March 26, 2003
It's funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
The days S.F. stood
By Bay Guardian staff
AT 11 A .m. Thursday, March 20, I found myself on the corner of Market and Beale Streets, looking at the startling emptiness of the Financial District. There were no cars on the streets, few pedestrians, almost nobody in the restaurants or shops. Other than a couple of folks getting their nails done at a salon called Diva International, it was as if downtown San Francisco had suddenly closed for business.
As I looked around, I realized that the most ambitious, best-organized and yet most wonderfully anarchic and free-flowing demonstrations I'd ever seen had done exactly what organizers set out to do. The core of the city was shut down. It was No Business As Usual in San Francisco.
A few blocks up, outside the San Francisco Chronicle offices at Fifth and Mission Streets, the intersection was completely blocked. A dozen bicyclists were riding around in circles. Everyone was smiling, laughing, singing in the sunshine. Nobody was in charge, nothing was scripted, there were no parade routes or maps and yet the marchers, almost as if by magic, were going where they needed to be, joining other groups and splitting off, making sure very little traffic made it through the key downtown intersections.
At Market and Beale, at Fifth and Mission, at Taylor and Golden Gate all up and down the busiest traffic grid in northern California nobody was going anywhere, and there were no police on the scene.
Drivers and passengers in long lines of cars honked their horns and shouted out windows in support and encouragement. Here and there someone would demand the protesters move ("I've got places to go!"), but overall, there was less road rage than you'd see after a typical Giants game. Almost everyone seemed to get it: the United States was bombing Baghdad, killing children, mounting a war of aggression that was turning this country into a global outlaw and opposing that war was more important than getting to work on time or making a dentist appointment.
It was a great moment in San Francisco history, one of those unexpected instants when you can feel the sun and the cool air and the glorious mess of organic political energy that seems to be bursting all around you, and you realize once again why you live in this crazy city.
As the day wore on, the tension started to show. The cops got hostile and (on a few occasions) violent and so did a few protesters. A lot of people went to jail, not all of them happily. We saw signs that the cops were using a spy van with photos of supposed protest leaders inside. Two of our reporters went to jail. A military recruitment center was torn up, and some windows got broken here and there. The TV cameras found enough angry people who didn't like the disruptions to fill the sound-bite quota on the evening news.
Over the next few days, the examples of police abuse mounted and the local media coverage just got worse and worse. But overall the antiwar protests were a triumph of major proportions and Bay Guardian reporters were all over town following the stories. Here are their reports. (Tim Redmond)
Wednesday, March 19
5:30 p.m., Powell and Market By the time we get to the Powell Street BART station, the people assembled for the rally have taken off down Market, and it's raining. That might be why the march is, for once, moving so fast it's hard to catch up. By the time we do, it's pouring. We pass a garbage can with the slightly cryptic tag "Rome fall and revisit" painted on the side facing the street. Audioslave is playing at the Warfield, and the kids waiting in line outside look like they should be marching instead. We march up Market to Valencia and head into the Mission, our numbers steadily dwindling. At 24th and Mission Streets, the ANSWER folks are waiting on a flatbed truck. In the middle of the speeches, a little after 7 p.m., someone in the crowd yells out that the bombs have begun to fall on Baghdad. People start heading out, many to emergency meetings, others to watch the same sparse facts repeated countless times on CNN. (Lynn Rapoport)
8:30 p.m., 20th and Valencia Following the main march that went from downtown to the Mission, a smaller group of fewer than 100 splinters off to march back. They are slowed at 20th and Valencia Streets by at least 100 officers in full riot gear. The cops march back and forth in formations while those on motorcycles ride in circles in the street. It's all a very strange ritual designed to break up the protest, but the overall affect is simply to slow it down, and to make the police look silly. Hecklers start jeering from the sidewalks: "Why are you still here, coppers? Looking for fajitas?" Several in the crowd commented on the expense of having so many police out after so few protesters. "What a waste of overtime pay," one says. (Rachel Brahinsky)
Thursday, March 20
7:10 a.m., Justin Herman Plaza Groups of black-clad people gather in clusters, listening to civil disobedience instructions from organizers with bullhorns offering advice: watch out for tear gas if you have asthma or wear contact lenses, make sure your children are in safe hands if you plan to get arrested, and stick together. One by one the groups fan out across the city and begin blocking intersections. (Brahinsky)
