Protesters took over the former Coast Commercial Bank building at 75 River Street in the spirit of the Occupy movement on Wednesday.
At about 6:30 p.m., Santa Cruz police in riot gear tried to enter the building. They hit protesters with batons in an attempt to control the crowd. Demonstrators responded by barricading the entrance with tables and chairs already inside.
At its peak, the action had roughly 80 people participating. Though the group stated they are “in solidarity with Occupy Santa Cruz,” they said they are autonomous and separate. Their media liaison Desiree Foster said the building is being put to better use occupied than in recent history.
“This building has been abandoned for three years,” Foster said. “We’re taking it and we’re going to make it into a positive community space instead of having it sit here and be empty.”
The Occupy Wall Street movement began on Sept. 17, when demonstrators began to assemble in New York City’s Liberty Square. The movement quickly spread to cities across the nation and internationally. For more than two months, protesters have been occupying space across the globe in the name of substantial financial and political change.
Foster said she hopes clashes between the police and the protesters are minimal.
“We’re here to be peaceful and not cause problems,” Foster said. “We are aware that being in a building is a problem for some people.”
Community members from all walks of life were drawn to the area by outdoor music, police cars and dozens of people milling about. Local first-year law student Ted Fairbanks said he was attracted by the cause.
“I am a concerned citizen who happened to walk by and see what was going on,” he said. “I sympathize with these people.”
Santa Cruz city council member Katherine Biers stopped by as well.
“I happened to drive by, but I saw what was going on,” she said. “I had to see it.”
Media liaison Foster said the group is optimistic about having a long stay in the building.
“We hope to be here through the winter,” Foster said. “Not only is this warm, it’s a place to sleep and it has electricity. It is a safe haven almost, assuming things go okay.”