Now that protests over the shooting of two young Americans in Anaheim have died down, the community is taking stock of the situation. An open meeting of the Anaheim City Council on Thursday (August 2) did not resolve any tensions, but it gave about 75 local residents the opportunity to make statements before the council went into closed session.
The LA Times reported that speakers made “numerous calls for calm discourse to move past the violence and address long-simmering complaints in the racially segregated city.” Corie Cline spoke to the council about how her brother was killed by Anaheim police in 2007, and how she was taunted by the officer who shot him at a recent protest. Speakers also called for the hiring of a Latino police chief who would be more responsive to the long-standing complaints of the community about police harassment.
A public meeting scheduled for next Wednesday at the local high school is expected to draw up to a thousand people, but some pro-business elements on the council are pressing to cancel it on the grounds that it will attract outside protesters and get more adverse publicity for the city.
Local community leaders consider that changing council elections from an “at-large” system, where the whole city votes on all candidates, to district representation will make the council and the police more responsive to the needs of the Latino community. This is a view shared by the mayor, Tom Tait, who visited the scene of the fatal shooting on Tuesday.
Four out of five councilors live in affluent Anaheim Hills on the east side of the city. Martin Lopez, an organizer with Unite Here Local 11, which represents hotel, restaurant and airport workers throughout Southern California, told California Public Radio: “If these guys are not representing the Latino community, they’re not going to push the police to represent the Latino community. So when these guys go to our communities, they see them as the enemy, and that’s someone that they are there to protect.”
But there is a structural basis for the police crackdowns: Corporate Disney wants low-waged workers to cut the grass and change the bedsheets in its resorts, but it also requires “security” to stop visitors being scared away by riots. And the Anaheim Hills residents want the problems of poverty and violence kept well away from them.
Disney, the largest local taxpayer and employer, has wielded its considerable political strength to prevent affordable housing being built close to tourist areas. According to the New York Times, “In 2007, when a developer proposed a high-rise building with affordable housing, Disney spent more than $2 million to back a group called Save Our Anaheim Resort Area, which opposed the plan and successfully persuaded the city to abandon the idea. Since then, the group changed the verb in its name from ‘save’ to ‘support’ and has created a political action committee that funneled thousands of dollars to candidates, largely money collected from Disney and businesses near the resort, while Disney has continued to donate millions directly to candidates.”
Long-time councilor Harry Sidhu, a founder of the pro-Disney group, inadvertently expressed the basis of the opposition of white suburbanites to redistricting: “If they don’t elect their own people, you can’t say we are at fault,” he said. Sidhu’s othering of the Latino community is one of the major reasons local activists focus on achieving council representation.
The council recently voted to make major tax concessions to a developer building luxury hotels near to Disneyland. Instead of collecting a 15 percent tourist tax for every hotel stay, the city will allow the developers to keep the money for the next 15 years, a deal estimated to be worth $158 million.
Eric Altman, a spokesman for a coalition of community organizations, told the New York Times: “Throughout the city people are facing real problems with working poverty and struggling to get the resources and attention that others parts of town get routinely. There is the basic question of why is it in a city with those kind of resources can we have such extreme poverty?” Mr. Altman said the most recent tax deal is “essentially the city printing money” for investors in the resort area.
Gabriel San Roman commented in the OC Weekly: “… if district elections come to Anaheim and literally change the political landscape of the city, there will be challenges still. A platform of economic democracy and racial justice are key components in moving forward from its descent into becoming the Tragic Kingdom. After all, if hotels in the resort area are no longer massively subsidized in controversial so-called ‘public-private partnerships’ and the general fund is consolidated against such giveaways, will the Anaheim Police Department still consume a substantial proportion of it? That depends on a leadership class emerging with a new kind of politics.”
Occupy supporters coming from out of town had an awkward reception from the local community leadership. When occupiers arrived to show support for a prayer vigil for victim of police shooting Manuel Diaz on Sunday evening, they were stopped by Anna Street residents acting as stewards. According to the OC Weekly, “Wanting to keep the event peaceful, they asked Occupiers to put their signs down before joining the vigil. Most were eager to oblige. But a young girl in a Hello Kitty backpack was none-to-pleased. ‘Thank you for coming from different parts of the world and almost getting shot,’ she fumed sarcastically.”
The local leadership were not enamoured with this patronizing attitude nor with the Occupy supporters’ tendency to jeer provocatively at the police.
Earlier in the day, the Somos Anaheim coalition had organized a silent march to protest not only the officer-involved shootings but also the violent riots of the previous week. Occupy supporters held a separate march which aimed to reach Disneyland but was headed off by police horses and a militarized SWAT team, weapons drawn.
The OC Weekly gives this eyewitness report: “Unlike at previous protests, there were no projectiles thrown at the cops. Instead, many demonstrators looked visibly scared. ‘Are they going to shoot us?’ one person asked. Police issued no orders to disperse, instead repeating their demand that protesters stick to the sidewalk. But more than 100 of them sprinted down a side street; they were followed by officers, who quickly surrounded them.
“Atef Nadal, an Anaheim resident who ran with the group, said that Latino residents started to come out of their homes, offering water and support, even hosing down some of the sweat-drenched protesters. ‘They were throwing their fists in the air and showing they were sympathetic with what we were protesting against, which is police brutality and harassment in Anaheim neighborhoods,’ he said.
“As police moved in on the demonstrators, prepared to make arrests, residents screamed at the police, ‘Leave them alone!’ and, ‘Go home!’ Within moments, officers put away their batons, apparently acting in response to an order from superiors to back up and mount up.”
Building these kinds of alliances across ethnic divides is not easy, but if successful can be extremely powerful. For example, Gabriel Thompson gives an account in Alternet about a recent union organizing drive at an Alabama poultry factory employing many immigrants. A previous attempt had failed because of the union’s failure to build bridges between Spanish and English-speaking workers.
Thompson writes: “… my neighbor was a Guatemalan named Dagoberto who had organized, in one day, a 500-person march through town in support of immigrant rights. This was the kind of leader—unafraid and widely respected—that an organizer would kill for. But Dagoberto had voted against the union in 2006. ‘To be honest, I didn’t really know what a union was,’ he told me. ‘I never even saw anyone from the union.’ I would speak with dozens of immigrants who expressed similar sentiments. …
“This time, [Randy] Handley [a union organizer] and his organizing team, which included Jose Aguilar, an immigrant from Honduras, were quick to build bridges within the diverse workforce. Organizers took care to hold bilingual meetings and translate all documents, and set up shop at intersections around the plant. … ‘This time, we made sure that the Latinos understood what a union is all about,’ says Aguilar. ‘I told them, the union is you. You’ll fight and negotiate for a contract that will protect you’.”
As the Latino community in Anaheim becomes more experienced in political struggle, the inclusive and pluralist message of the Occupy movement will resonate with it. Likewise, Occupy supporters must learn the history of struggles in Anaheim and join with the community in a movement of alliances. This will take a big step towards creating a new kind of politics that unites Americans against the one percent.