7:15 a.m., Market and Beale After getting off the California Street cable car at the end of the line, I join a large crowd of protesters headed up Market. When they stop in the middle of the intersection of Market and Beale, defying a police order to disperse, I stay with the protesters to interview them and bear witness. And for that decision, I am soon arrested by police and hauled away. (Read the whole story online at www.sfbg.com/37/25/war_watch_onthebus.html.) (Steven T. Jones)
7:15 a.m., Market and Sansome It's taken about three minutes for two direct action groups to lock down in chains across Market at Sansome and a few hundred feet eastward. Connected by sections of PVC pipe, with an anchor person at each end locked to a pole, the protesters have brought traffic to a halt. Ten minutes later, 50 or so police officers have surrounded the lines, which have thickened as other protesters join them. The Brass Liberation Orchestra makes its first appearance, playing "Down by the Riverside." A group of people in green shirts with the words "legal observer" shows up. Four Muni buses are parked at odd angles, and the police begin to force observers onto the sidewalk. (Rapoport)
7:15 a.m., Market and Sansome On the sidewalk I spot a dark-skinned man with short, wavy black hair wearing black sunglasses, a charcoal gray suit, and a small earpiece. I watch him swiftly take out a pocket knife, cut a cord holding up a red antiwar banner, and then hide the knife and stand there as if nothing has happened. "He just cut down your banner," I tell the activists nearby, as I point the man out. I walk a few yards and take out my camera, but he has disappeared.
A spirited group of young people of color comes down the sidewalk chanting, "Move on! Get out the way!" On their heels: a handful of people with "legal observer" scrawled on their t-shirts in black marker. A couple dozen protesters step off the sidewalk and into the street as a young African American woman raps into a megaphone.
A group of cops runs into the crowd, pushing and lunging with their batons poised. A rowdy gaggle of musicians, the Brass Liberation Orchestra, enters the tussle and de-escalates the confrontation. "Please don't beat us; we got no fajitas," one onlooker shouts, one of many references by protesters to the faijta-induced brawl at the heart of the recent San Francisco Police Department corruption scandal.
More cops form a square in the intersection to prevent protesters from entering the area between the rows of locked-down demonstrators. A fire engine drives up, and firefighters begin sawing through the metal tubing that links the protesters, creating three-foot-high fountains of sparks. The protesters writhe as their arms are stretched out and twisted. As soon as they're sawed loose, police replace the metal tubing with plastic handcuffs and lead them into a makeshift corral of metal barricades where they must wait to be transported to jail. It takes three hours for the firefighters to cut all of the activists loose. (Camille T. Taiara)
7:45 a.m., Market and California About 20 protesters link arms in a circle. Some sing, "All we are saying is give peace a chance." Meanwhile, the cops slowly arrest them, one by one. Around the corner a group blocks off the front doors to Bechtel Corp. on one side of the street, while a tiny band of yoga enthusiasts chants in Sanskrit in the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. courtyard. The Brass Liberation Orchestra marches by. (Brahinsky)
9:10 a.m., Market Street The street is strangely full and empty at the same time. Wendy's has only one customer, and cars are stalled on all of the cross streets. The cops seem to be in over their heads at one intersection it only takes about 10 people to block traffic, and there are no police in sight. At another, a few people block a tractor trailer, effectively shutting down transit for half an hour. (Brahinsky)
9:15 a.m., Powell and Market With no vehicles in sight, the street is covered with a huge birdseed peace sign, and several people draw body outlines in pink chalk. Others knock down news racks. People are literally dancing and singing in the streets, and the police appear to be totally overwhelmed. At the Powell Street cable car turnaround, tourists dumbly wait for the next trolley to leave even though all the way up Powell, bands of protesters are blocking traffic, and have been for at least an hour. (Brahinsky)
9:25 a.m., Stockton and Market More protesters are gathered in the intersection of Stockton and Market, where I spot a row of about 40 cops lined up in front of the Old Navy store. Police order the activists onto the sidewalk, and the protesters begin walking south on Market. As I pass Kearney Street again 15 minutes later, I see the intersection has been cleared. At Post Street, a skateboarder jumps over newspaper racks as workers pick them off the street and hurl them onto the beds of Department of Public Works pickup trucks. (Taiara)
9:27 a.m., confluence of Post, Montgomery, Market, and New Montgomery The print media are taking heavy casualties this morning. Protesters have dragged at least a dozen newspaper boxes out into Market, barricading it on either side of the intersection, and now they're pulling a couple of potted trees into the street.
