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Consequences of Protest: Suspension

Tuesday April 01, 2003

I’m a technology reporter and columnist for the San Francisco 

Chronicle. Or at least I was until last Wednesday, when I was 

suspended, without pay, for getting arrested in peaceful 

civil disobedience against the war. 

The offense the Chronicle is charging me with is falsifying my time card, but this is a bogus, 

after-the-fact cover for an act of political retaliation and an 

attempt to intimidate other employees. The truth is that the 

paper’s senior editors ordered my column pulled from the paper before I had even filled out the time card. Not because of any objections to the column’s contents (it was about spam, and they hadn’t even read 

it), but simply because I had been arrested the day before, just as I had previously informed my supervisors I would be. 

Here’s the sequence of events: On March 14 I applied for a 

month’s leave of absence from my job so I could devote myself to anti-war work. That request went to the paper’s top editorial honchos, editor Phil Bronstein and managing editor Robert Rosenthal. And though I heard nothing from them about it - still haven’t - I was informed indirectly that they had “concerns.” On Wednesday, March 19, after the bombing of Baghdad began and I got home from a long protest march in the rain, I e-mailed my immediate supervisors informing them that I planned to get arrested the following morning and wouldn’t be in to work until I got out of jail. 

Early the next morning, my wife, my daughter and I joined thousands of others protesting the war in San Francisco’s Financial District. We helped block the intersection of Market and Sansome streets, in front of Citicorp and the British Consulate. When the police ordered us to leave we sat down, and a little after 8 a.m. they hauled us off. We were kept in jail until around 10 p.m. that night and then released, after being cited 

for being a pedestrian in a road (an infraction) and refusing an order to move (a misdemeanor). 

I returned to work the next day and finished my column. Late in the day I filled out my time card for that week. For the day I spent in jail, I took a sick day. I did so because I was sick - heartsick over the beginning of the war, nauseated by the lies and the arrogance and the stupidity that led to it, and deeply depressed by the death and destruction it would bring. 

Ironically, on the day I was suspended the Chronicle had a front-page article clearly explaining the ailment I was suffering from. It ran under the headline “The Home Front: Battles with depression, stress are 

taking their toll,” by health writer Ulysses Torassa. 

Nevertheless, claiming sick pay for the day wasn’t a point of 

principle for me. My supervisor knew exactly why I was out of work that day. If he had objected to the sick-day claim (even though the Chronicle does not, as far as I can tell, have a formal definition of what qualifies as sickness) before signing the time card, I would cheerfully have changed it to make the day a personal day, a vacation day or simply an unpaid day. 

On Monday, March 24, another supervisor informed me that I could not write anything for the paper until further notice. 

On March 26, I was called to a meeting with Rosenthal and Cynthia Burks, vice president of human resources. A representative from my union, the Northern California Newspaper Guild, accompanied me. Burks asked me to explain what I did last Thursday and why I took a sick day. After I had done so, she informed me that I would be suspended, without pay, to give the paper time to “investigate” my “falsification” of the time card. She originally did not put a time limit on the suspension, but when my guild representative asked, Burks said it would be for at least two weeks. 

Like the majority of the peo 

ple of the world, I consider this 

war immoral, illegal and unnecessary. Whatever the outcome, it’s sure to compound the suffering of the Iraqis, to waste American lives and resources, to turn fair-minded people the world over against us, and to increase the risk of terrorist attack. Under these circumstances, the civil disobedience I took part in last Thursday was an act of conscience - I’d act the same way if I had it to do over. I’m only sorry that the Chronicle feels it has to retaliate against me, on a patently ridiculous technicality, for demonstrating my opinion on the most important issue of the day. 

Henry Norr is a Berkeley resident.