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Summer of Her Discontent

Protest: Activist jailed in L.A. is home after taking a stand on everything from trade to police brutality.


THOUSAND OAKS — The day after Kristen Schroer was released from jail, one of hundreds of protesters arrested during the Democratic National Convention, she was back at work, whipping up mochas and double lattes.

So goes the political education of an 18-year-old neophyte activist.

A graduate of Thousand Oaks High School, Schroer spent the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at UC Davis pouring coffee, unionizing hotel workers and marching through the streets of Los Angeles, denouncing everything from world trade to police brutality.

It wasn't like Berkeley of the 1960s, where college students mobilized around large-scale demonstrations against the Vietnam War. It wasn't Kent State, where the National Guard's 1970 killing of anti-war protesters stunned a nation.

But it was still an important moment in time, an opportunity for Schroer to say which side she was on and think long and hard about how far she is willing to go for a political cause.

"We're not trying to re-create the 1960s, our protest is something different," said Schroer, now back at her parents' Thousand Oaks home and awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges of failing to disperse and resisting arrest.

"It would take awhile before I'd do it again," she said. "But I guess it's still a possibility."

Schroer was among 37 protesters arrested during a sit-in at the Los Angeles Police Department's Rampart station, the center of an ongoing corruption scandal.

With a defiant fist in the air and thumping helicopters overhead, Schroer refused to budge when police offered to let her and other protesters walk away.

Three officers then grabbed her hands, swung them around her back and slid on white, plastic restraints before carrying her into the station.

She looked nervously back at the crowd before disappearing inside, the start of a four-day stretch at the Twin Towers Jail in downtown Los Angeles.

That image was splashed across the front of the morning newspaper. And it was through that photo that Schroer's parents learned of their daughter's arrest.

Susan Schroer said she was not entirely surprised. She said her daughter had talked about the possibility of taking part in civil disobedience.

And while she is not sure how her daughter got to be so politically active, she said she respects her daughter's willingness to speak out on behalf of the disenfranchised.

Still, Susan Schroer said, she and her husband, Ernest, couldn't help but worry when their oldest child landed behind bars.

"She's legally an adult, but to us she's a kid," she said. "It's our little girl from Thousand Oaks in an L.A. County jail."

Their little girl has spent the summer growing up.

Between shifts at the Thousand Oaks coffeehouse, Bent On Coffee, Schroer interned with the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, where she helped with efforts to organize workers at a Santa Monica hotel.

When the convention--and thousands of protesters--came to town, she joined union friends for a week of political activism.

First, Schroer was off to the Shadow Convention. Then she marched with other protesters against world trade. Finally, she headed to the Rampart station and a face-off with police.

"It doesn't make sense to me when people say, 'I don't have to be concerned about police brutality because I'm not a target of it,' " she said. "I knew I had to take some responsibility to protest against it because I can."

Schroer had received training in civil disobedience techniques during her time with the union, so she was prepared when the Rampart protest organizers told her and other demonstrators the march and sit-in would very likely end in arrests.

But Schroer said she was among the rank-and-file demonstrators who were not told protest organizers had worked with the LAPD to orchestrate and choreograph details of the protest. Police officials even went as far as suggesting which crimes would make for simple, uneventful arrests.

Protest leaders met with police before the demonstration to avoid violent civil disobedience, said Loren Finkelstein, a 25-year-old Los Angeles resident who helped organize the march.

Finkelstein said demonstrators were broken into small groups, and the representatives of each were told about the advance planning with police.

"But a representative may not have shared the information about the orchestration with the group," she said. "So, it might be that a person wasn't told that information."

Wendy Raymond, another Thousand Oaks resident who participated in the march, said she also was not told about the plan. But the 17-year-old Thousand Oaks High School student said she sensed it at the time, and opted out of being arrested.

"That's why I left, because it didn't feel right," she said.

Schroer also sensed the event was choreographed. But she said she didn't feel bad that she did not know for sure.

"It's not like people were keeping secrets," she said. "I'm sure it was just a simple omission."

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