Hundreds of people many of them wearing bandannas over their faces are milling about in the now car-free road, chanting, laughing, drumming, shouting. "I think this war is insane and ridiculous," says Leslie Waltzen, a well-heeled 57-year-old. One guy is waving a satirical American flag; the stars have been replaced with corporate logos IBM, McDonald's, Nike, etc.
Two Financial District suit-and-tie guys are taking in the chaotic scene. One of them, Karl Spargur, 31, says, "I think it's cool." There are only a handful of cops around. (A.C. Thompson)
10 a.m., Second and Folsom After the first big wave of arrests, the streets are a little emptier as the crowds spread out to see what other intersections look like. At Second and Folsom, people have dragged newspaper stands out into the middle of the street, and the cops are not amused. A police bus carrying arrestees plows through the intersection, rams into one of the newsstands, and keeps going. Minutes later a police van finishes the job, pushing the stands one by one to the side of the road. The crowd disperses, reforms, disperses. As we're walking down Folsom, two men tell us to go fuck up our own city. My girlfriend is carrying a video camera, and I'm carrying a notebook and a ballpoint pen, neither of which seem like choice weapons for urban warfare. A gang of cop cars comes to a screeching halt behind us, and as the officers jump out, we hear one of them yell, "Yee haw!" just like Bo Duke. (Rapoport)
10:22 a.m., Market and Beale In front of 50 Beale St., the headquarters of Bechtel, a company with one of the largest military contracts on record, protesters blockade the entrances in shifts. For more three hours, the police have routinely come by and arrested those linking arms across the doors. "The cops keep removing protesters, but we keep replacing them," says Chris, with his arms linked to Mary. "Some employees tried to bust in, but for the most part I don't think they came to work today. Earlier in the morning the cops were rough, throwing people to the ground, but things are mellow now," Mary says. (Corbett Miller)
10:30 a.m., Union Square Chanting, "Asian, White and Black we will fight back," a group largely composed of youth of color marches up from Market and heads to Chinatown. At the Grant Street gate, the procession stops briefly while organizers lead the crowd in Chinese-language chants. The group stops at a park on Clay Street, and a young woman speaks to a crowd of older Chinese men, who cheer the young people on. The march picks up energy, and people start running after passing a man lighting hay on fire in front of the Transamerica Pyramid. There have been no signs of law enforcement for at least half an hour. (Brahinsky)
10:31 a.m., confluence of Post, Montgomery, Market, and New Montgomery The intersection is still barricaded, but riot cops are massing. A few dozen feet away, at the nearly empty Crocker Galleria shopping emporium, one woman gripes to another, "It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare." Most of the doors in and out of the galleria have been chained shut. (Thompson)
11 a.m., Davis Street On this side street near the Embarcadero, a group of protesters tears apart a U.S. Army recruitment center, kicking at the plate glass windows and yanking photos and posters off the walls and hurling them into the street. No cops in sight, so the people move on. (Brahinsky)
11 a.m., Market Street Downtown looks pretty good, though some might disagree. It doesn't smell like heaven, but I think there are fewer exhaust fumes in the air. Standing in the middle of an intersection, you can see empty streets, other intersections full of protesters and cops. An hour ago someone said the SFPD had issued a statement directing the public to avoid downtown. (Rapoport)
Noon, Golden Gate Avenue Over at the Federal Building, the ground is covered with puddles of puke the work of those who took the idea of calling in sick when the bombs dropped quite literally. Later we learn that the puke affinity group ate red, white, and blue food before commencing its induced-vomiting direct action. People complained about the smell, but to me this made more sense than either Molotov cocktails or yoga poses. (Rapoport)
12:30 p.m., Golden Gate Avenue On the cold and shady side of the Federal Building, a hardy group of demonstrators sits shivering in front of a police blockade, trying to keep federal employees from entering or exiting the building. A gaggle of men in suits hovers across the street with coffee and cigarettes. Protesters say that about an hour before, the police inside pushed them against the blockade and hit them with batons while federal workers sprinted in and out. They expect it's about to happen again. Even though they haven't shut down all business there today, one demonstrator points out that most people inside seem to be sitting at their windows, watching the protest. There's probably not much going on inside today, she says with a laugh. (Brahinsky)
1 p.m., Civic Center The Black Bloc is off and marching, carrying a huge banner that declares, ominously: "THE WAR HAS BEGUN..." Roughly three quarters of the 2,000 or so Black Blocsters have their faces covered with bandannas, ski masks, of Arab kaffiyehs. Nobody in this crowd looks prone to belt out a round of "Give Peace a Chance" or "Kumbaya." Another banner, this one definitely inspired by '80s-vintage punk rock, reads, "RICH BASTARDS BEWARE." There are lots of black flags (an anarchist totem) and a few red ones (borne by the socialists in the contingent).
