Like many, I have been following the OWS movement all over the United States, including the recent events at UC Berkeley and UC Davis. This may sound like an excuse, but I have four children at home to take care of, so camping out for weeks on end doesn’t really leave my family in great shape. So I send the occupiers my gratitude as well as my hopes no harm will come to any of them. In the meantime, I continue to plant trees and remove invasive plants at the wildlife preserve where I volunteer.
I was reminded yesterday of Sonoma’s history of occupation, a history that includes some very uppity women who wanted to plant trees in order to decolonize our eight acre Plaza (the largest in California) from its former inhabitants and uses. Suzie Rodriguez of the Sonoma Index Tribune writes:
“For starters, the old plaza in the center of town was a disgrace. The train depot was located there, and the ugly, treeless dirt square was the first glimpse debarking passengers had of Sonoma.
As for residents, they avoided the plaza if they could. With pasture-seeking cattle herded through on a daily basis, it was dotted with dung, pocked with holes, and quite unsanitary. It also morphed into a giant mudpit when it rained.”
In another account, the Plaza is described as having been “a treeless, unattractive cattle yard where animals were frequently slaughtered. Early pioneers wrote about the unpleasant stench that surrounded it.”
That the land was taken forcefully from the many Native peoples that lived in the valley, and that many of them were forced into slavery, is another, much sadder part of Sonoma’s rich history. We all know how that story ended.
In any case, the push on the part of the Women’s Club wasn’t met with much enthusiasm by the men in the Valley. Today, anyone who has visited the Plaza knows what a worthy endeavor it was. In autumn, the rain of papery gold leaves from the three giant American Elms is a scene too surreal to describe. Mothers and children and grandparents, lovers, tourists, musicians, school groups – the Plaza is the model of how a central, public gathering place creates community.
The right to gather in public space for the purpose of peaceful protest – EVEN IF IT’S A CLOWN PARADE AT THE FARMER’S MARKET – is also a Constitutional Right. I think we’d have a lot to say as a town if the police pepper-sprayed students and teachers from Sonoma Valley High School for protesting peacefully against things like skyrocketing college tuition, lack of vocational training, widespread corporate greed, ravaged natural resources, state budget cuts to public schools and the impossibility of a decent job; these are all things that my generation took for granted but are now rapidly disappearing from their future.
I am writing this blog to express my gratitude to the OWS protestors as well as my horror at the recent police brutality on both UC campuses. And to those troublesome women – our local Entwives – who wanted to plant some trees to make their community a better place for people and other living things – I tip my hat.