By Gabriele Fellows
Planet Humboldt

“This is a sham! This is a sham!”

Statements of injustice could be heard echoing through the hallways of the Humboldt County Courthouse on Monday. 

Members & supporters of the Occupy Eureka movement held signs with bold statements such as “Adapt Truth – Vacate Illusion” as they marched up and down the well lit corridor outside Conference Room A.

Inside, County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes sat at the head of a nearly empty table with two female assistants on each side, pen and paper ready. A plain piece of paper taped to the door announced the public event: “County Property Ordinance Meeting.”

The CAO had set a 3:30pm meeting to gather input from the Occupy Eureka group. Their “two-cents” was required in order for the CAO to report back to the Board of Supervisors on June 19th. to aid their drafting of an ordinance concerning appropriate uses of county property. However, none of the occupiers wanted to sit at the table with him. Instead, they protested the entire meeting and picketed outside. 

 

 “We won’t justify this process or dignify it with our presense!” Someone shouted.

“Free speech is non-negotiable!”
Verbena stated over and over again. 

Photo by James Decker

 The CAO sat calmly and expressionless. He tried to formally speak and listen to anyone in the room willing to participate, but no one wanted to speak to him directly. A woman from the Human Rights Commission quietly took notes as a reproduction of the constitution peered down upon the proceedings from behind a plate of glass.

Finally Daniel, an ex-occupier with a tattoo on his neck, sat down across from the CAO and explained his plight. He had moved here from another state and had his SSI taken away. He was disgusted with our government and thought only radical christians recieved protection.

 

 “Bathrooms, not fences!”

“What’s the urgency? There was no emergency!” 

 

More inflamed remarks vibrated through the walls into lonely Conference Room A. The noise in the hallway got louder and the energy peaked.  But after pacing up and down the lobby for several minutes, the cluster of dissenting souls flooded into the room. They circulated around the CAO, his assistants and the empty chairs chanting their catch phrases in unison and refused to sit.

After repeating this dramatic display three times, Sheriff Downey poked in his head, which only mildly quelled the organized disturbance. 

The same live action persisted. The environment was loud and confusing; Sensory overload as angry citizens concerned with free speech yelled their comments/concerns instead of engaging in a dialogue with the CAO. 

“What about the Portland Loo?” Hans Ashbaucher asked. He explained that he’d informed the CAO of this type of portable toilet days ago and that Mr. Smith Hane’s had not researched it.

“SHE will go home and google it!” he shouted, indicating the lone reporter in the room.

He pounded his fists down on the table and accused Mr. Smith-Hanes of not listening to his group. The Portland Loo is a stainless steel public restroom powered by solar panels and is currently being marketed by the city council in Portland, Oregon. The city boasts that it’s resistant to vandalism and graffiti because an occupant’s feet can be seen and thus would discourage illegal activities. 

After Mr. Ashbaucher wandered out of the room, the only supervisor who voted against the urgency ordinance sneaked in from a secret entrance. Mark Lovelace checked in with Mr. Hanes to see what progress had been made. 

“I have a page and a half of notes,” the CAO interjected. Someone suggested that Hanes was making overtime by working on this input gathering process. But Lovelace disagreed stating that he wasn’t earning any additional salary or wages.

“I’m here and ready to listen if you sit down and engage in constructive dialogue,” Mr. Lovelace asserted. He didn’t think they were encouraging an exchange of ideas and wanted them to “sit down and have constructive input.” Dane and Sarah Jones sat at the table to speak with Lovelace, along with an unknown participant named Lauren.

The supervisor listened to their concerns and took notes.  He suggested they were usurping other people’s rights to free speech by bogarting the unofficial free speech zone in front of the building. They denied this claim and insisted they allowed anyone to use the area when asked. 

Dane was concerned with the “fundamental financial imbalance in society” and wanted the county to end corporate person hood. “What do you want us to do about Citizens United?” Lovelace asked. “We cannot change the constitution.” The two argued about the county’s power to address a decision by the Supreme Court not to restrict expenditures by corporations seeking to influence elections. They agreed that the county had little power to change corporate personhood after ping-ponging thoughts back and forth. 

Sarah Jones was concerned about the rights of homeless individuals and police brutality. “People are so offended by homeless people. Drunk people, high people….. but that’s our country,” Sarah said. Various people without homes had told her that they wanted a place to sleep where they wouldn’t be hassled. She suggested that the Urgency Ordinance had been created to hide these people from the general public and thought building a hostel would be a better solution. 

The supervisor constructed a list of bullet points based on subjects discussed and reiterated them to the group.  It wasn’t clear if this was an official list of demands from the Occupy movement itself or a list of input the Supervisors would use to draft a new ordinance. Here’s the list:

  •  Fix county housing crisis
  •  Nationalize the banks
  •  Create a livable wage
  •  Tax the rich 
  •  Build a safe camping area
  •  Stop police brutality 
  •  Overturn “Citizens United”
  •  Allow the mentally ill to serve in the military
  •  Let non-Eureka residents check out library books

Gabriele Fellows can be reached by e-mail at Humbee33@gmail.com