Hundreds of protesters crashed an invitation-only press conference Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger held in Santa Barbara yesterday, as the governor attempted to rally Republican support for upcoming ballot measures.
The demonstrators at Wednesday’s press conference, held inside MarBorg Industries at 136 Quarantina St., included students, firefighters, union workers and teachers, said Jon Williams, Acting Chair of the Progressive Coalition. The governor held the 11:30 a.m. conference to publicize his support for propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77, which are on the ballot for the Nov. 8 special election. The location of the conference, which was only open to invited guests, was withheld from the general public until Wednesday morning, when it was leaked anonymously, Williams said.
After the press conference, Schwarzenegger visited the Fess Parker Double Tree Resort in downtown Santa Barbara for a second event, the details of which were kept secret. An anonymous member of the governor’s campaign team said the governor’s staff was instructed not to speak to the press outside of the official events.
Approximately 100 people, including members of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce and UCSB College Republicans, were invited to the press conference, College Republicans President Sally Marois said. A group of around 30 college republicans tried to attend the event, Marois said, but they were unable to get into the meeting because they could not make their way through the throng of protesters.
Marois said she is disappointed that many of the protestors used Schwarzenegger’s visit as an opportunity to attack the governor’s politics, rather than focus on the propositions.
“It was anti- and pro-Arnold, which is not what it should be because the propositions aren’t inherently political,” Marois said. “We should be reading the propositions and educating ourselves, rather than standing outside in chicken costumes and a Nixon mask.”
However, Williams said, people of all political backgrounds came together to demonstrate against the propositions Schwarzenegger was there to support — especially Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to get annual, written consent from government employee union members before using any dues or fees for political purposes.
“It was great because it was a really diverse crowd,” Williams said. “We had firefighters from Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Lompoc. Many of these guys and women may be conservative-leaning in their political beliefs, but they came together with teachers and with union members that know their ability to speak is being threatened.”
The protest was peaceful, Williams said, but a high number of police officers patrolled the area to keep watch over the demonstrators.
“We were chanting,” he said. “There were different chants like, ‘People united will never be defeated.’ The police were there and they set up barricades to let the motorcade through and they asked us to move back and we moved back very politely.” Associated Students State Affairs Organizing Director Bill Shiebler said he protested to help draw media attention to Schwarzenegger’s positions on the various propositions.
“I thought it was a good opportunity because I wanted to get media attention on the propositions he is endorsing, and how horrible they are for the future of students,” Shiebler said.
Daraka Larimore-Hall, a UCSB graduate student in sociology, attended the protest. He said he thinks the conference was billed as a town hall meeting and should have been open to the public and Santa Barbara City Councilman Brian Barnwell could not even get into the conference.
“It’s ironic because [Schwarzenegger] billed it as a town hall meeting and the town wasn’t invited,” Larimore-Hall said. “So the town showed up outside. In fact, the crowd was so carefully selected that a member of the city council tried to go in and they asked him if he was a Democrat or Republican.”
Williams, who eventually worked his way inside the closed doors of the conference, said he thinks the event was misrepresented to the public.
“There was a goodly crowd, but they had been handpicked by the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “If [Schwarzenegger] wants to do a fundraiser and invite people who write him checks, that’s fine, but if he wants to call it a town hall meeting I think the people of the town should be invited.” Marois said the event was never referred to by Schwarzenegger’s administration as a town hall meeting and was only meant to bring local Republican voters together.
“It was a chance for the Republicans in Santa Barbara to come together — there are only 10,000 registered Republicans in the county — to be encouraged to continue the struggle of being a minority,” Marois said.
Shiebler said he feels that it is irrelevant whether the event was supposed to be a town hall meeting or a private conference. Either way, he said, the governor should not have ignored the protesters outside.
“He drove right past us,” Shiebler said. “He didn’t want to talk to us. He is our governor and elected official and they were saying it was a closed event.”