At Seventh Street near Market a KGO, channel 7, crew runs into some trouble. A handful of protesters cover the camera lens as somebody yells, "Fuck you, corporate media." A Muni bus driver is honking in support. Paranoia is high among this crowd, which has been stalked by undercover officers during recent protests, but one militant says he isn't worried. "The undercovers are easy to spot," the guy says, a black T-shirt wrapped around his face. "They're so obvious."
And then, in an instant, the whole scene explodes. Riot cops, their batons a-swinging, stampede toward the Black Bloc, which at this point hasn't really smashed anything. One officer starts wailing on freelance photographer Scott Braley with a club.
Two lines of cops quickly pen in the bulk of protesters right next to the federal courthouse. A few Black Blocsters punch through the phalanx of badge-wearers and take off; the rest are trapped. "Fuck the police," bellows one protester, an African American woman with a red scarf around her neck. "Black people don't like you. White people don't like you. Nobody likes you." Somebody has pulverized the windows of two police cruisers.
As I follow the police formation, my pink press badge dangling obviously from my neck, one officer (name on uniform: M. Favetti) swivels around and repeatedly smacks me in the ribs with a 36-inch baton. "Back off!" he growls.
"Press!" I shoot back. "First Amendment and all that stuff!" After another round of blows, the guy quits hitting me. With a wall of blue blocking my view, it's hard to discern exactly what's happening.
One anarchist is pissed at his comrades. "This march should never have happened," he complains, saying the group should've splintered into smaller cells and gone on search-and-destroy missions around the city.
A rumor starts racing through the crowd: one of the demonstrators behind police lines has escaped. Supposedly, this person broke a courthouse window, climbed into a judge's office surprising a law clerk and ran out the other side of building ... free.
Back on Market a few hours later, the anarchists are disconsolate. "I don't know if we have any troops left," one says. The rebellion has been squashed at least for the moment. (Thompson)
1 p.m., Golden Gate and Larkin A young man uses duct tape to block traffic, and remarkably, it works. (Brahinsky)
1:25 p.m., Market and Seventh Street Hundreds of protesters have taken over entire blocks of Market around Seventh Street. Police form a line along Seventh. More run down from Jones and head north on Market toward where most of the demonstrators have gathered. But now protesters are everywhere. Hundreds more descend on Market from McAllister, headed by a bunch of kids, including some high school-age girls swept up earlier in the day. The police form a line across Market, with their backs to each other so that half face north and the other half south. But they are vastly outnumbered by what has now grown to be up to 1,000 protesters on either side of them. To the protesters' credit, they give the police a few feet of space and do not threaten them. "Whose streets? Our streets!" they chant. "Let us march in peace!" and "Who's got the power? We've got the power!" demonstrators chant as everyone claps in unison. By 1:40 p.m., the police fall back. The crowd roars in victory. The protest grows to several thousand people and stretches for blocks. (Taiara)
1:30 p.m., Mission and Seventh Street In retrospect maybe we shouldn't have walked down Eighth Street. Or turned east onto Mission by the Court of Appeals after a woman hurried past us, saying, "They're going to get beat up." But we do, and a group of young punks and Black Bloc types bolt toward us pell-mell from the direction of Seventh Street, a gang of cops at their back. From Eighth, another SFPD line approaches.
The kids start swerving off the sidewalk into traffic. People are chanting, "Whose streets? Our streets!" but the street is flooded with cops. We stand on the sidewalk, and the cops from Seventh Street run at us, screaming "Move!" Unless they are legally blind, I'm going to assume they can see there is nowhere to go, as about 200 of us are by that time packed in and surrounded on all sides by mad cops.
