they were going to take action against the banks, corporations and government was not exactly clear at first, but by the end of the assembly they had agreed that, along with establishing a strong foothold at the San Lorenzo Park, they will meet under the clock tower downtown to march to each local branch of the Wall Street banks.
This first march will be to the “too big to fail” banks, to withdraw money, then march to one or more local community banks to redeposit their money. If all goes as planned, thousands of dollars, if not more, in people’s checking and savings accounts will have been effectively removed from the investment powers of the big banks and into Santa Cruz’s local economy.
Kyle Thiermann, local activist and founder of Surfing for Change, weighed in on Occupy Santa Cruz’s plan to move money from the major banks and into the community banks.
“People are waking up to understanding their power,” Thiermann said. “It’s so cool that Santa Cruz is making that happen.”
Thiermann is well known in the surfing community as a great surfer and passionate activist. His work is aimed at the average person and encourages them to move their money out of large banks, namely Bank of America, and into smaller community banks and credit unions.
Thiermann said his work has caused around $300 million to be moved from Bank of America to community banks.
“When you put $1 into the bank, the bank has the power to turn that $1 into $10” using “fractional reserve banking,” which, Thiermann said gives large banks more leverage in the global economy because they turn around and invest it elsewhere in the world. Therefore, Thiermann insists, it is more beneficial to a community if people bank locally, because that community is replenished with their money.
By 8 p.m., the large group of 300 had split into several factions, each containing approximately 20 individuals. There was a group for philosophy, one for food, and another for legal matters, among others.
“It went very well … everybody got a chance to voice their opinions,” said Hugo Arana, a local carpenter who “for many years has been disappointed by the economic system that we have that puts profits before community.”
Similar tactics for discussion have been used in San Francisco and at the movement’s U.S. origin on Wall Street.
“So far we’ve all been basically working towards planning dates and networking with the people, but it’s a challenge because you don’t want to make a hierarchy. This is an equal movement, we’re all Americans, and we want an equal system,” said an Occupy San Francisco protestor who wished to remain anonymous because of his job.
David Addison, a Santa Cruz library employee at the local gathering, said he was glad to see the solidarity at the event. Addison, who brought his wife, child and mother in-law to the general assembly, said it is “the beginning of something” because the middle-class is not “represented anymore in this country — we are the 99 percent.”
Addison acknowledges the differences between Santa Cruz and New York, namely the lack of a financial district, but maintains that community mobilization is nevertheless vital.
“I want to see the average person in this country be represented,” said Addison, before following his daughter toward the park swing set.
Additional reporting by Pierce Crosby.