On site report of the John Quigley take down
10/Jan/2003, Fredric L. Rice

Two of my sons and myself drove to Santa Clarita and the site of Old Glory, the 300 year old oak tree destined for cutting to make way for the widening of the road (for background see http://www.raids.org/treesit/treesit.htm for description and photographs.)

We had arrived at 6:00 p.m. (Friday night) with the belief that the police were going to bring Quigley down since he had stayed treed after authorities served the tree a notice of trespassing. The bad guys had installed a 8 foot hot fence a long way down the street and put in K-rail barricades all over the place to keep citizens from re-supplying John.

A couple of nights ago the bad guys had come at 1:30 a.m. in the dark of night with over hired security goons, more than 5 police cars, lots of trucks, and started evicting the ground support crew, tearing down the signs that school children and other well washers had placed on the smaller fence that had surrounded the oak tree.

The people who live in the area had quite a bit to say about the noise; the bad guys picked 1:30 in the morning to try to avoid the media. It didn't work very well since the ground crew and other activists who were being evicted from tents under the tree were quickly in contact with the media which came out in large numbers and were on site and filming a half hour later. The bad guys helped out by turning on lights on trailers they had brought with them.

Tonight the atmosphere was utterly unlike a protest or a picket and was more like a circus and summer camp. After finding a parking spot for our Jeep we walked down to the new barricades and started looking at the security arrangements to see how well the bad guys had planned ahead to keep activists from re-supplying John. We had heard that a very small boy the day previously had managed to get under the fences and make it to the tree to get something to John but the fence covering the culvert on the right hand side of the site up against the cliff had been strengthened with more fencing and sand bags so that route had been blocked off.

There were seven news vans parked up and down the street, six of them being large, well equipped vans from the major television stations, and one of them a smaller van from a Mexico television news station. It was hard to see but a television news van had managed to get parked in the residential housing area directly across the road from Old Glory and had its boom extended.

Parking was not yet a problem though the whole area was quickly filling up. Toward around 8:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. the cops started stopping cars further down the road and telling them they couldn't proceed unless they lived in the area. Most looked to me like they turned around and parked way the hell down Pico Canyon Road and started to walk in though we did see people turn around and leave when told there's no way to park in the area.

There were about 200 people down the street singing, talking with each other, yelling slogans, and chanting down at the far end where the road had been blocked off -- and blocking the road seems like an illegal act; blocking the road was not done due to safety reasons or any legitimate reason other than to keep people from exercising their freedom of speech rights to include their chosen audiences which included John Quigley.

I'd hazard a guess that about one fourth of the people at the site were children under the age of 18. While many of the people were in their 30's, the demographics of the people who had come out to support the saving of the oak tree and to support Quigley were broad spectrum and not what I would consider to be the usual type of environmental activists in a general sense. I suspect the media and the easy access to the site accounted for that.

Looking at the signs that had been placed on the new fence I noticed that the _message_ being conveyed by some of the people protesting the planned destruction of the oak tree had changed somewhat. Previously the attitude and message was uplifting, light, and positive, appealing to the city to do what's right and divert the highway. Tonight there was a sign on the fence where most citizens gathered at the early evening hours that equated the city planners and Antonovitch (spelling?) to terrorists, equating three people to Osama, Saddam, and I think the leader of North Korea. It was more than a bit much and extreme and was a new slant to the protests that cropped up from time to time during the night.

A walk way of dirt along the fence on the right of about 10 or 11 inches wide allowed citizens to approach the tree to within about 110 feet or so. After checking with people to see what the status was, one son and I worked our way along the fence's dirt path toward the tree and met with another group of people there. Three television news crews were at that location and a guy from KFI talk radio was there.

John had a small electric light up in the canopy and, even in the darkness we could see that much of his support platform had been removed by the bad guys. The American flag still hung down from nearby his platform but it did look like the roads and other support equipment had been removed.

