Occupy San Diego Road to Congress – Update Day 2
From Las Crusas to the Amarillo 13
By Eugene Davidovich/Special to the OB Rag / January 15, 2011
With no breaks from the road all night, and after traveling hundreds of miles through California and Arizona, the group of activists from Opccupy San Diego finally got a chance to stretch their legs in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the early hours of Saturday, January 14th.
When the bus pulled into the Las Cruses station at 7:30am, everyone’s hopes for a working restroom were shattered as the sign on the door read, “Restroom Not Operational.”
To add to the difficulties, weather outdoors was a crisp 30 degrees Fahrenheit, a sharp change form the relatively blazing 70 degrees most protesters are used to in San Diego.
At the Las Cruses Greyhound station the group was met by Jeff and Stella Miller from Occupy Las Cruces who brought loafs of freshly baked hot bread and coffee for the travelers. After everyone got their fill and had an opportunity to stretch, the group quickly organized a small rally with protest signs and chants outside the bus station.
That morning the protesters were able to bring the Occupy San Diego message all the way to New Mexico, make new friends, and stand in strong solidarity with Occupy Las Cruces all in less then one hour during a bus layover.
8:10am came around quickly and the group was rushed on to the next bus. While boarding, J. Garcia the new bus driver asked the group, “Are you all with those Occupy people? How did you pay for your trip?” One of the protesters explained that the group raised money from the community to pay for the trip. The bus driver responded sarcastically, “Did Obama pay for it?, Get on the bus!”
The trip was rather uneventful for the rest of the day, until the group arrived in Amarillo, Texas at 5:45pm. At first, the Amarillo layover was uneventful and relaxing, until everyone got in line to board the bus. In line, the protesters were greeted by the ever so ‘friendly’ Don Ainsworth, a taller grumpy man in his late seventies that introduced himself by shouting “Everyone get in a single file line, right now, or we are not boarding”.
After boarding the bus, and while all the passengers were still standing in the aisle loading luggage into the overhead bins, Don walked onto the bus and shouted at everyone, “Shut up, and sit down!”
In shock and disbelief everyone scrambled to take their seats. At the same time, one of the protesters noticed several bags belonging to the group being loaded off the bus. The protester asked the driver why the bags were being removed.
The driver snapped at the protester, “I said, sit down and shut up”.
After the second “sit down and shut up”, several passengers began to voice their concern about the hostility and disrespect coming from the driver. One of those voicing a concern about the luggage was Michael Ponsler. He asked the driver why he was being so rude and disrespectful.
The driver spun around, and shouted, “Who said that?!”
It was me, Michael calmly responded.
“You, off my bus!”, the driver shouted.
Michael explained to the driver that he was part of a group traveling together, that he had done nothing wrong, and was simply inquiring about the bags and customer service. This seemed to outrage the driver even more and he began to shout, “all of you Occupy people, off my bus!”
Several folks from the group tried to explain to the driver again that they were all traveling together, did not want to be split up, and did not want to be prevented from getting to Washington D.C. The driver did not respond, simply walked off the bus and locked the door leaving all the passengers trapped inside for over an hour.
From the windows of the bus everyone could see the driver walk up to the Greyhound ticket counter pick up the phone and have a thirty minute conversation. After the phone call and another thirty minutes or so of standing around and watching the football game on television, two police cars pulled up to the station, and three uniformed officers walked inside to speak with the driver.
After a brief conversation with the driver the officers walked onto the bus and asked him to point out who he wanted removed. The driver began to walk around and ask different passengers whether they were with Occupy. The police stopped the driver and told him that instead of asking people if they are with Occupy, he should instead point out who specifically he wanted off the bus. The driver replied, “all fourteen of them, I want them all off the bus.”
The driver failed to realize that there were only thirteen people with the Occupy group on the bus and that he was mixing in to the group another passenger that voiced her concerns about the unfair treatment she witnessed.
No one was kicked off just yet, and two of the officers left the bus to speak with the driver once again, while one remained on board to speak with the protesters. The officer who remained inside, told everyone that they would be able to stay on the bus as long as they don’t communicate with the driver at all. Everyone agreed and were looking forward to getting back on the road. The officer even explained to the protesters that they have to deal with this driver, his disrespectful attitude, and attempts to get people arrested without cause all the time.
While one of the officers was talking with the passengers on the bus, the driver was seen waving his hands in disgust and his head in disapproval at the two officers speaking with him outside. A few minutes later, the driver and both officers returned and explained to everyone that anyone with Occupy would have to leave the bus.
Without argument and still in shock, all thirteen protesters even those not pointed out by the driver, quietly stood up and walked off the bus together. By the time the group was booted from the bus, it was already after 8pm and over an hour since the bus was originally supposed to depart Amarillo.
Still in disbelief about the events of the evening, several members of the group began to quickly put the word out on Facebook, Twitter, and every other social network that could be accessed about what was happening. Ustream was activated on Michael Basillas’ phone and the group was broadcasting live from the station to hundreds watching live at home and at other Occupations around the country.
Members from Occupy Wall Street, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, San Diego, Washington D.C. and many other cities sprung into action, re-tweeted what was happening on the ground, and helped wake up the nation to Greyhound’s apparent disdain for the Occupy movement. The group of protesters stranded at the bus station quickly became known online as the Amarillo13.
Hundreds of calls began to come into the Greyhound station in Amarillo as well as the company’s corporate line demanding fair treatment of protesters, a refund, and transportation to Washington D.C.
Even David Lynch, the CEO of Greyhound was contacted on his cell phone and office line to be advised of what happened to the peaceful protesters.
Around 9pm two local Amarillo news crews arrived at the bus station to talk to the stranded protesters just in time for the local 10 o’clock news.
For several hours the group was had no idea what would happen, whether the tickets would be reissued, whether they would be stuck in Amarillo, or whether they would make to Washington D.C. at all for the rally on January 17th.
Finally around 3am, the supervisor of the ticket counter came in to work and began to reissue tickets for the next available bus, which was departing at 6:50 in the morning.
While waiting for their fate to be determined, much love and support was coming in both online and in person. Occupiers watching the Amarillo13 live on the internet, ordered pizza for the group which was delivered directly to the bus station, and several occupiers from the Amarillo Occupation came to the bus station to stand in solidarity with the stranded protesters. Crystal, Ricker, Sam, and Rusty from Occupy Amarillo all came out to the bus station and brought the group hot coffee, lots of love, support, and encouragement.
The bus finally departed Amarillo at 5:45am on January 15th and reached Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at 10:45am where we were also met by a several occupiers from the local occupation in Oklahoma who brought the protesters food, coffee and more supplies for the road.
After leaving the station at Oklahoma, the protesters learned that Greyhound issued an official statement on twitter regarding the protesters stating, “Hi All, we are aware of the Occupy Congress situation. We have notified executive management. We appreciate your patience.” @GreyhoundBus
The group is now headed for Tennessee and in the process of negotiating a fair resolution to the disruption of the trip over the phone with Greyhound.