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Activists confront SOS in Laguna Beach

by Rockero420 Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2005 at 9:09 PM

A description of events and the author's view thereof at the anti-day-labor protest in Laguna Beach.

It wasn't quite nine when I arrived and parked. The day labor center is situated on Laguna Canyon Road, which is basically a long, two-way stretch from the 5 down to Laguna. It is a small area fenced off with a low chain-link fence and a small building with an office and a restroom. There are bleachers for seating for the day laborers, and the volunteers running the center provide snacks and coffee. A driveway loops off the highway and toward the center, creating a convenient drive-thru pickup area which can be exited just as easily. There are a few other businesses on the highway, some of which sell building materials, but the stretch of road is largely wild and beautiful.
SOS was set up across the street from the center; counter demonstrators protested in the area beside the center itself. Before exiting the vehicle, I made a sign that read "SOS Fans the Flames of Racial Tension", which is the essential reason I oppose them and their efforts. Unfortunately, I forgot to make the other sign I was planning on making, which would have said, "This Land Is Your Land; This Land Is My Land.--Woody Guthrie, a REAL American Patriot". As I walked to the crosswalk, two other parties converged with me on the corner. One was a group that appeared to be of the 'green anarchist' sort: dressed in black, with animal rights tattoos and black bandannas, they came from the street perpendicular the Laguna Canyon Road. I had the impression that they were young (probably in their 20's) locals who rejected the notion that SOS is not racist and wants them to feel unwelcome in their community. One of them saw my sign and said, "Oh, good, I thought that was an SOS sign." I just smiled and shook my head.
The other party was of two middle-aged men, one white and the other Hispanic, probably in their thirties. The white man was the tall skinny man who SOS had mistaken for Frederic Rice. He noticed my shirt, which was created especially for BPII, and remarked about it. I didn't recognize the other man.
I joined the counter protestors on the day labor side. There weren't many of us, but we outnumbered the SOS supporters by about three-to-one. One professionally-dressed young woman, who was accompanied by a cameraman and who said she was a journalism student, asked me who besides M.E.Ch.A. organized the counterdemonstration. I explained to her to the best of my ability that since most of the groups that organize these counterdemonstrations, such as the La Tierra es de Todos Coalition, were occupied with planning the anti-war rally downtown, most of the people were just private individuals who cared deeply about the issue. "La Tierra de Todos, is that a human rights organization?" she asked. "It's probably more of an immigrant-rights, or workers-rights organization," I explained, after correcting her on the name of the organization. "I'm just gonna say human rights organization," she replied. "And what are you guys, protesters?" she asked. "No," I explained, "They are the protesters. We are counter protesters." "I just want to get it right," she contended.
I hope her report was just for a school project, because in all of the several takes she took, she said "La Tierra de Todos" and called us "protesters". Alas, I weep at the current state of journalism. I didn't get a chance to ask her where she was studying or if she was publishing, but later on, she was asking people for background noise for one recording, and also asked people to stand in the background with their signs. Still later, I saw her cross the street (to the cheers of the crowd, and, just incidentally, j-walking with police consent, not that media or people of influence have any special privileges or anything) and interview Joe Turner. Still later, I saw her interviewing a jornalero.
The rest of the counter protesters consisted of a few men who gave up on working that day and expressed their outrage at their harassers (never more than four or five at a time), many young people, but also quite a few who appeared to be in their thirties and forties. Various ethnicities were represented as well. Some of the counter protestors were affiliated with the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and they brought their large red banner reading "Queremos un Mundo Sin Fronteras" and draped it over the shrubbery bordering the road.
Shortly after I arrived, the cops approached a young man wearing a black bandanna over his nose and mouth and asked to speak with him. They pulled him aside, but I'm not sure what came of the conversation. One of the day-laborers-cum-counterprotesters was shouting homophobic insults at the members of SOS. The vegan guy and I looked at each other with an almost shocked look of disapproval. "That's not cool at all," said the vegan, "But I'm not gonna stop him." I wanted to say something to the man using the hate language, but I wasn't sure what was the best way to say what I wanted and elected to remain silent. (I was silent during many of the chants, as well. A staunch believer in the first amendment, I just couldn't bring myself to join in the "Go Home" chant. It seems suppressive of free speech.)
