Santa Ana city council chambers rang first with Christmas carols, then with urgent cries calling for a ceasefire at Tuesday’s meeting. The protests caused officials to stop the meeting and kick out members of the public only eight minutes after it began.
“When a meeting’s decorum cannot be restored so that the business portion of that meeting can be conducted, the city has a right to clear the room,” said Santa Ana City Attorney Sonia R. Carvahlo, citing a provision of the California Brown Act.
The city’s stance on Palestine and Israel wasn’t on the agenda Tuesday, but dozens of protestors and community activists started chanting “Ceasefire now!” early on, cutting off a presentation from Santa Ana Parks and Recreation Director Hawk Scott.
The police stood as a border between the council and the public while Mayor Valeria Amezcua called a recess and several councilmembers left the dais. Carvahlo returned and ordered the chambers to be cleared of all members of the public.
Outside, small white body bags with red splattered names lined City Hall steps.
“At this point, the only urgency that this city and every city in the United States should be discussing is a ceasefire,” said Walaa Radwan, a community activist who set up the dozens of small white body bags earlier that afternoon.
Members of the media were invited back after the meeting resumed at 6:08 p.m. Public comments were also called off.
The action comes two weeks after the council declined to vote on two separate resolutions concerning the city’s stance on Palestine and Israel, where over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed and 2 million have been displaced in Gaza.
City Councilmembers Johnathan Ryan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez proposed one that called for a ceasefire. Councilmembers Thai Viet Phan and Jessie Lopez would only support their separate resolution, which called for peace in Palestine and Israel but failed to call for a ceasefire.
The split on the council was evident in councilmember’s comments Tuesday.
“I am really disappointed that we had to clear the gallery tonight due to behavior that prevented this city from carrying out its business,” said Phan during closing comments, echoing similar statements from Amezcua and Bacerra. “Residents of this city did not have the ability to celebrate because some people wanted to interrupt and prevent that from going forward.”
Councilmembers Hernandez, Vazquez and Lopez did not participate in the vote to remove the public from council chambers and expressed support for the right to protest.
During the recess, Hernandez walked down and spoke to the dozens protesting to a near-empty dais.
“I’m sorry that you guys are not being listened to. I want you guys to know that we support your First Amendment rights,” said Hernandez. “I support the people of Palestine, I support a ceasefire. We still have business to conduct.”
On the agenda Tuesday night was a presentation by the Parks and Recreation director, honoring Mater Dei High School’s sports teams and a new recipient of the city’s “Good Neighbor Award.”
“This is not a day to celebrate anything!” cried Radwan, whose calls failed to reach council members Phan, Bacerra, Penaloza and Mayor Amezcua who had left their seats.
While Zoom attendees were left in the dark, Hernandez directed the remaining public to exit the chambers in order. Together, the crowd exited in collective song, chanting, “No justice, no peace!”
Ongoing cries could be heard from outside the hall as protests continued growing in urgency and frustration. The air was colored with waving Palestinian flags and collective chants. Protesters held the small body bags to the doors after being shut out—prompting police to bring out tactical face shields and batons behind the closed doors.
“We wanted to give them a visual of what the murdered children in Palestine are looking like,” said Radwan. “I want them to open their hearts and eyes and see the truth, reality and sadness. See the conditions that they have been living under for 75 years.”
Ayah Shiadeah was one of the community activists who spoke on the ongoing genocide in Palestine on the city hall steps prior to the meeting at 3:30 p.m. They are a Program Manager with the Arab American Civic Council and are of Mexican and Palestinian descent.
“Right now, all our focus is on Palestine, we’ve been mobilizing to come out to representatives and make our voices heard and be seen that we are in the community,” said Shiadeah. “Even though these are international matters, they affect us since we are from different countries.”
Other protestors pointed to Santa Ana’s long-standing support for the Palestinian struggle. Alex Odeh, a Palestinian American activist, was assassinated when the 17th Street office of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was bombed in 1985. A bronze statue of him holding a book in one hand and a dove in the other sits outside the Santa Ana Library.
“Santa Ana has a long history of standing up for social justice,” said action organizer Juliana Musheyev as chants echoed outside city hall doors. “[The council] cannot continue this moral cowardice and if you do continue, we are not gonna let you ignore us.”