The new fence blocked off the public access right along the rock cliff on the right -- which was another civil rights violation -- and it looked to me like the fence was pretty well confining anyone from going in and getting supplies to John. I had thought that the fence was impassable but that proved to be incorrect as events transpired later.

It had been reported that Quigley's cell telephone had gone dead -- not surprising the number of interviews he's given over the phone -- but he was still in contact with a ground crew by radio. My sons had brought radios and about a forty pounds of other electronic equipment so we got to listen in.

Over the next couple of hours the number of people rose to about 300 or 400 with most of them down by the blocked off road's barricades though about 100 down where I and one of my sons was. The other son had stayed at the road block and was in contact by radio. Toward the end there were about 200 of us down closer to the tree.

There was much singing, clapping, the yelling of slogans, and, down by the road block, a prayer circle forming up. In the quiet periods messages would some times be yelled back and forth between John and well wishers on the ground. With the noise John didn't seem able to understand a lot of what was yelled but he usually yelled back a "Thank You" regardless. }:-}

I don't know what time it was but down the road a tanker truck drove up to the barricades and it looked to me like this was the start of the arrival of the equipment to take John out of the tree. I yelled up a warning to John to "lock up" if he hadn't done so already since it could have been the start. People in the area around me were wondering if the bad guys were going to water John down to see if that would make him leave the tree -- not a totally unlikely notion since Antonovitch doesn't seem to care about his political future in this county.

John yelled down "What?" The tanker truck came up the road and it started to look like it was really the start of the take down but the tanker had stopped directly across from Old Glory to talk with the knot of police and security goons and then proceeded further down the road and out of sight. False alarm, and the only one that night.

There were eight security goons inside the fence, four of them in one little knot, three in another, and one of them walking the far fence keeping an eye on the culvert that had been dug and sided in concrete. At one point in the protest six or seven of them collected near us at the fence for a while and then they all turned and walked away. When they were about 40 feet away we started shaking the fence and pretending to go over it which made some of them come back. That got everyone laughing though. Since there were a lot of children all over the place nobody was going to do anything so stupid as to rush the fence -- or so I had thought.

More and more cops kept showing up, and a cop helicopter stayed in hover mode above the site with his Night Sun off but without doubt using FLUIR to watch for activists working their way into the fenced in area and on to the hillside up the cliff to the right. A distance away and at a higher altitude was a news crew in a helicopter also in hover mode filming and reporting on the line of cars that was coming in and/or being turned back.

From time to time the cop's helicopter would leave station and circle around over the hillside turning on his Night Sun to look at things up there and then return to station. At about 8:15 or so, I think it was, the news copter left. The police copter then took up station over the expensive residential houses on the left and illuminated the oak tree and surrounding ground with his Night Sun from time to time.

Eventually it was reported by telephone that a large force of bad guys were heading our way so my son and I went back to the blocked off road barricades to rejoin the other son and to await the arrival of the force that was coming. We had grabbed about 30 or 40 other people to strengthen the number of protesters at the road for the new arrivals.

A couple of minutes later more police cars came in followed by a fire company paramedics truck and a hook and latter fire engine which was in turned followed by more cop cars. They each got a good yelling and good-natured cussing amid boos and (thankfully) only a few yells of "fascist Nazis" and other inappropriate comments.

As the last cop car went past the opened gate, two young women started grabbing at people saying, "Let's go!" and one grabbed my shirt and yanked be toward the opening. I knew immediately they wanted everyone to come streaming in to the site and I must admit I thought about it. What kept me out was the thankfully quick realization that a night in jail would be expensive since my car would be impounded and my sons would be stuck. The two women -- about 16 or 17 years old, I guess -- ran in behind the force that had just arrived while the cops formed up quickly behind the gate in the fence they were quickly trying to close up again.

Many of us then worked our way back to the fence closer to Old Glory where the media and protesters formed up again to film and watch the take down. The yelling and singing took up more energy as the hook and ladder got into position and the cop helicopter lighted up the tree long enough for the bad guys to set up their own lights in the towed trailer they had brought with them.