Shortly after arriving and talking to the reporter, I made another sign on the back of the first that paraphrased one of the three quotes I use as my signature on the SOS forum: "SOS Go Back To America". The joke was on the crucial question on the issue of 'illegal immigration': Is this Mexico or the United States? SOS believes firmly that "This land was Mexican once, and will be American forever", a claim I find shortsighted, and many people, laborers and activists included, firmly believe that this land is Mexico and is illegitimately occupied by the United States. I am not a hard-liner either way. I think there is room for everybody's opinion, or in the words of Subcomandante Marcos, "Un mundo donde caben muchos mundos". Many people say that Brazil is an African country; is there strife and conflict resulting from that assessment? I just think that everyone there needs to lighten up. Too many people take themselves and their opinions too seriously (including me sometimes). Especially with contentious issues such as that of 'illegal immigration', or 'economic refugeeism', or 'repatriation', or whatever you want to call it, which threatens to inflame hostilities that lie like powderkegs in many ignorant minds. I'm just afraid that these confrontations will provoke violence. The shouting matches are already too verbally violent. Unfortunately, I don't think anybody got my joke.
It wasn't too long before I proclaimed, "That's it, I'm going over there." I started walking down the street to the crosswalk. (This was before I had seen the reporter cross the street.) One of the anarchist kids caught up to me and warned me to walk down to the crosswalk, because the cops would be looking for any reason to bother us. I thanked him and took the walk. As soon as I got to the other side, a cheer went up across the street. I almost blushed.
I walked right up to Oldpreach and asked, "Don?" He turned and extended his hand. "Ben?" We had hoped to meet earlier, but had never had the chance, so I took advantage of the opportunity to talk to him, the only one I am really friendly with. We talked the inherent hypocrisies he sees in our arguments. He pointed out that despite the fact that wherever they go they are called racists, their Mexican-American members are called coconuts by the same people who make the accusation. "It's like, on the one hand, he wants to make this horrible accusation of us, who just want the law enforced, and on the other and, you wanna use this racist language." Since 'coconut' means someone who is 'brown on the outside and white on the inside', the very use of the term places racial identity over ideological, religious, national, or individual identity. In a certain sense, this is racist, since it assumes that every person from a certain racial background should have the same outlook on a certain political issue.
We also discussed the events of the day. He was satisfied with the turnout on his side, and I was just glad to see other people there on ours. Outnumbering them was just a bonus. "I heard that ANSWER was gonna bring 200 people on a bus before the peace march, but it looks like that didn't happen." "Whoever said that doesn't speak for ANSWER," he informed me. I asked about whom from the boards was there, and he helped me identify some of the people I had heard of from the internet on our side.
Don is actually glad that SOS's protests draw so many counter protesters. They necessitate a police presence and draw the attention of more media than SOS could muster alone. He gave me the example of the Alhambra Home Depot protest. "The last thing Home Depot wants their customers to see is a large angry crowd with helicopters circling overhead. We could never get the ghettobird on our own."
But we also discussed the inconsistencies I see in their arguments. I pointed out that, while they constantly criticize socialism, they also criticize Mexico's elitist system, saying that PEMEX should share more with the people so they won't need to come here. And that Finland just got ranked as the country with the highest standard of living as the result of a combination of wealth and socialism. They say that Mexicans should "fix their own country", instead of coming here, without recognizing the efforts of those who do struggle, many of them leftists and unionists, to better the lot of the common man. I reminded him that AMLO's PRD was ripe to ride the wave of populist leftist sentiment in Latin America to its northernmost crest, with all the possibilities that the world has seen in Venezuela, for example, open to them.
That's another reason I criticize SOS members. They only recognize the negative aspects of immigration, demographic shift, and Mexican and Chicano culture. They devalue the work of the artists who dedicate their lives to the improvement of the community through art and education (Judy Baca is the prime example). They understand the value of labor to the economy, and hence the willingness in the corporate sector to fight for lax border security, but as a largely conservative bunch, they do not recognize the inherent value of labor as a physical, moral, and spiritual discipline. They belittle the efforts of teachers who attempt to open minds and introduce new modes of thinking and questioning, calling ethnic studies classes 'brainwashing'. Where do they think the next generation of teachers, social workers, district attorneys, public defenders, charity workers, etc. are coming from? Educated Chicanos and other Latinos are filling these positions, and in larger numbers than whites. I wonder if it has anything to do with the sense of social responsibility that a Chicano education instills?
