BART, PG&E targeted for protests

Green Party candidate Terry Joan Baum, seen here speaking out at a rally against police brutality, is headed to PG&E next.
Courtesy Terry Baum for Mayor

Protesters plan to descend upon downtown San Francisco on Sept. 8 and 9, as two separate groups of organizers are calling for mobilizations against the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E).

The Sept. 8 BART protest scheduled to take place during rush hour at Powell St. Station, which aims to take a slightly different approach than recent civil disobedience launched by the hacker group Anonymous, is dubbed "Spare the Fare Day." Demonstrators will once again express disapproval with BART police policies and censorship, but this time will attempt to "protest in a way that inconveniences BART administrators but not BART passengers," according to a Facebook post.

The PG&E protest, meanwhile, aims to denounce the utility giant "for its arrogance, incompetence and downright criminality" on the anniversary of the Sept. 9, 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, according to a Facebook announcement.

While mayoral candidates City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Sen. Leland Yee, and Sup. John Avalos all publicly criticized PG&E after a federal investigation pinned the blame on the company for the deadly gas explosion, the demonstration outside PG&E's Beale St. headquarters is being called for by Green Party candidate Terry Joan Baum. (Mayor Ed Lee, meanwhile, recently took a battering from his opponents for praising PG&E for its donations to a youth group.)

The pipeline explosion leveled an entire neighborhood in San Bruno and killed eight people. Baum told the Guardian that as the anniversary of the tragic event neared, "I just felt, we have to observe this," so she organized a protest. "It just became very clear that the negligence that caused the blast was reaching levels that were criminal," she said, and "there should be a grand jury" convened to conduct a criminal investigation. "It's very clear that PG&E is no longer a responsible steward, and they need to be held responsible for their choices," she added. Baum said she was getting the word out mainly through Facebook, and had no idea how many people would attend.

Meanwhile, back at BART, a war of words is brewing around BART's so-called "free speech zones," in which the agency has said protesters may express themselves outside the fare gates but not within areas that passengers must purchase tickets to access. According to an online announcement, No Justice No Bart worked with activists engaged in other projects to formulate a "Catch-22" for BART.

"Since BART has been very clear in insisting that we should “protest outside the fare gates”, they will have a choice," the No Justice No BART announcement states. "If we mobilize enough people, in order to keep riders moving into and out of the station, they will have to open the emergency exits and let folks ride for free, just as they do for all sorts of big sporting events, antiwar protests, and even past No Justice No BART protests," the post explains.

"On the other hand, if BART police decide to close the station, or otherwise interfere with or attack our protest outside the fare gates, we have made it clear that we are prepared to respond by moving the protest to other stations and/or inside the fare gates. If they choose this course of action, BART will be demonstrating that their 'free speech zones' are bullshit, and they will be taking responsibility for causing a major disruption to their passengers."

BART spokesperson Jim Allison told the Guardian that the agency's response to the next scheduled protest would depend on whether service was disrupted. "We don't have a problem with people protesting outside the fare gates, as long as it doesn't disrupt service and is done lawfully," he told the Guardian. "We're not going to arrest them for just showing up and expressing their opinions. We're not going to try to silence them."