We explain anyway, just in case, then spend the next three and a half hours there, penned in by the SFPD. Every once in a while, a group of them dives into the crowd, grabs someone, and drags him out. We're a captive audience, so it feels like they could just point to their target and say please. It feels like they want to spook us into acting badly. (Rapoport)
2:30 p.m., Van Ness and California The impromptu march up Van Ness Avenue stalls at California Street, while those at the front wonder if the crowd has the energy to climb Nob Hill. But once the decision has been made, the group charges up the hill with gusto. Cable car drivers, whose vehicles are moored in the sea of protesters, start ringing their bells with fury. The cops have been nowhere to be seen for some time, but as the front of the march begins to crest the hill, long lines of riot police charge up the sides, taking down protesters who are slow to react. One man turns around disorientedly as he's slammed from behind. The police officer is instantly brandishing his baton inches from the guy's jaw. Stunned, he throws up his hands and eases himself into the street. The cop is quickly in step with his colleagues, racing to form shoulder-to-shoulder lines in front of the Ritz-Carlton and the Mark Hopkins Intercontinental before the crowd catches up. It's all about priorities. (Tali Woodward)
3:50 p.m., Mission and Seventh Street Going into our third hour of being held captive by the police, we create a human bathroom. I'm using it when two guys break through the crowd and take off down Mission. The second one to run gets jumped by four or five officers. Ten minutes later I try again. The cops can see everything. I catch one smirking and feel slightly sick and pissed off. I try to remember the thing a nonviolent direct action guy in Justin Herman Plaza was telling his group about cops being humans, but it's not as helpful as you'd think, when you think about what humans are like sometimes. I take solace in the fact that many of us have previous experience with urinating in public, if not while sober, in broad daylight on Mission Street. (Rapoport)
5 p.m., Market and Turk From where I'm standing in the middle of the street the SFPD seems to have no coherent strategy. They line up on one side, move in, back off, and then do it again from another angle. Two cops grab a man and woman who are hugging at the edge of the sidewalk and yank them apart, beating the woman to the ground and pinning the man on his stomach with his leg bent all the way to his ass. A cop sits on the bent knee and the man writhes in pain. The crowd swells forward yelling, "The whole world is watching." (Brahinsky)
5:17 p.m., Powell and Market Four police trucks, the doors thrown open on two of them, can't snuff the energy among protesters at Fifth and Market. Their ranks have been strengthened by the postwork crowd, and the youngest activists are taking charge. Dozens of teenagers, balancing on top of news racks and public toilets, lead chants until the police give the order to disperse, sending clusters drifting in different directions. Some head toward Union Square, where an impressive number of police officers has ringed the plaza, newly refurbished to make it more inviting to the public. (Woodward)
5:30 p.m., Union Square A dozen or so police have taken up position. We see protesters wave awed shoppers over to join the march and a handful of hotel workers flash peace signs. Eight people standing on a third-floor fire escape flip us off, then throw a tub of white liquid onto the sidewalk below, missing everyone. (Taiara)
5:30 p.m., Mission and Seventh Street I get my picture taken with my arresting officer, who is all smiles. We're bussed to Pier 27, where we're cheered on by the crowd of detainees already in pens. The actual citation process takes less than an hour, and by 6:30 p.m. we're out on the sidewalk eating chocolate supplied by our saintly friends the National Lawyers Guild. We hear protesters are trying to shut down the Bay Bridge. (Rapoport)
5:45 p.m., Market and Fifth Street Police who've been guarding the storefronts of the San Francisco Shopping Center peel away from their positions and get into formations as a loud march comes down the middle of Stockton Street. To the cheers of crowds, the marchers turn right onto Market, but they're forced back on the sidewalk by descending cops. Suddenly, a few formations of police depart the scene, led by frantic-looking commanders into an alley parallel to Market, where about 20 police cars are waiting. The cops pile in, at least four to a car. They turn on their sirens and speed away toward the Bay Bridge. (Jones)
5:45 p.m., Post and Grant We see Crocker Galleria has closed its gates. Although we greatly outnumber the police and have essentially taken control of Union Square, San Francisco's retail center, I haven't seen a single protester so much as throw a paper cup at a store window.
Crossing Market, I look back and see we've grown to as many as 10,000 and it quickly becomes evident that we're headed to the freeway! The mood is one of exhilaration, of taking our power back.
Hoping to make our way onto the freeway entrance at Essex and Harrison, we begin to run. A row of cops on motorcycles blocks the entrance, but we greatly outnumber them. Several young men want to rush through and face the batons. But the protesters hesitate; there aren't enough willing to make that kind of move.
More cops arrive in police cruisers. We head to the First Street freeway entrance, where there's another line of motorcycle cops. We head down to the exit at Fremont and Harrison, where we find more of the same.