The atmosphere of the people at this point was had to describe. It was happy, upbeat, and jokes mixed in with quite a lot of praying and yells of well wish and demands that the bad guys leave John alone and to "Save Old Glory!" Much fence pounding and noise making, of course, yet often period of quiet talking and speculation about how they were going to cut him loose from his lockups.

The hook and ladder started to probe the canopy. A light on the end and a fireman in the bucket looked for ways to get the bucket in to John. The first try either failed or was just a recon since the ladder retreated and the fire engine repositioned itself and extended the ladder again -- taking about 40 minutes to do so.

There's _always_ got to be one in every crowd.

There was a guy in a wool cap, scruffy and dirty, with sharp beady eyes and a serious expression who came into the crowd and started telling people to pound down the fence and rush in. He was trying to get people to do something stupid but he himself wasn't willing to. I told him, "Bad idea, man" and he kept walking around. There's always got to be one in every crowd that tries to egg people on but is too much of a fucking coward to take his own advice. Fortunately nobody listened to the extremist kook

While the ladder was being repositioned a bunch of people at the fence _did_ start shoving it forward and jumping on it until it was almost completely down but there didn't appear to be any notion of storming the barricades. By that time the children were mostly moved along the fence on the left and few were right up front near where protesters were trying to take down the fence.

One of my sons was right up against the fence going down so I yelled at him not to do anything stupid and to come back toward the back a ways in case other people decided to storm over the fence toward the tree. The extremist kook suddenly popped up and yelled back at me, "Isn't he old enough to make his own decisions?!" I yelled back, "Fuck no!" He then yelled, "Get out of the way if you're not going to support us then!"

"Support us?" Who's "us?" This kook was the only one out among some 300 or 400 of us that was trying to whip up others into doing something stupid.

Tom -- one of the good guys who was on the other side of the fence -- had a bull horn and came over with a bunch of the security goons and about 10 cops and started telling people that the tree wasn't being hurt and that John didn't want people to storm over the fence. But by the time Tom had come over the people stomping the fence had stopped and it looked like there wasn't any intention of anybody going over any way.

Tom and the bad guys stayed there during the rest of the take down making sure that everybody behaved while the ladder repositioned itself and the firemen started cutting John loose. A bunch of kids had worked their way forward and in the crowd so Tom made sure that everyone knew that.

The banjo started playing and people resumed their singing and yelling of jokes and slogans and things pretty much resumed as they were. As the bad guys worked to cut John loose many other protesters left the road block and joined us at the fence closer to the tree.

Amusingly in the expensive residential houses across the road we could see ourselves on the big screen TV in the living room of one of the houses. In other houses up there there were large groups of people -- home owners and friends -- out on their back yards yelling encouragement and, I suspect, drinking quite a bit.

That brings up a _good_ thing that the cops did for us: At the checkpoint down the road where they were redirecting people to find parking elsewhere the cops were making sure that nobody brought in alcohol and, I suspect, they gave everyone in the cars coming up a good looking over to see if they could spot trouble before letting them in.

I call the cops "bag guys" only because they're working for a system that considers money made by the wealthy elite to be more important than salvaging our heritage and protecting the civil and Constitutional rights of the masses who have no money. But really the cops did good: they kept the peace and made sure that protesters and cops were safe. Tom and other activists also worked to make sure that everyone stayed happy and calm, speaking slowly and calmly themselves -- as is taught behavior among activist groups.

The cops got booed and yelled at but it never really got personal or abusive. One guy was videotaping the cops on the other side of the fence after the fence had been stomped to the ground pretty much and the cop told the guy to take that light off of him. The guy turned his spot light off but others told the cop that they - the crowd -- had the right to video tape them -- the cops -- so the guy turned his camera and his spot light back on the cop. Protesters in the area told the guy with the spot light that the cops are just doing their job and keeping the peace and that it was kind of rude. The cop looked annoyed but not willing to leave his place in line but he didn't need to: the guy turned his light off.

