As your intrepid OB Rag reporters drove into the mall parking lot – having just driven up from San Diego, the main thing we saw was all the cops and sheriffs moving about, getting coffee, getting into position, milling about. As we parked and sought relief in the caverns of the Rancho Mirage mall, we could also see that there were many more demonstrators than mall customers roaming about. (Doug Porter also wrote a post about the Koch brothers and the scene at Rancho Mirage, and for that go here.)
A little before 1pm, we ambled over to the rally spot – another area of the large parking lot- where yellow police tape was stretched out everywhere, trying to prevent us from walking through the line of bushes that split the rally area. Music was blaring from the stage’s loud-speakers, and while a small crowd was forming in front of the stage, another group was finding shade and a curb to rest upon, and yet another group was gelling down at the roadside – across from where the Koch brothers were staging their “billionaire bash” or “conservative caucus” or whatever you want to call their “secret” planning strategy session in their on-going efforts to undermine American democracy.
Other protesters were arriving in droves, so as we approached the roadside I began my crowd count. By time we reached Bob Hope Drive, I had counted nearly 650 by 1:15. There were nurses, there were reps from Common Cause – the main organizer of the broad coalition-, AFSCME folks, and a myriad of other groups and organizations, a lot of lefties and progressives from all over Southern California. I knew that other sponsors of the action to confront the Kochs included California Courage Campaign, CREDO, MoveOn.org, 350.org, the California Nurses Association, plus a local farm workers’ group from Coachella Valley. Many groups had their own colored T-shirts worn by their members and supporters: green, yellow, blue …
As we approached the roadside where people were starting to chant, we could tell that the Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa that was directly across Bob Hope Drive was being guarded by Riverside County sheriff deputies, other suits, and dark sun-glassed men who could have just walked out of “The Matrix.”
There was also a whole band of white-shirted young people – who looked like college students – starting to put on thin hazmat white suits. One young guy recognized Patty’s OB Rag shirt, and exclaimed, “You guys are from OB? So am I.” But he wouldn’t tell us what they were up to, although they allowed Patty to take a group shot of some of them.
Back at the stage, more and more folks were arriving, buses pulling up, and the crowd was rapidly growing. While waiting for the speakers, we witnessed one testy interaction between rally organizers and a couple with gorilla masks and a large banner that read in dripping red paint “Koch Kills”. An older woman organizer was trying to get them to put down their banner, citing the new “atmosphere” that was out there “after Tucson” she said. They refused. I spoke to the young woman, who told me she just flew in from New Jersey and the guy just drove down from Seattle, and they were not going to fold up their banner.
Jim Hightower climbed up on the stage. Hightower, wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, hails from Texas, and is well-known in progressive circles nationally, and in fact was the best known speaker at the rally.
Hightower, funny at moments, serious at others, railed against the Supreme Court justices who passed the landmark Supreme Court case “Citizens United” that was allowing our democracy to be greatly weakened. He talked about how there was a movement for a Constitutional amendment that would overthrow that case, and cited a recent poll that found 4 out of 5 Americans were in favor of such an amendment, including many Republicans who supported it, he said. “We don’t have to create such a movement,” he said, “we just have to organize it.”
“It’s not enough to wear buttons,” he said. “It’s no longer enough for us to be pro-gressive, we need to be a-ggressive,” he declared.
After his speech, Patty and I went up to the stage to interview Hightower. He couldn’t leave the stage as he was the emcee, but he did answer a couple of questions. I asked him that in the “post-Tucson” climate in America, did progressives need to change our rhetoric?
“We’re not a hate group,” he answered. “We say things with humor.” I asked him if progressives should form their own tea party, and he said, “something is beginning to come together,” without enough time to elaborate.
As we left the rally area, another speaker was calling the Koch-sponsored shindig across the boulevard, “a conspiratorial planning session to see how much money it’ll take to overthrow American democracy.”
Walking over to the roadside area of the protest, which was way more fun and interesting than listening to speeches, we could see that the crowd was definitely growing. We ran into Derek Casady, who told us that there had been two buses come up from San Diego. That was great. There were buses from Riverside, from Orange County – from all over the area.
The scene in front of the resort was becoming more tense. There were hundreds of demonstrators chanting, and more were on the resort side of the street. Doug, Patty, and I took up positions on that side for a better view. We had heard rumors that there would be some CD – civil disobedience – around 2:30 – and that moment approached.
There were at least 20 sheriff deputies standing in position in each of the drive-ways into and out of the resort. A helicopter flew overhead. At 2:26 pm, the deputies all snapped their face shields into place. The crowd started to howl.
And then everything changed. The crowd across the street was now at least a thousand souls – and they surged across the intersection and took up position right in front of the resort. The cops had blocked off the street on both sides, so no cars were interrupted. The chants grew in intensity, more banners took up position, and the excitement grew.
To get a better view, I moved over to the wall of the resort. From my position, I could see several people in white jump suits being led away. The chants, the yells became louder. “Arrest the Kochs, not the people!” was being chanted repeatedly.
More arrests and I moved back to the other side of the drive-way. It appeared that groups of 5 people were moving to stand just in front of the cops, with their faces toward the crowd. They would get arrested, and another group would take their place. Each time someone was led away, the crowd yelled.
In all, 25 people were arrested. It was all noisy but peaceful. It was getting close to 3pm.
More chants: “Your dirty money has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho!” The crowd was still in control of the intersection and continued to block the resort. “Speech is free, not for sale!” was heard. “This is what democracy looks like!”
At about 3:15pm, two officers began to address the crowd through bullhorns, one from his car. We were being ordered to surrender the intersection and drive-ways or be subject to arrest. They were calling it an “illegal assembly” and were citing California Penal Code sections. “They’re just making up the numbers,” a young guy at my side joked.
This was it, no one else wanted to be arrested, so the crowd began to slowly filter back to the other side of the street. Another chant rose up: “This is just the beginning!” and “We’ll be back!”
As the hundreds reached the other side and regained their stance, we could tell that most in the crowd were melting away, back to their buses and cars, as the event was mostly over.
Another chant: “What do we want? Fair elections! When do we want it? Now!” This was a startling chant for me, as it acknowledged that even here in the good ol’ US of A, our elections were an endangered species.
One of the last ones: “Ain’t no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people won’t stop! Hey hey!”
As we made our way back to the car, we noticed a type of news conference was going on by a law enforcement spokeswoman. She confirmed that there had been 25 arrests, and that they had been in contact with the rally organizers earlier and knew that these arrests had been planned. She was asked her estimate of the crowd, and she said “800 to 1,000.”
We knew that was an underestimation, as the police always do. I had counted nearly 700 two hours ago. We had heard that there had been 1500 to 1600 demonstrators come in by bus alone. A closer approximation was 2,000, even 2500 one Common Cause person told me.
As we found the car and got ready to leave, we were tired, hungry, but happy. It had been a great demonstration, a lot of older people but a lot of younger protesters had been there as well. It was noisy, loud, very energetic and militant – and may signal a new tactic by such groups like Common Cause and organized trade unions.
We were very glad to have gone and as we found our way to a restaurant and then back to the freeway, we vowed to show others in San Diego the energy that we had experienced and shared in facing off with the billionaire Koch brothers, their cronies, and the centurions who guard them.
Here is a gallery of pics from the event. Click on image to see a larger version.