A group of activists pushes a Dumpster filled with branches up toward the row of cops. Outnumbered and with adrenaline pumping, the cops play dirty. They wail on people with their batons and slam people to the ground by their hair. About two dozen more officers arrive and push their way through, billy clubs drawn. The scene is tense; it looks like we're in for an all-out ass-kicking. But protesters begin to sit down. It works but not for long.
Hundreds of protesters head down Fremont to another freeway ramp. I spot a longtime activist ahead of me, gesticulating, and I run into the parking lot alongside the freeway exit. A dozen people climb the fence onto the ramp; a couple stay behind to help others over. I fumble to put away my camera and notebook so I can follow along, but at that second I see police run up the ramp. Three or four of them pounce on a protester and begin to beat him. "He's not doing anything! He's not resisting!" witnesses scream, and they finally get off and drag him away.
Now the cops number in the hundreds on foot, on motorcycles, and in cars. Those of us in the parking lot head back to the street, but they have us blocked off. About 200 of us are trapped, and I'm sure this is it: we're getting arrested, and there's no way out of it. To my astonishment, the police allow us to walk away. But the battle for the bridge is over. (Taiara)
7:30 p.m., Market Street Back at Market it's anarchy. Protesters shut down the intersections at Fifth Street, Fourth Street, Montgomery Street, and other spots, blocking buses and cars and taking advantage of a police force diminished by the Bay Bridge battle. In front of City Hall, there was a mix of solemn peacemakers on a candlelight vigil and more militant protesters still animated after a long day.
Dozens of police blockade the front of City Hall as several hundred protesters hold their line at the steps, filling Polk Street and the park behind, with stragglers stretching back to the Asian Art Museum, which is having its public opening with red carpet and long line.
The riot troops arrive in two Muni buses in front of the federal courthouse, looking fiercely determined to quickly defuse the situation. They form two lines on either side of Polk, barking, "Coming through," as they press forward with batons poised.
Although not necessarily trying to clear Polk itself, most protesters retreat toward Civic Center Park and Market, which is what appears to be the real police destination. Within a half hour, the police have retaken Market and quieted the mobs in front of City Hall. (Jones)
Friday, March 21
11 a.m., downtown The streets are fairly quiet compared to yesterday's action. A march of 200 people proceeds down the sidewalk of Market Street, watched closely by police. I head over to Sansome and Washington, where only three people protest in front of Immigration and Naturalization Service building on the day of the special-registration deadline for Pakistani and Saudi Arabian citizens. Because it's the predominant local symbol of the war at home, I am disappointed more activists haven't made the INS building a target for civil disobedience. (Taiara)
12:15 p.m., Market and Montgomery After hundred of protesters march up and down the sidewalks of Market, eight protesters sit down in Market at the Montgomery Street crosswalk, in the middle of the crossing crowd, in the first act of civil disobedience of a new day. After a few minutes their group grows to 30 sitters. A scuffle ensues between one protester and cops, and the crowd surges forward off the curb, and several people are jabbed with clubs.
Officer J. Newman says, "If you step off the curb, you will be struck." S. Lau (badge number 1476) reinforces the message: "If you step off, I will hit you." E. Callenas (badge number 219), a commander, went down the line, telling cops to enforce this policy.