I met another SOS member who told me, "We’re in favor of legal immigration, just not illegal immigration." I'm not sure he heard my retort. All I said was that we'd prefer to do it legally too, except that it takes so long and the need is so bad. Another SOS member asked me about my avatar in the forum. "It's Cantinflas, Mario Moreno." I don't believe I got the chance to explain that Cantinflas was the greatest comedic actor of the Mexican golden age of cinema. He recurring role was as an underdog who succeeded by using his wits, usually humiliating the powerful in the process. I guess I just suspected that of course everyone knows who Cantinflas is. "Oh I like him. He looks so cool." I thanked her for the compliment.
I met a few other people, though not many whose handles I recognized. Some of them asked me questions. "I'd better get back" I told Don. "All right," he said, "But have you met Joe?" I told him that I had met him briefly, once, over the phone, when I called in to Charles Kirkby's public access show What's Right With America. "Well do you want to meet him?" I said sure and he went to go talk to him.
"You're Benjamin?" He was unshaven, wearing the SOS Uncle Sam shirt, and must have handed someone his California flag for the meeting. "You're shaking hands with a racist." I realized later that I should have said, "You're shaking hands with an anarchist-communist-socialist" in retort, but my wits were not that quick. I just said it was nice to meet him. "You drove down from Santa Barbara, huh?" I was a little surprised that he remembered the call. "Yeah, well, I was gonna be in town for the anti-war rally, so I thought I'd come by and meet some of the people." "How long you guys gonna be out here?" he asked, apparently assuming I was with some group. "I'll pro'lly stay till eleven, to try to get up to downtown in time." "Look, they made us shirts by proxy," he said to a fellow SOSer, eyeballing my Reconquista T-shirt. "Yeah, I got this one at BPII." That seemed to gratify him.
As I passed a pair of day laborers on the way back on the other side, I overheard one tell the other, "Pregúntale." The other responded, "No habla Español." By that time I was sure they were talking about me, so I asked them, "¿Quién no?" So the first one asked me where I got my monal (Mexican-style bag of woven wool), to which I responded, "En una tienda de segunda en el valle de San Fernando," doubting that that was the question he really wanted to ask me. I'll bet they were really wondering about SOS.
Returning to the other side, some people asked me how the confrontation with SOS went. I told them that while I got some dirty looks. that most of them were polite. However there was not much we could agree on. But it was no reason we couldn’t behave and discuss our problems like human beings.
"You might as well be talking to that lightpost," said a woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. " They're still humans, and I refuse to give up hope," was my answer.
I chatted with a middle-aged woman who was standing beside me. She was affiliated with El Centro Cultural de Mexico, Orange County's momentarily-homeless cultural center. She had a pretty positive attitude.
It was at about that time that a young man standing beside me ground an American flag into the dirt, yelling taunts at the SOS members. He then turned around and bent over, running the dusty flag between his legs. At that point, two of the center's volunteers came up and reproached him. "What are you doing? Don't do that! That's exactly what they want. They call us un-American and you're playing right into their hands!" I was hoping that he would take advantage of the opportunity to assert his right to freedom of speech and his right to his opinion, even if it was anti- or un-American. But I'm not sure he even had that opinion. He wouldn't even respond to them, instead simply asking them to move aside. He was just trying to provoke SOS members and didn't seem to care about anything else. A young woman behind him took up the argument in his stead. "We're here every day," they said, referring to their volunteer work at the center, which is becoming embattled. "You're here only on the weekends." And it pretty much ended there.
Shortly thereafter, an older woman in loose-fitting, free-flowing dress came up the southbound side of Laguna Canyon Road. She seemed to be talking to herself and walked right up to two of the cops and asked, "Where's Jason?" "He's not here, Cindy. Stay off the street, please," they answered her. From their response, we surmised that she was a local, possibly homeless woman, and possibly suffering from some form of mental illness. She assented to the cop's demand and unfurled a bandanna bearing a marijuana leaf. "Read it," she told the cop. The lettering read, "God made weed, man made booze. Who do you trust?" A smile crossed my face. Some of the counter protestors did not like seeing her on our side. They were afraid SOS would assume she was with us and paint us all as drugged-out hippies, which they have already done. Some people even yelled at her. But we couldn't deny her her right to free speech. And I have a feeling I wasn't the only one that was sympathetic to her one-woman legalization protest. So she continued unmolested.
