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Tianna Arata sits down with New Times prior to first court hearing 

Hundreds of people showed up at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse on Sept. 3 to support local activist and protest leader Tianna Arata during her first virtual court appearance. On Sept. 2, SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow charged her with 13 misdemeanors—including unlawful assembly, disturbing the peace, six counts of obstruction of a thoroughfare, and five counts of false imprisonment.

click to enlarge HEARINGS BEGIN Hundreds of supporters for Tianna Arata and Elias Bautista gathered in front of the San Luis Obispo Courthouse to listen to their cases' first virtual hearings. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • HEARINGS BEGIN Hundreds of supporters for Tianna Arata and Elias Bautista gathered in front of the San Luis Obispo Courthouse to listen to their cases' first virtual hearings.

Supporters also came for Elias Bautista, charged with two misdemeanor counts of resisting, obstructing, or delaying a peace officer and one felony count of resisting an executive officer by force or violence.

Charges against both are related to a July 21 protest that moved onto Highway 101, effectively stopping traffic, and had two separate incidents with vehicles. Tianna entered a no plea deal at her hearing and requested to move her arraignment to Sept. 17 so her defense attorney, Patrick Fisher, could have more time to file motions in the case. Bautista pleaded not guilty to his charges and is due back in court for a pre-preliminary hearing Sept. 14.

A day before her arraignment, Tianna told New Times she was feeling nervous and didn't know what to expect because it was the first time she'd ever had to deal with the court system. Sitting in her lawyer's office with her mother, Michelle Arata, at her side and a mask on, Arata said that she doesn't like to think about the past almost two months since her arrest.

"I don't even personally like to think about how I'm feeling, because I'm not functional when I really actually embrace how I'm feeling emotionally," she said.

Tianna, a 20-year-old Cuesta College graduate, just started virtual classes at her new university. Tianna is more than an activist. She's an athlete, an occasional model, a creative, and a student who aspires to double major in communications and ethnic studies. She wouldn't disclose where she's continuing her higher education for safety reasons.

It's the same reason Tianna said she and her mother no longer live in San Luis Obispo.

"I block about 10 people a day on Instagram just because they send me outrageous comments. All the information they say to me is false, but they've just had a narrative pushed at them," she said.

Fisher said the women have received egregious and dangerous messages from the public in the last few months. As a result, the two have stayed in hotels and at the homes of family members elsewhere while they awaited court proceedings.

"The goal was to chase us out of town, and that's exactly what happened. All the false information that's so dangerous, criminalizing, and dehumanizing," Michelle said. "We're just humans fighting for human rights, but instead people are taking a fine-tooth comb to everything in our life to find anything to make us not worthy of any sort of sustainable life."

Even though the year didn't turn out the way Tianna had envisioned it would, she said the movement and her arrest have only strengthened her resolve to continue her activism.

"Nobody should ever have to deal with this, nobody should ever have to deal with having this looming over their head, numerous felony charges for protesting and for standing up against injustices that we face," she said.

Fisher said if DA Dow wants to continue to perpetrate injustice against Tianna, it's only going to give her more of a platform.

"I get the sense that this whole arrest has really galvanized the local movement and made it stronger," he said. Δ

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