The following events took place in Santa Rosa, California during the last part of October.
On October 20th, Issa Amro, leader of Youth Against Settlements, a nonviolent resistance organization from Hebron, Palestine, spoke at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). Issa spoke about his hometown, Hebron. Hebron lies within the legal boundaries of Palestine and has been under siege from Israel since the first part of 2016. Much of Hebron has been illegally occupied by Israeli settlers. Sometimes Palestinian homes are destroyed to make way for new ones for the settlers. Other times, settlers force families out of their homes and then simply occupy the houses, all under the protection of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Palestinian children are frequently arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces for no apparent reasons. These are not stone throwers. In Ramallah children were attacked and arrested for singing and dancing. The IDF uses live ammunition, 5 mm. bullets, to cripple parents who resists these arrests. Settlers routinely attack Palestinians who are forbidden by law from defending themselves. The most they can do is ward off blows and then they are arrested for having been attacked. They appear in Israeli military courts where the conviction rate for Palestinians is over 99%.
There is a woman’s movement amongst the settlers called Women in Green. They agitate to take Palestinian land and homes under the false claim that this land has always been theirs. They have a song with the chorus, “we want it all.” This refrain illustrates Israel’s goal; to take all the land. The settlers have a slogan, “kill all the Christian now”. Christian, Muslim, it doesn’t matter, settler culture is an equal opportunity hate culture. Before Israel steals land, their public relations department usually unleashes stories of rockets from Gaza, even if these stories are untrue, months old or no damage was done. When you hear about rockets from Gaza, you can be assured that Israel is stealing Palestinian land.
The primary weapon of resistance for the Palestinians is the camera. By documenting the atrocities Israel unleashes on the indigenous population, the Palestinians gain support, especially amongst Millennialists. The people agreed, outside occupying forces must go.
On the following day, October 21st, the Black Student Union of Santa Rosa Junior College organized a march in observation of the third anniversary of the murder of unarmed, 13-year-old Andy Lopez by Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Ghelhaus. Protesters were calling for Deputy Ghelhaus’ removal from street duty as his presence creates a mental health hazard for young people living along the streets where he prowls. There were about forty people at the march, including members of the Black Student Union of SRJC; Justice Coalition for Andy Lopes; Andy’s mother, Sujey; the Police Brutality Accountability Committee; Sonoma State College’s Social Justice Club; North Coast Coalition for Palestine and representatives from the families of the forty-three disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher’s College in Iguala, Mexico.
The march ran from SRJC to the Sheriff’s Office. Once there, the organizers set up a table with coffee and donuts. Members of the community went inside the Sheriff’s Office and invited Sheriff Freites to come out and speak with the community. The sheriff was gone for the day and the person in charge did not want to come out for coffee, donuts and conversation. A second group, including a priest from Iguala, went inside to repeat the request. The officer in charge refused to come out. Instead, citizens were given a phone number to call. When they called, a recorded voice said they’d get a call back to set up an appointment. That wasn’t acceptable, so a third group went inside to make that appointment in person. Eventually, a demonstratively upset deputy agreed to meet with two of them in a closed room with a couple of buff deputies standing nearby. The protesters wisely declined this offer. Outside, there was a brief rally where the people agreed, outside occupying forces must go.
On October 30, around thirty-five supporters of the water defenders at Standing Rock rallied outside of the Santa Rosa Mall, despite the rain.
There are over 300 tribes as well as many non-native supporters at Standing Rock. They stand resolute in their nonviolent resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline despite guns, gas, dogs, clubs, bean bags, rubber bullets and LRADs (long range acoustic devise). This pipeline endangers the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest in the world. It also hastens climate change by providing infrastructure for the Bakken crude oil that’s extracted from tar sands. This pipeline is a threat to us all.
Early in the protest in Santa Rosa, mall security challenged our First Amendment right to use a public gathering place for our protest. While organizers negotiated with Mall security, the rest of us marched up 4th Street chanting and encouraging others to support the resistance at Standing Rock by attending a fund raiser a week later. It was during the march that I learned about the miracle of the buffalo. Earlier in the week, while militarized law enforcement troops were attacking water protectors, destroying camps and sweat lodges, hundreds of buffalo herded by young riders appeared on the ridge alongside the water protectors, facing the troops.
By the time marchers in Santa Rosa had returned to the Mall, organizers had secured the right to parade inside as long as we didn’t block businesses. This is in keeping with the Pruneyard Decision. Following that, we gathered in front of the Mall to close our protest. The people agreed, outside occupying forces must go.
Rebel Fagin writes for the Sonoma County Peace Press and Global Critical Media Literacy Project (gcml.org).