Sit-in at County Clerk’s Office continues – arrests are anticipated

by on May 27, 2009 · 7 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, LGBT rights, Media, Organizing, San Diego

The sit-in at the County Clerk's Office. Protesters sing, chant and clap. all photos by Frank Gormlie

LATEST UPDATE: All protesters remaining in the Clerk’s Office agreed to leave the building without being arrested.

UPDATE: At 5:15pm local news reported that “dozens” of protesters remained inside the Clerks Office despite the buildings closure, as more than 50 chanted down at street level.  Police, presumably, Sheriffs, were negotiating with them.

SAN DIEGO, CA.  I just came from the County of San Diego’s Clerk’s Office where a sit-in is going on in protest of the Supreme Court upholding Prop 8 – the prohibition to gay and lesbian marriages.

Twenty people, surrounded by about 30 supporters, are sitting down right now in the Clerk’s Office – on the 2nd floor of the County Admin Building on Pacific Highway.  Several gay couples have approached the counter, requesting marriage licenses, only to be denied due to state law.

Most of those sitting-in plan on being arrested when the Clerk’s Office closes at 5pm.  They will cooperate with County Sheriffs upon arrest, and will not go limp or otherwise obstruct the officers, I was told by one of the organizers.

Organized by SAME (San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality), the demonstration began just after 12 noon, when two men – Brian and Michael – walked up to the Clerk’s counter and requested a marriage license. Surrounded by TV cameras, they were quietly told that it is against state law. Whereupon, the two men – and another 20 people whooped and took seats on the floor in front of the counter, filling up most of the room. I counted 17 sitting on the floor and another 6 to 10 on chairs or milling about.

Once on the floor, the group began chanting, singing and clapping. “Gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right!” Another chant was “I’m gay. Let Michael and Brian have their day!”

Meanwhile, a rally was going on downstairs and outside, where another 60 people gathered and listened to speakers.

Behind the counter at the Clerk’s Office, I found Diane Bradrick – Chief Deputy Recorder Clerk – and I asked her whether she was going to call security. “As long as we are able to conduct business,” she said, she wasn’t going to do anything. And she added, the clerks have been assisting others.

“What happens at 5pm?” I asked. She told me that if the demonstrators don’t leave by then, she’ll have to call security.

Cecile Veillard, one of the demonstrators who was helping to coordinate things, told me that after several attempts to put phone calls to various politicians, like Mayor Sanders, the Governor or even the President, asking them to allow the Clerk to issue a marriage license, there were a number of people ready to be arrested. Some people on the floor now will leave, she said.  But “most are willing to be arrested,” she added.

Veillard said that those who are planning to be arrested have coordinated with a support network that will help them from the outside.

Adrian and Jonathan sitting-in after being denied a marriage license.

At 1:00, another gay male couple approached the counter. This time it was Adrian and Jonathan asking for and being denied a marriage license. They too then turned around and joined the sit-in to whoops and cheers.  The chanting grew louder and more intense. “What do we want? – Equal rights! – When do we want them? – Now!” By this time there were about 60 protesters in the office, a third sitting down.

I later talked to Adrian and asked him why he was willing to be arrested.  “It’s my duty,” he said, “as an American.”

One of the volunteer coordinators, Wendy Sue, took a few moments out of the demo to speak with me out in the hallway. She explained to me that those planning to be arrested have been trained in non-violence and peaceful protest.

I asked her why people were willing to be arrested. “Because,” she began, “when legal methods fail, and the system looks at you as a second-class citizen, there is no other way then to be arrested.”  She was 50 years old, came out when she was 16 and has been fighting for equal rights ever since.

Wendy explained that the protesters draw from the experiences of past protest movements, “the peace movement, the civil rights movement, the suffragettes,” she said, “people were willing to put their bodies on the line, across American history,” she said. “The pilgrims ….” her voice trailed off because someone came up to her to inform her that another gay couple was coming up the stairs.

One of the chants had been, “We. We are. We are the revolution!”  I asked Wendy, “what revolution?”

“The revolution of change. The revolution of changing values,” she told me without a blink.

Down the hallway, I found several Sheriff deputies. I spoke with Lt. Robbins and Sgt Cannon.  They told me that they didn’t know about the demo until last night, and that there have not been any negotiations with the demonstrators. With her pony tail neatly tied behind her head, Lt. Robbins said that they were to abide by whatever the County Clerk decided in terms of arresting those sitting in.

