by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
The San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (S.A.M.E.) held its second annual fundraiser Friday, December 9 at the Bamboo Lounge sushi bar in Hillcrest, with a full program of entertainers and a short speech by Michelle “Jersey” Deutsch of Canvass for a Cause and Occupy San Diego. Deutsch was arrested and sprayed with chemical Mace in Civic Center Plaza by San Diego police on October 14, a week after Occupy San Diego started occupying the plaza, and S.A.M.E. decided to give half the fundraiser’s proceeds to Deutsch to pay for her medical bills from the attack.
The other half went to the defense fund for the Equality 9, nine S.A.M.E. members and supporters who were arrested at the San Diego County Clerk’s office August 19, 2010 to protest the county’s continued refusal to give same-sex couples marriage licenses despite a federal judge’s ruling that Proposition 8, which banned legal recognition of same-sex marriages in California, is unconstitutional.
“LGBT [Queer] grassroots groups like Canvass for a Cause and S.A.M.E. should not be overshadowed by $40 million corporate-sponsored campaigns, but we are,” Deutsch told the people who attended the fundraiser. “In 38 states Transgender people can still be fired from their jobs for being Trans, and in 29 states Gay people can be fired from their jobs for being Gay. … We don’t have marriage rights in California. In several states across the country, we don’t have adoption rights and hospital visitation rights. … As individuals, we’re denied housing, employment benefits, employment in general. This is a summary of the reasons why groups like Canvass for a Cause and S.A.M.E. need to be involved in the Occupation.”
Deutsch faulted not only anti-Queer groups but less radical Queer organizations who are themselves funded by major corporations. “We don’t have $10,000 coming from Target,” she said. “In fact, we’re trying to sue them. So we do want to protest down there [at Civic Center Plaza and wherever else Occupy stages demonstrations]. We are protesting down there. We cannot depend on a lot of the groups that fought with us [against] Prop. 8, because a lot of those groups are corporate-sponsored.”
According to Deutsch, the incident that led the police to attack her began when she and her friends at Occupy, including S.A.M.E. president Cecile Veillard (one of the Equality 9), witnessed police attacking other Occupiers in an attempt to clear out the tents members of Occupy had set up in the plaza. “We were peacefully protesting,” she said. “I could look to my left and right and see people’s arms being twisted … [The police] were kicking people in the groins and grabbing people by the backs of their hands, and pulling people to the ground so they could choke them.”
Deutsch said that there were news cameras from two local TV stations, the NBC and Fox affiliates, and therefore a lot of the police assaults on Occupiers took place low to the ground so the cameras couldn’t photograph them. So she started yelling “Brutality!” at the camera operators, trying to get their attention so they would photograph what she was seeing. “I saw my friends getting the crap beat out of them next to me,” Deutsch said. “And there’s nothing you can do. You can’t fight back against the police. None of us did that. None of us put our arms up against them.”
According to Deutsch, the police Maced her to shut her up and keep her from directing the camera operators toward the assaults on her friends. “I was Maced really close to my face, like within three inches of my face, for a good five seconds at least,” she recalled. “It was so close to my face that you really can’t catch it on camera, because the officer was bigger than me.” After the attack, she said, “I was literally blinded for about two hours. I was laying on the ground, everybody else was still protesting, and I couldn’t see anything.”
Deutsch said she returned home a few hours later, only she still felt symptoms from being Maced — complicated by her chronic asthma, since the Mace had triggered an asthma attack. “I woke up in the middle of the night with a bloody nose,” she said. Her partner Lauren and Megan, a nurse who lives next door, convinced Deutsch to go to the emergency room at Scripps Hospital — where her ordeal continued.
The doctors and nurses at Scripps, Deutsch said, “were being really nice and treating me really well until they said, ‘What do you mean, you got Maced?’ The second they heard I had been Maced by the police, they were not very helpful. It really turned around how the doctors and nurses were treating me, to the point where we called our neighbor, nurse Megan, and we said, ‘What should we do? They’re not treating me right. What should they actually be doing?’ And she helped us tell them what I needed.”
Local singer-songwriter Joshua Napier performed one of his intense, powerful sets, including the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and several of his politically themed originals. The program also featured the debut performance by the San Diego People’s Revolutionary Choir, which included three members of the Equality 9 — Cecile Veillard, Sean Bohac and Chuck Stemke — singing classic working people’s songs, including one called “We’re Bound for San Diego” that comes from the 1912 Free Speech Fight. This was a year-long action staged by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the radical anarchist union nicknamed the “Wobblies,” who set up soapboxes in San Diego’s traditional free speech zone at Fifth and E Streets downtown and were met with police-sanctioned violence and a city ordinance prohibiting free speech in the area.
Set to the melody of “The Wearing of the Green” — itself an old song of the Irish revolutionary struggle against British colonialism — “We’re Bound for San Diego” was published by the IWW and used as a recruiting tool to bring members and supporters to San Diego. Those who attempted to answer the call were met by vigilante groups on the outskirts of town, where they were beaten and sometimes killed. In the context of the S.A.M.E. event, the last line of the song — “We’ll whip old San Diego if it takes 100 years” (“if it takes us 20 years” in the original published lyric) — seemed almost unbearably ironic given the way the police had treated Deutsch and other Occupy protesters.