A human blockade gnarled morning traffic last Tuesday as six UCSC activists sat across Highway 17, their arms interlocked through metal tubes and cement-filled trash cans.
The disruption began at 9:25 in the morning, according to the California Highway Patrol; “We got a call of a U-Haul truck stopping traffic and blocking lanes and unloading people. Then they set up their protest,” says Bradley Sadek, CHP public information officer.
Traffic was blocked for about four hours, and six UCSC students were arrested at the scene; Ethan Pezzow, Alexander Pearce, Sophia DiMatteo, Jeanine Caceres, Lori Nixon and Sasha Petterson. They were all initially charged with three misdemeanors—creating a public nuisance, failure to obey a lawful order, and failure to obey an executive order from a peace officer—and one felony charge of conspiracy to execute a crime.
The UCSC administration announced that the students would be suspended from classes for two weeks.
GT arrived on the scene at about 12:30 p.m. as a squad of riot police from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department began walking up the southbound shoulder of Highway 17 to the blockade. About 75 law enforcement officers were on hand, including CHP, SCPD, UCSC Police and County Sheriff. Caltrans and Fire Department personnel also helped to dismantle the blockade.
A CHP helicopter landed on the highway around 1 p.m. “We have some people who’ve been specifically trained in how to dismantle those kinds of civil disturbances. They were flown in on the helicopter,” Sadek explained. “50-gallon garbage cans were filled with concrete and reinforced with rebar, steel mesh and chains.”
No injuries were reported as caution was taken with a variety of tools used to dismantle the objects, including chop saws, grinders, jackhammers, pneumatic jaws, sledge hammers and pry bars. CHP said that none of the activists resisted arrest and that officers helped them with earplugs, safety goggles and masks. One activist wore a sign that read, “I Am Not A Loan.”
The nonviolent lockdown was part of 96 hours of protest against tuition hikes and police violence. Local law enforcement told GT they were prepared for something, but were caught by surprise when students locked themselves together. “There had been intel at UCSC that there might be protests,” explained CHP.
Highway 17 was blockaded in January 1991, when UCSC students took to the streets as the U.S. military began bombing Iraq.
Two days after the Highway 17 blockade last week, UCSC entrances were blocked and classes were cancelled. GT was at the east entrance, where 75 students and supporters chanted, “Money for books and education, not for cops and incarceration!” Conrad, a UCSC employee who asked that his last name not be used, told GT that nonviolent political action is part of the university’s legacy. “UCSC teaches students that they’re the authority on questioning authority,” he says.
A hat was passed to raise legal defense funds for the six students who’d been arrested for blocking Highway 17. When student activist Barucha Peller used a megaphone to announce, “The UCSC Highway 6 had their charges dropped to two misdemeanors,” the gathering cheered heartedly. Peller claims the students’ right to due process was violated when the university suspended them. She told GT, “Following the Ferguson movement, people have switched to more militant tactics and realized we need to blockade and shut stuff down.”