I mention all this because, as I said before, it was not like any other environmental or human rights activist protests and pickets I've been in. We had a couple of young kids come in with signs that said, "Burn down the tree" yelling to shoot John down and other idiot stuff, but everyone else except for that extremist kook I mentioned was pretty well behaved, upbeat, and damn neat _joyful_ during the night. John's ground grew, his lawyer, the protesters, fellow activists, the cops, and the security goons all pretty much behaved themselves and nobody got hurt -- which was good because, like I said, the crowd consisted of a lot of kids.

They finally got John loose and into the bucket, putting a hard hat on him at the worked, and then it looks like the bad guys handcuffed him and put him in the bottom of the bucket. Firemen or tree climbers were left in the tree to start removing the remains of the platform, removing the American flag amidst screams of outrage.

As John was being brought to the ground the two women who had rushed past the fence gate and were being held on the ground by the cops got up and started tugging away from the cops toward John. They had been on the ground singing during all of this, it looked like. The cops held them for a while and then let them go to the cheers and screaming of the crowd. I couldn't see where they ended up but since John's bucket had almost reached the ground about half of us at the far fence turned around and started running toward the road block since that would be the direction the cops would take him.

At the main barricades once again the media got lit up and stands ups started rolling for live coverage. The cops brought John -- without handcuffs -- up to the fence gate and after the crows stopped cheering he thanked everybody for coming out and said that the fight to save Old Glory isn't over yet, that the battle in the courts had just begun.

There was a press of media trying to get interviews with John but I decided it was time to leave. It was around 11:15 p.m. or so and the whole place was locked up with cars and more and more people _still_ arriving on foot from cars parked a long way down Pico Canyon. We walked back to the Jeep and waited for a chance to pull out to leave, watching more and more people arriving rather late.

When I got home past midnight, I made tofu tacos and then wrote this up.

What else went on? My sons and I walked around asking people if they were Pagans or Wiccans and we met quite a few from a variety of traditions but most people were Christians and Jewish who had every day work jobs as store clerks, car mechanics, school teachers, tax accountants, and, well, just everything. Many where High School or College students.

It looked to me that most were parents who had brought their kids to allow them to see first hand something important. A lesson not about extremist environmentalists but lessons about speaking up in the face of an Ugly, exercising Democracy and one's Bill of Rights, and showing their kids that the peaceful joining with others to express opinions is the right way to do things in America. The lesson isn't complete, though, since what Americans find is that money is what decides who's right and who's wrong in America.

The will of the people damn near always takes a back seat to the voice of money in this country and maybe when the families get home, in the morning they'll tell their children that what they did means more to their generation than they might know today; that in coming years they'll rage against the political machines which threaten to turn America into one big wasteland of a city where ancient trees no longer live and the quality of life makes living a nightmare.

At the fence I looked up at a very small girl riding on top of her father's shoulders as she watched the fire engine's ladder working its way to retrieve John from the tree and I wondered what her little eyes was seeing; what she was thinking about what she was seeing. Would she remember and would her father explain the _meaning_ of what tree sitting, ecology, and Democratic protesting is all about?

A number of people we talked with were in the construction industry and had been involved in projects that had taken out trees just like Old Glory. A guy I talked with said, "I hope nobody here find out I'm in residential home construction" so I asked why he was telling me about it then. }:-} He said something like, "Well, I've some times felt guilty when trees have to come down and felt I had to confess to somebody."

Another guy I talked with was an anti-war protester from the 1970's and he also expressed his amazement at the _difference_ in these Old Glory protests compared to those of his past protests. The behavior of the cops probably made all the difference since in the past when protesters yelled their slogans, the cops took it personally and were offended, prompting violent responses to such speech. Here we had only a couple of young kids -- High School idiots -- that were yelling anti-cop slogans, the same kids holding up "Burn the tree" signs and trying to pretend they were someone special. And the extremist kook I mentioned wasn't talking loud enough for the cops to hear otherwise I expect -- and would hope -- that the cops would have pulled him out and detained him for trying to egg people on to stupidity.


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