History Comes Alive for Student Protestors
By Teresa Rochester
April 11 - Under tight security, more than 100 Santa Monica High School students got a spirited lesson Thursday in the art of protesting from veteran organizer Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers.
The students, joined by Huerta, Supt. John Deasy, school district and Samohi officials and union organizers marched on neighboring Hilton-owned Doubletree Guest Suits hotel, the site of a brewing unionizing battle that sits on school district owned property.
The march was organized in the spirit of the late farm worker organizer and UFW founder Cesar Chavez, whose memory was celebrated during a school assembly featuring Huerta as the keynote speaker.
"We have to let Doubletree know we're going to be here and we need to keep marching," Huerta, who wore the UFW's trademark red satin jacket and red beret, told marchers gathered at a spot called "the circle," where a mural depicting Chavez and social justice was recently unveiled. "We need to let them (workers) know we're going to go with them until they get a contract."
"We are marching in the memory and honor of a great man who fought for great things," student body president Justin Brownstone said. "Cesar Chavez fought his fight 24/7 When you're done today, I want you to go make a commitment to stand with the workers."
Carrying placards supplied by Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Local 814 and chanting slogans, the procession of demonstrators set off down Pico Boulevard toward the hotel on 4th Street adjacent to the Samohi campus.
Marching with the students was Assistant Supt. Joseph Quarels, who mused that it had been a while since he had marched. The experience, he said, was good for students.
"I think it's a good education," Quarels said. 'The kids get to do something in a peaceful way. It's positive."
Arriving in front of the hotel, demonstrators were met with three police officers blocking the driveway. Huerta and several students attempted to meet with Doubletree's general manager Francios Khoury, but their efforts were rebuffed and they were told to leave or risk being arrested.
"I have no problem getting arrested for the twentieth, twenty-first time," Huerta said to the cheers of the crowd after the march. "They have to know we will come back."
Marchers then rounded the corner of Olympic Boulevard and 4th Street and made their way down a driveway toward the back of the hotel, where they were met by about 35 members of the Santa Monica Police Department wearing helmets with protective face shields. Organizers on radios, who had met earlier with police to work out logistics, scrambled to turn the crowd around and back up the driveway.
"It wasn't necessary," said Samohi 11th-grader Moises Castillo, 16, of the police presence. "It's a waste of money."
SMPD spokesman Lt. Frank Fabrega said that the deployment was typical for demonstrations and that police had been told that up to 300 marchers were expected.
"This is the normal deployment for demonstrations we had in the past," Fabrega said. "We will always be prepared and it's when you're not prepared that you have problems."
The march ended without incident back at "the circle" on the Samohi campus, where students buzzed about the march.
"It was awesome," senior Maria Lopez,17, said of her first protest. "It was very positive and encouraging. We wanted to fight for our people, the workers and their rights. We have to help each other out."
Castillo, who was part of the delegation that tried to meet with the hotel's manager, said that marching with Huerta was like walking with history.
"It's incredible," he said. "She's history. It was an honor."
The union took its Doubletree campaign public last month, filling the Board of Education Chamber to plead for support. Organizers also called on the district to evaluate its lease with the hotel, which it claimed was underpaying the school district.
School officials had already begun an audit of the lease and officials are waiting on the results. The school board did not take a stance on organizing efforts at the school, but on Thursday afternoon board president Julia Brownley and vice president Maria Leon-Vazquez were among the marchers."I think that this is what we're all about," Brownley said after the demonstration. "We want to model peaceful and non-violent ways for doing these things."
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