By CATHY BUSSEWITZ
and BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Waving signs, cheering at honking pickup trucks and singing R.E.M. songs in a drum circle, dozens of Occupy Santa Rosa protesters spent their third day at Santa Rosa City Hall on Monday and said they would not leave until Christmas Eve, if necessary.
“We’ll be here until Dec. 24, unless changes happen before that,” said Sage Keaten, a retired Santa Rosa physician. “We are allied with Occupy Wall Street. That is their stated end date and that’s our stated end date.”
The protest began Saturday, when more than 2,500 people marched through downtown Santa Rosa. It was the nation’s sixth-largest demonstration over the weekend in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the New York Times reported.
Demonstrators were denied a camping permit by the city but have been allowed to maintain a 24-hour presence at City Hall as long as they comply with ordinances that forbid them from sleeping, cooking or setting up a camp.
On Sunday night, police officers told the protesters to dismantle tables they had used to feed themselves and the homeless.
Despite their lack of tarps or sleeping bags to provide shelter, the group planned to maintain an overnight presence at City Hall, taking breaks in shifts to care for pets or complete homework assignments.
“It was very cold last night, and it was very wet,” said Frank Anderson, 19, a business student at Santa Rosa Junior College. “Basically, it united us.”
Santa Rosa police said there were no arrests overnight and the demonstrators were well-behaved.
Dozens of protesters kept a presence outside City Hall throughout the day Monday, holding signs reading “Tax the Rich,” “Somos el 99%” and “Stop Corporate Personhood.”
Keaten decried the influence that corporations have over the political process and the loss of individual rights because of the Patriot Act.
His sentiment was echoed by Francis Welch, 22, a student at SRJC and employee of Social Advocates for Youth.
“What matters is every person should be heard, should have a voice in the system,” Welch said. “It shouldn’t matter how much income you have, how much political influence you have.”
As night fell, a group of 60 mild-mannered demonstrators gathered beneath towering fir trees to work their way through a list of decisions at the evening meeting. A facilitator helped the group reach consensus on items like whether protesters should be allowed to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes on the grounds. The decision: no.
James Monk, a SRJC student, said the movement is organized, despite how it has been portrayed.
“They feature anarchists that look crazy, but this is an organized movement, we have demands,” he said.
Monk said personally he wanted to see a direct democracy with the removal of the electoral college in the presidential election process.
Others, like Garick Rood, 27, were asking for an end to war, greed and corruption. Welch wanted the city of Santa Rosa to transfer its money out of international banks and into local credit unions.
“I have been here on and off for three days,” said Seth Buffum of Cotati, a Cal State East Bay student, who was stenciling a sign on a piece of cardboard. “We’ll be here every day until our goals are met.”