The Citizens Observation Group was the outcome of a community meeting called anonymously by a community member in response to the out-of-control, dangerous and probably illegal activities of the Campaign Against Marijuana (can’t remember what the P was, Production?), abbreviated CAMP. The abbreviation was a play on the name of the then-CA Attorney General, last name Van de Camp. Can’t remember his first name.
Anonymous flyers were circulated in the community announcing a meeting at Beginnings to discuss the situation. Many people showed up at the meeting. There was no agenda, but, as often happens in the Land of Shum, spontaneous leaders appeared and, after a period of general bellyaching and storytelling, we broke into workgroups. I immediately joined the workgroup discussing legal concrete actions that could be taken. I have no recollection what the other groups were.
After an hour or two of brainstorming, we came up with the idea of a group of volunteers, trained in non-violence and taking declarations, who would follow CAMP teams around on public roads and private lands where invited, videotape their activities, take declarations from witnesses to their activities and provide these materials to the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, a group of lawyers working on civil rights issues presented by CAMP. I am going to take credit for naming the group, though another COGer has done that for years. This male person, leading the discussion in the group, called for ideas for a name. I yelled, “we are citizen observers.” I had in mind the “fair witnesses” described by sci fi writer Robert Heinlein in his book The Sirens of Titan. These were members of a society on a far planet who were trained from birth to do nothing but observe what was happening around them, without personal biases, so that there would always be good witnesses in any crime or dispute.
The group leader, said great, let’s turn that into a name with a good acronym, how about Citizens Observation Group. That was unanimously accepted, we came up with a motto, “Observe, Record and Report” and COG was born. There followed in subsequent days, many workshops in non-violent procedure, many run by members of the improvisational drama group Pure Shmint, who used improvisational techniques and actual scenes so that everyone had a chance to act out the kinds of scenes that might occur. Community members were urged to call particular numbers, including CLMP, anytime CAMP teams appeared in their neighborhood. COG members would then be contacted to form teams of preferably three, to go to that area and document events. If more than one area was being visited by CAMP, more than one COG team would be sent out.
General COG meetings were held frequently during CAMP season to compare notes, refine techniques, decide policies, etc. These were all held following consensus procedure and there were non-CAMP situations in which COG teams were used, including efforts by state entities to spray ALAR, a spray with environmental questions attached to it, on private orchards to eradicate the apple maggot. Aided by the documentation of civil rights violations on the part of CAMP, CLMP was able to obtain legal limitations on their activities, including the establishment of a 500 ft “bubble” around homes and curtilages. If CAMP helicopters or ground teams entered this 500 ft area without a search warrant or probable cause, they would be in violation of, I believe it was an injunction. (for legal details, contact CLMP).
In response to detractors who feel that COG was overkill, I would point out that before COG, helicopter pilots were buzzing schoolchildren getting off the school bus, deliberately buzzing livestock and running them into fences where some were injured, entering and searching houses at gunpoint without search warrants and sometimes holding small children and pregnant women at gunpoint for hours for no apparent reason other than to terrorize them. The perception was widespread that CAMP was merely a thinly disguised attack on back-to-the-landers.
Above, the armband worn by COG members in an effort to clearly identify themselves to CAMP as such. COG representatives met with representatives of the Humboldt County Sheriff and with the sheriff himself, on occasion, to explain what we were doing and keep lines of communication open. One of the complaints made by CAMP, through these county reps, was that if growers in the area were to try to get away from CAMP teams they might meet on the road by claiming to be COGers, they would have no way of knowing it. The armbands and, later, T-shirts, were a response to that complaint. In fact, we may have anticipated the complaint with the armbands, I’m not sure.