"In Our Hands is Placed a Power": Victory Against a Racist Business in Santa Monica

- by Julia Wallace

Right before a planning committee meeting, Progressive Alliance, a socialist group based in Santa Monica, had its weekly meeting. One of the members said he parked in front of a store which had signs in its windows reading, "Palestinians are Pigs, murderous scum Pigs," and called Arabs "Rag head terrorist pigs". We were naive enough to think that a racist bigot would not dare poke their heads out in Santa Monica. After the meeting we walked to the store (All Phone Wholesale, 2919 Pico Blvd, http://www.allphone.com/) and saw that it was true. This started our campaign against All Phone Wholesale.

Less than two weeks later we presented the idea of a protest to a mass meeting at Santa Monica college. We decided to have a day-time protest on September 23rd, first marching through the campus, and then to the store. We also found out that the store owner, Bunnie Meyer, was doing business with Samsung, so we assigned someone to write them a letter saying we would also protest them if they continued to do business with All Phone Wholesale. We also contacted such groups as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Imam Faith Center, Women in Black, and the National Lawyers Guild, among others. We received a good response from them, and we also posted an announcement on indymedia.com.

On the day of the protest, we started with 30 people, but by the time we marched around the campus that number grew to about 50. We marched down Pico Boulevard, and when we got to the store there was a crowd of people There to greet us from Women in Black, the National Lawyers Guild, and (of course) the Santa Monica Police Department. All in all, there were roughly 70 protesters there.

We had several people speak, and I led some chants. Bunnie Meyer, the owner, began to scream at us with her bullhorn, but since she was inside of the building, screaming through the window, we couldn't understand what she was saying. We beckoned her to come outside, only to be confronted with a very strange, mentally unstable person. I remember her calling us "Hamas suicide bombers". She retired back inside. Only to later scream at us through the window again. Someone suggested we listen to her. But her signs said more than enough!

After 45 minutes we marched back to Santa Monica College. I later found out from one of our National Lawyers Guild Legal Observers that Meyer told a police officer, "If one of them [protesters] comes into my store I will shoot them".

In the end City Beat carried an article on the protest: http://www.lacitybeat.com/article.php?id=1288&IssueNum;=70. Besides that not much press.

On our way back to the college we saw some construction workers working on the street. They were sympathetic and told us, "The real person you should go after is the Lares family-- they own that whole block". Luckily, one of our protestors, Alice Wallace, is a real estate agent. She was able to confirm that the Lares family, a Mexican family which has been on that corner since 1968, owns the property All Phone Wholesale was located on. (http://www.laresrestaurant.com/.) She gave us their information including their home address.

After two months we had not heard anything from Samsung, and it seemed that Bunnie Meyer would not take down her signs. We talked with Jeremy Prickett, a member of Labors Militant Voice, a socialist organization myself and others belong to http://www.laborsmilitantvoice.com/, and he suggested that we expose the landlord to the Santa Monica community. We planned another protest/march similar to the one in September, only this time we would publicize the fact that Lares was doing business with a racist. We had decided to give them a chance by politely presenting a letter to them about Bunnie Meyer and her signs. They ignored our warning.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council held a press conference in front of the store as well. They were able to get mass-based groups such as the Anti-Defamation League to support us and condemn Meyer. They were also able to get network television stations to cover the issue. None of these, however, fazed Bunnie Meyer.

The next protest was midday, and we managed to gather up around 40 people from Santa Monica College again to march to the restaurant. We started chanting and telling the customers to come out of the store. The manager came out and we asked him what he thought about the situation. He said Bunnie Meyer's "pays her rent on time". We asked him if he knew that Meyer had a sign which said, "Mexicans are a bunch of Third World circus freaks" (the manager is Mexican). He reminded us that "she pays her rent on time" and that, "their hands are tied". We walked to All Phone and had a demonstration there. We passed the bullhorn to anyone who wanted to speak. A man talked about how the signs hit close to home for him.

Bunnie Meyer mentioned in the CityBeat article that she is a member of the Jewish Defense League. This organization tried to burn down a Mosque in 2001. The man was in the mosque when the bomb was found. We also had Shireen from the Muslim Public Affairs council speak about the issue.