For more info, they advised me to check in with the Office of Media and Public Relations at the other end of the hall.  Which I did. I entered that Office, where Michael Workman is the director, only to wait in the waiting room for about 10 minutes. He never came out.

Around 2pm, I went downstairs to the rally, just in time to hear Rhythm Turner speak. She spoke of a recent hate crime where she had been the victim.  After she was finished, I approached her to get more of her story.

Rhythm is a performer, and after performing at Kane’s on May 14th in Mission Beach, she and her girl friend were kissing good-by in the parking lot.  Two males came up to them. One in particular became very belligerent, got in Rhythm’s face, demanding that they kiss each other for him.  They refused and told him to go away. He then slapped and punched her, causing a black left eye and two fractures to her face.

Turner reported the assault to the police, but at this time, the SDPD is not considering it a hate crime because the male, who is in custody, was very drunk, “and they can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was a hate crime,” Rhythm said. There’s a UTube video out on the incident (at hatecrimesurvivor).

When I left the County Building, everyone was anticipating about a dozen or more arrests, but it was all going to go peacefully. It’s about the revolution of change.

Originally posted May 27, 1:24pm.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patty Jones May 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm

My hearts aches right now. Rhythm I’m so sorry for what happened to you and too many others.

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avatar Dave Sparling May 27, 2009 at 9:45 pm

As long as the world has religion in any form, this kind of crazy stuff will continue to happen.

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avatar Dave Gilbert May 27, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Actually Dave, my late Grandmother, Uncle and Aunt were very much involved in a church that didn’t discriminate http://themetchurch.org/

Frank you deserve a raise!

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avatar Gary Gilmore May 27, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Dave Sparling, your comment has a lot of room for discussion but, the fear of homosexuality would raise its ugly head with or without religion. Ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds anger which manifests itself by acting out in a variety of ways. Few, if any of these actions, are positive or constructive. The best way to overcome fear is to educate by example. If you think about it, it’s a lot better now than it was just 20 or 30 years ago. Still it’s hugely frustrating for those who are the targets of irrational fear but, evidence shows that it is changing.

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avatar Cecile Veillard May 28, 2009 at 12:38 am

Thanks Frank for covering the story so thoroughly. Actually what ended up happening, in terms of phoning politicians, was different than what we had expected (therefore different than what I reported to you, early on, about what we were planning to do.)

Around 1:15pm or so, having sat it for some time without being granted a license, Michael, Brian & I went up and asked the clerk if she would call the Mayor’s Office to authorize the signing of their marriage license (since we knew this had been done in SF, by Mayor Gavin Newsom, in 2004.) The clerk explained, quite supportively in fact, that the clerk’s office is in County jurisdiction, rather than City, which puts it out of the Mayor’s authority to control–even if he would have chosen to. Instead she advised us to talk to the County Board of Supervisors, who may be able to do something.

Michael & Brian learned that the County Supervisor for their district is Ron Roberts, and we asked to speak to him but he was out to lunch. We took his phone number, and asked the rally attenders to call him and leave a message asking him to authorize the clerk to marry Brian & Michael. We then left with a plan to return to his office after lunch. When we did return, we were told by his aide that Ron Roberts would not be able to authorize the clerk to sign their license, and advised us to speak with a separate elected official, County Assessor David Butler, who might have the power to authorize the clerk to allow Michael & Brian.

When we spoke with Mr. Butler, he stated that though he may wish to marry same-sex couples, and even have the authority to do so, he was choosing to comply with current state law, and so would not authorize the clerk to marry Michael & Brian, even if it might be in his power to do so. From there, we felt it was our only choice to call the Governor’s Office to ask that the problem be repaired directly at the state level.

Several members of the sit-in then got on their cell phones to call the Governor’s Office, both in Sacramento and in San Diego, to demand to speak to the Governor, and to ask for someone to come over to the clerk’s office and speak to us, respectively. Unfortunately, we did not reach our goal of getting Michael & Brian married by the end of the day. However, it seemed to us that several opportunities for change, within our strategy, can be revisited. We are likely to want to try this again, and soon. Again, thanks Frank for your excellent, very thorough reporting. How refreshing!

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avatar Abby June 3, 2009 at 3:21 am

Dave: It’s really not religion that is the problem, it’s just that some people can’t seem to understand that it’s not something you should base laws and government on.

It’s sad that there are people in America who would like us to all be forced to live under Taliban style rule and can’t respect the beliefs of others.

Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion.

I respect the beliefs of others, even if I don’t agree with them, it’s sad that some people can’t do the same.

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