Arrests continue. Those who didn't stand up voluntarily, including many young women, have their heads roughly pulled backward by their chins and mouths as the officers drive their forearms into the backs of their necks. The main perpetrator of this move, officer 799, infuriates the crowd, which chants, "799, 799, 799, 799." (Jones)
1:30 p.m., Market and Main Ten protesters block the intersection and are quickly surrounded by police. Several of us on bikes watch what's going on from the now blocked-off Market. Some pedestrians join us, until there are about a hundred in the street, quietly watching. Suddenly and without any warning to disperse, about 50 cops in riot gear stream out of a Muni bus and run up on us from both sides of the street to surround us. Most escape, but one protester gets shoved by a billy club and topples backward over my bike, delaying my exit long enough for me to be pushed by another officer into the circle with about 20 others. "Damn," I think, "arrested again." I offer my press pass to all of the officers, but none care. Yet they don't arrest me either, and pretty soon I'm the last one in the circle. I make one final appeal to a commanding cop I hadn't seen yet. "Get out of this circle right now," he says. "Do yourself a favor and take off." I do, as all of the cops who had been holding me let me pass. (Jones)
2:45 p.m., Sutter and Kearny After sprinting downtown to follow up on unconfirmed reports of police using rubber bullets on protesters at Fifth and Market, I find the real clash at the corner of Sutter and Kearny. These protesters, moved to the sidewalk like so many others, turn out to be the surviving splinter group of a larger protest in which about 45 people where pinched by the cops in the Crocker Galleria. As the cops search the protesters' belongings, snap on-the-spot mug shots, and move the protesters onto a waiting San Francisco Sheriff's Department gated bus, I go around to the galleria's Post Street entrance and up to the second floor for a clear view of the roundup. In the open-air atrium I find Emilio, a protester who missed the pinch. Emilio says the group marched through the shopping center chanting, "No more shopping while bombs are dropping!" (Miller)
5 p.m., Justin Herman Plaza As lots of people and police mass at Market and Powell for a scheduled demonstration, bicyclists gather at Justin Herman Plaza for an antiwar Critical Mass. We leave at 5:30 p.m. about 200 bikes strong, headed up Market before breaking right and weaving through the Financial District, chanting, "Bikes not bombs," and jingling our bike bells.
We wind our way back onto Market around Fourth Street and pass by the front of the rally on Market, drawing cheers. By this time we have five bike cops trailing our slow procession. We return to Civic Center on McAllister and see some columns of cops massing on Larkin in front of the Asian Art Museum.
Across Civic Center Plaza we see more police action blocks toward Market, and as we pass City Hall on our way to traffic-free Van Ness, we see why they're there. Several hundred protesters march up the street toward us, as both demonstrations break out in cheers and chants of support. But it's a short celebration, because the cops trailing both groups join forces with others in the area to try to pen us in.
Most of the bicyclists see what's happening, and we turn back to continue in our original direction, as the protesters on foot run to join us and escape the trap. All of the bicyclists escape, some barely making it past cops running to grab them, but less than half of the marchers make it, the rest facing arrest. Still, we're now a mixed group a few hundred strong as we block intersection after intersection some blocked with newspaper racks and street barriers and one with a large dumpster on our way to Market and turn right toward the Castro District, where we know a queer antiwar parade is forming at 6 p.m.
Again, we ride slowly and block all lanes, and at the intersections we circle for a few minutes obstructing traffic in all directions, until our rear-guard police escort catches up to us and appears threatening. Then we continue. When we run into the next parade, another celebration ensues, as our ranks swell to more than 500, and we all turn to head back down Market toward downtown.
After a few blocks the police feel a need to intervene, and several police cars begin cutting off and dividing up the protest, threatening arrests. Pretty soon, even the original bicyclists get divided up as some of us try to run interference for the marchers and others just try to escape the trap.
Luckily, we planned for such an eventuality and regroup at 16th and Mission. Soon we're back to about 150 bicyclists in our ranks, taking Market to Van Ness and heading up Van Ness on a slow procession that blocks all lanes and every intersection we encounter. (Jones)
6 p.m., Franklin and McAllister About 200 of us are trapped by police on Franklin Street between McAllister and Fulton. Seeing me taking notes, a young man in the crowd tells me an older man has been beaten and points in his direction. I head over to see him and find a slender, meek, half-blind, and disabled African American man with a cane sitting down behind the War Memorial building.
He's terrified, crying, and bleeding from the left side of his head, his dark glasses broken. A well-dressed woman comforts him as two demonstrators provide first aid. "I'm so scared to say anything. they'll come back and get me," he tells me when I ask his name. "I was walking on the street. One cop grabbed me and I'm disabled, I have a bone disease and one of the cops grabbed me and threw me down, and then another cop kicked me on my forehead," he says in a tremulous voice. "I'm 54 years old. I was marching in the name of peace, and I didn't do nothing wrong. I was on the sidewalk."
Fifteen minutes later an ambulance arrives and takes him away. I approach one of the officers in formation hemming us in, show him my Bay Guardian press pass, and ask if they'll let me out. A sergeant comes over and eventually lets me go. The rest aren't so lucky. (Taiara)
6:45 p.m., Van Ness and Market About 15 demonstrators have taken the southbound lane and are waving signs and chanting. A woman talking on her cell phone in a massive red pickup truck shouts out her window that her brother is in the Middle East and that the protesters should get out of her way.
Suddenly, an unmarked white van squeals into the small crew, and out jumps what appears to be a member of the SFPD with a rubber-bullet gun in his hand gangland style.