Unlike the previous protest, Bunnie Meyer did not come out of her hole. We called her cell phone (the number is located on the website), and she told us that the police advised her not to come out(!). We returned to Lares restaurant and the daughter of the owners tried to sneak behind the protest through an alleyway-- maybe she only wanted to talk to one of us privately. Those of us who saw her called her out. She started telling us that "we need to go back to school and study the law". We got her to agree that she did not like the signs and then we talked her into saying that Lares would not uphold the lease. We learned then that Lares was a more effective target than All Phone Wholesale, because Meyer's customers probably placed orders over the phone rather than visiting the store, but the Lares restaurant was dependent on a loyal stream of customers.

A week-and-a-half after that, we had a Friday night protest in front of Lares restaurant. The restaurant was almost full. We were a crowd about 20 Strong-- some protesters came when they heard an announcement about the demonstration on Pacifica radio, KPFK. Josh Saxe led the protest, chanting that the restaurant is racist for not criticizing Meyer, exposing the Lares family to their customers. Telemundo and KTLA 5 were there interviewing people.

With all the press and shouting we were able to turn customers away and make people actually leave the restaurant. The landlord himself, Jessie Lares came out to ask us nicely to leave. He was so polite and friendly! He tried to get our sympathy, but the crowd would not back down. He is the same person who blew us off when we politely presented the letter! Then his wife came outside with less congeniality. We grew even louder. Some big guys who were associated with the Lares clan confronted us at the door. They tried to intimidate us and threatened violence. We refused to leave.

After two hours of chanting outside of Lares, we reconvened at the 99 cent store on the corner. A group was selected which would meet with the landlord and try to pressure him to pressure Meyer. Although legally we could not force Bunnie to take down the signs, we made it clear to the landlord that we would not stop until Meyer gave in. We also planned another committee meeting for that following Monday to decide what to do next. We had the Lares home address and were prepared to make a "house call" if necessary.

An hour before the Monday, meeting we learned that Bunnie Meyer removed almost all of her signs because of pressure from the landlord ("We stand with Israel" is still there.) She wrote a letter apologizing to the landlord for getting him involved. She also wrote that when we "Palestinian pigs are dancing in the streets [because of the news] that she hopes we are hit with a Humvee so we can met 70 virgins in heaven". After letting us read the letter, the landlord said we had crucified him (?!), that he did nothing wrong, and that he didn't agree with the store signs either. Bunnie also wrote that she would be relocating to San Diego, where her life would be less stressful. (If anyone reading this is located in San Diego, here is a possible target.)

None of us have illusions that we have changed the nature of racism or halted in any way the slimy undercurrent of racism in our society. To end racism would mean an end to the economic and political system we are all subjected to-- capitalism. Today more than ever the government has taken a two pronged attack on people in America in terms of race. It uses the fear of unemployment to ferment hatred against Latinos and conjures up hatred against Arabs and Muslims. With these newly found victims of bigotry, the government has taken away civil liberties and saturated corporations with profit while we are expected to scramble amongst ourselves for whatever may be left. Bunnie Meyer has only bought into the scheme a little more.

What I learned from all this, and what I think many other people saw in this campaign, is the power of mobilization. Legally, we did not have a case to make Bunnie Meyer take down her signs down. Even if we did, the procedure would have taken years, killing our momentum. If we started a letter writing campaign, our work would have ended up in a garbage cans of Samsung and Lares. If we had a series of forums on the issue at Santa Monica College, it would have "raised awareness", but the signs on the store would be still be there, and Bunnie Meyer would feel vindicated instead of "stressed".

None of us had been involved in a community based campaign before. The leaders of the protest ranged from committed socialists who only had experience on college campuses, to people whose only other political experience were the latest anti-war protests. We were inexperienced and had few resources-- but we won! The words "In our hands is place a power" are from a song called "Solidarity Forever". Because of the All Phone campaign, many of us were able to see the power that we are capable of having when we really act. If you get something from this article, I hope it is that direct action works and you only need to take power into your own hands to find out.

(Progressive Alliance is now organizing with the workers of Glatt Market, who just lost their livelihoods when the store the worked at burned down. We are demanding back wages for the hours they worked, but were paid less than minimum wage for. We are also demanding replacement jobs and back pay for the overtime they never received.)

Julia Wallace, a 23 years old UCLA student, has been a political activist and socialist for 6 years. Among her many activities and affiliations are LASSO( LA strikers solidarity organization ) which used its resourses to support the grocery worker strike in Los Angeles, Speak Out, a socialist organization which mainly did work on the UCLA campus. She can be reached at love_supreme@excite.com.
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