In a shabby apartment in downtown Santa Cruz reside roommates John and Sue*, two recent UC Santa Cruz graduates. John has a scruffy beard and glasses; Sue has so many tattoos and piercings it’s easy to lose count.
One night in November of last year, John and Sue, both Occupy Santa Cruz participants, threw a brick through the window of the Wells Fargo building downtown, just a few blocks from their home. City on a Hill Press recently sat down with the pair to learn more about Occupy Santa Cruz from an insider’s perspective, as well as what led them to vandalism for the sake of a cause.
CHP: First off, can I get an idea of when and why you became involved with Occupy Santa Cruz?
John: I went to the first meeting they had in Laurel Park. I’ve always liked politics and history, and I’ve always felt a sense of inspiration in the protest movements of other generations, and I think it’s just as necessary, if not more necessary, now. Some of the biggest issues around Occupy [that interest me] have to do with legalized bribery in terms of campaign funding, and the Citizens United decision.
CHP: Since your concerns seem to be mostly national, what do you think is the value of having Occupy in a “liberal bubble” like Santa Cruz?
John: I think it’s really powerful when people read about things happening not just in New York and DC, but when they open up their local paper and read about the march on Pacific and realize it’s everywhere.
CHP: So do you see any change in Santa Cruz that could be connected to Occupy?
John: There’s been the Occupy Our Homes campaign, which is pretty much genius in terms of PR. Occupy members are inviting people to live with them if the banks are foreclosing on their homes. That’s happening in Santa Cruz and all over.
Also, I was involved with the occupation of 75 River St., which is the most recent big thing, and thought that was a good experience. I have that sentimental front page over there (he points to an issue of the Santa Cruz Sentinel thumb-tacked to the wall). I think what was so controversial about it (and it was regarded as controversial) was that the storyline had a different ending. The headline says “Riot Gear-Clad Police and Protesters Clash.” There was a three-week period where they were cracking down everywhere, so it was almost like an old story by that point, but it was controversial because in this case, the police backed away and the people won. I think that threatened the status quo in a way that made people feel uncomfortable.
CHP: What is the community of Occupy Santa Cruz like?
John: So there’s the veterans of the ‘60s, who are more concerned with spiritual matters. There’s the anarchist faction, which I think deserves a lot of credit for Occupy’s success and framework. I could be completely wrong, but I think the whole consensus process was developed by anarchists as a way to do consensus without having any leaders. So we’ve got the aging hippies, the anarchist punks, the lefty academic student types (here he points to himself) and the homeless.
Sue: And in addition to that, I work in the mental health field, and some of my residents have gone and at least camped at Occupy Santa Cruz. So I have this appreciation for the movement because of how accepting they are of all walks of life.
CHP: Speaking of the homeless, a big complaint leveled against Occupy Santa Cruz is that it’s more of a “homeless haven” than anything else.
John: That’s part of it, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s living up to the values that they’re espousing about economic equality, and they want the state to be more responsive to the people. They’re leading by example. If the homeless aren’t allowed to sleep on the street or in their cars, then that’s a pretty good cause in itself for establishing a community for them.
CHP: What prompted you to throw that brick through Wells Fargo, and do you stand by [your action]?
Sue: It was earlier that day when the students had come down and done the ring around Wells Fargo. For me, it came to this point where we were so disgusted and frustrated by what was going on with the banks, by their continue abuse of practice, and the breaking of the windows was this symbolic thing. We weren’t going to break — they were going to. I would feel bad if I had broken somebody’s something, but this is not somebody’s something. It’s something that we have all paid for, and will continue to pay for.
John: The most recent issue of Occupation Times had just printed an open letter from an Oakland activist [responding to a media coverage of bank vandalism in Oakland] that was really articulate, and he was saying, ‘Some people are uncomfortable with that kind of thing because it seems like violence. But don’t do the job of the 1 percent by condemning the actions for them.’
*Names have been changed