"Get the hell out of here! Get the hell out of the street!" he screams, waving the gun around. Most of the group scatters fast sprinting down the street and hiding out. When the intersection is cleared, the van pulls away and sits about half a block down the street, waiting. A few minutes later, it's gone, and the protesters merge with another group and move on toward Castro Street, where there's rumored to be a larger march underway. All the way up Market, police in two buses follow the group, which stays on the sidewalk for most of the way. (Brahinsky)
7 p.m., Market and 10th Street At an abandoned building that squatters opened up the day before, a young man I recognize from the local underground scene guards the door and waves us through. Inside, murals and graffiti adorn green and purple walls. A hand-written sign warns visitors that this space could be raided at any time and instructs anyone with good reason to avoid the law to seek out advice from one of the volunteers wearing a red armband.
Dozens of punk kids and a few homeless people hang out eating and socializing. Volunteers have prepared delicious fruit salad, hummus, bread, and rice and beans. The food counter also features thick slices of bread, hot water and tea, and plastic utensils. A friendly rottweiler meanders among the crowd. I head upstairs to check out the second and third floors, where space has been made available to rest, hold a meeting, or attend to anyone who's been injured.
I am heartened by these youths, who, with their work, have created a smooth-running, nonhierarchical space for like souls to gather. I think of how things have gotten so much worse in the world since I was their age and the punk movement was still relatively new. I'm happy they're keeping it and its insurgent roots alive rather than letting it all just disintegrate into yet another fashion statement. And I'm impressed by their political and tactical savvy. To me, they represent hope.
A mere 20 minutes after we get there, a cop appears out front. A young woman walks back into the building and calmly warns people that the police have arrived. She makes sure everyone in the building gets word. Calmly, we all file out the back doors as cops enter the squat from the front. The squat is no more. (Taiara)
Saturday, March 22
Noon, Civic Center Plaza Some selected quotes from the podium at the sanctioned antiwar rally: "We are not in shock and awe." "Let us speak the truth: we have been beaten on the street of San Francisco for exercising our rights to free speech." "Nobody ever said liberation was easy, but we must resist." "When democracy fails us in the White House, we have to take to the streets." "We shut this city down for two days to show the White House and the world that San Francisco is an antiwar city." (Jones)
1:30 p.m., leaving Civic Center Plaza A couple thousand people begin to march up Grove Street and head left on Van Ness. Within half an hour, the crowd has grown to about 10,000. I come across a friend, Jeff, who says he was arrested with a group of activists yesterday at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office. They'd been hoping to meet with her representatives, but the senator's people called in the cops instead.
By far the most impressive, spirited group in the march is a large contingent of people of color. Some carry a banner that reads, "Standing Defiant Against War," and identifies them as members of Freedom Rising. Chinese American, Korean American, and Latino activists also carry their own banners. Three others carry Palestinian flags.
As we turn right on Mission from Fourth Street around 2:40 p.m., it's impossible to tell how many we are at this point. There are protesters as far as I can see in either direction.
Cops are lined up across both sides of Eighth Street between Mission and Howard. Some demonstrators tried to get a breakaway march, going and onlookers tell me a few have already been arrested. A couple hundred protesters hold back at Mission and Eighth.
For the next four or five hours, thousands of activists and cops vie for control of several blocks along Market. Groups of protesters can be spotted sitting in the street in plastic handcuffs, circled by police and awaiting transport to jail or Pier 27. I spot about 10 cops getting coffee at a boarded-up Starbucks between Eighth and Ninth Streets. Someone tells me the chain coffeehouse is offering the SFPD free coffee. (Taiara)
5 p.m., Market and Sixth Street I follow a group forming a breakaway march that rushes down Sixth Street toward Mission, but dozens of cops converge on us from all directions. The activists who have half a clue begin to run. Others walk and get in the way of my getting away. In front of me an officer cuts off a young man he's obviously targeted for arrest for some unknown reason. The young man doubles back, but several cops grab hold of him and slam him into a wall, then onto the ground, and pounce on him right in front of my eyes.
"Did you get all that?" an African American man asks me. I look up to see two ancient Vietnamese women watching the chaos below from the second-story window of a building at Sixth and Jessie. One has her fist raised in the air. Meanwhile, an African American woman tells me, "You know what would really fuck them up? If everybody came out and slept in the streets. That would really fuck them up!" (Taiara)