I had noticed a middle-aged Anglo man with a brimmed hat standing toward the rear of the counter protest and holding a clipboard earlier, but did not pay him much heed. Until I heard a young woman call him "Duane". Then I asked him if he was Duane Roberts, which he affirmed. Then he started going into detail about who the SOS members were, and about all the dirt he had uncovered on them via internet and other investigative methods. He also said that Lupe Moreno had left the group after the arrival of nazis at the last Laguna Beach protest, which may be where Leslie got that idea, which has been contested on the SOS forum.
An organizer with the ISO joined in on the conversation. When Duane mentioned that Joe Turner had been arrested in Riverside, the ears of a woman next to me perked up. "Riverside?" she asked, and I explained the context of the city's mention. She was from Riverside and had attended several of the anti-SOS demonstrations.
I was glad to see so many active, committed people there.
It was getting to be near eleven, my intended departure time, so as I wrangled free from my conversation with Duane, who was quite eager to share all his information, I told him that it seemed like he did quite a bit of research to uncover the connections between SOS and the White Nationalist organizations, and to keep up the good work. I told him to look out for me on the boards, and that I was Rockero420. "Yeah, I've seen your posts. You came all the way down from Santa Barbara?"
I asked Duane if he was going to L.A. for the peace march, but he said he was going to stay until the end of the SOS event. "The most interesting stuff always happens in the last 45 minutes of any rally. That's when all the arrests happen, because the cops start getting cranky." Apparently he was right, because not only was one counter protester arrested after I left, but the nazis arrived also. Frankly I'm glad I left early.
Just then another reporter and photographer arrived, these ones from the Laguna Journal. The reporter was copying the statements on peoples' signs. A man standing next to me must've assumed that he was from a right-wing publication, because he demanded to see his press pass and was asking him provocative questions.
After he wrote down what my signs said, he asked my name. I only gave him my handle "Rockero420", which was difficult for him to understand. "Ashamed to hold that sign, huh?" he asked. I just didn't want to be credited by name since it would be very easy to misinterpret the signs without any context, which he didn't ask for. Again, I was disappointed with the superficial nature of the journalist's investigation.
I set off on my hike back to my car, shouting to the laborers as I exited, "¡Qué Dios los bendiga!" As I drove past the demonstration area, I held my bag with the attached flags out the window and honked repeatedly. I received another loud cheer from the counterdemonstrators, and one of the cops yelled futilely "Quiet!" after me. I guess it's never too late for Authority to assert itself. And off I headed to Los Angeles.
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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 22 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Excellent coverage Fredric L. Rice Thursday, Sep. 29, 2005 at 8:55 AM
Identifying us to SOS is not OK listen Thursday, Sep. 29, 2005 at 9:00 AM
Made me fell like I was there. Pachuco Thursday, Sep. 29, 2005 at 9:38 AM
No Retribution Required SOS member Thursday, Sep. 29, 2005 at 3:19 PM
Funny, you are scared of US??? Don Silva Friday, Sep. 30, 2005 at 9:08 AM
dialogue moves beyond polarization location matters; protest at agribusiness? Friday, Sep. 30, 2005 at 10:44 AM
Agribusiness protest AyatollahGondola Friday, Sep. 30, 2005 at 2:16 PM
Rights johnk Friday, Sep. 30, 2005 at 5:47 PM
Rockero SOS person Friday, Sep. 30, 2005 at 10:34 PM
Some pics Rockero420 Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 at 4:04 PM
Hey Rockero Sherlock Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 at 10:05 PM
Hey Rockero Sherlock Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 at 10:06 PM
Whooooa, hold up here SOS person Monday, Oct. 03, 2005 at 11:18 PM
a few minor corrections Hex Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 3:42 AM
Like i said SOS person Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 6:02 AM
"always twist things" Hex Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 7:15 AM
Please Allow Me to Defend Myself... Rockero420 Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 12:45 PM
Tim isn't being honest Hex Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 2:16 PM
Who exactly is Hex anyways? SOS person Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 10:11 PM
I'm a ghost in the machine Hex Tuesday, Oct. 04, 2005 at 11:01 PM

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