March 23, 2003
I planned to go to the San Francisco anti-war protests yesterday at 7am, just for a little bit.
Before I talk about that, I should point out that I am white, young, I look middle-class, and I am thus far able-bodied. So my experience with the police was not what most people get. And in fact, there was a rumor that while the cops were being comparatively nice with our group (although there was still violence from them) the people of color contingent in the next intersection over was getting beat up by the cops.
It felt really intense to go there that early. Like that made it really real and urgent -- which I did feel like it was -- but like it was so much more intense for me than an 11 am protest where I could just roll out of bed some Saturday morning and show up at 2. It felt terrifying, emergency-like.
I realized before I even left that it was just ridiculous for me to go for a few hours and then come back and go to work. I called my boss, who I know was really involved in the peace movement around Vietnam, and was all "Ummm, can I call in protesting?" and she said "Well, of course!"
The signs up at 40th and Telegraph had said there was a 7 am protest at Embarcadero BART. (How much more East Bay can I get?) I expected... a rally, maybe, and march, like normal. What I got was much more intense than that.
There's peace somewhere, I can feel it in a song
I can hear it in the voices all around me
I want to be somewhere that I can sing along
I want that peace to surround me
I want that peace to surround me
They had totally shut down Market and at least parts of Mission throughout the Financial District. Maybe more. This was shortly after 7.... maybe 7:15, 7:30. There were people sitting in a row across the crosswalks, many with their arms linked inside of pipes. This had been the big plan, in a way, as I heard it - shut down the country, as much as possible. Don't go to work, don't go to school, don't buy anything, for as long as possible. In San Francisco people were making it concrete.
My plan had been to wander around the city and check out all the different actions that were going on. It sounded like there was some cool stuff: die-ins, art performances, bicyclists taking over intersections and biking down the street at 3mph in front of cars, street parties.... And I did hear a lot of stories about those things from other people in the city. However, when I got out of BART and hit Market Street, it became obvious that that would be very difficult because every intersection in sight was a mass of cops in riot gear and crowds of people. I went to a pay phone and called my friend Max. He said that he was in a confrontation with riot cops at Sansome and Market and I could "come play," so I went down there.
The cops had calmed down somewhat when I got there, I think. What I heard was that when they arrived, they were very aggro, nightsticks out, rushing up onto the sidewalk (where they're not supposed to harass people) to push people back. I think it's important to realize that while there were some people who started things with cops, by and large the cops created any violent situations themselves. I also think it's important to realize that there wasn't much violence, and that all even the mainstream news media could come up with was that some individual people threw something at some individual cops.
Market Street is a weird place to have stuff going on at intersections, because each intersection involves three streets. And in most cases one side of Market has one street coming off and the other side has two streets. So it was really Market and Sutter and Sansome, in our case, and there were two parts of the intersection with people sitting strung across the road, but they were quite far apart.
I didn't see Max in either chain of people. (As it emerged he had a different role.) There was someone with a megaphone at each chain (they were far enough apart that I couldn't hear either megaphone in the other group) leading the crowds of people in different chants and songs, and reading information about the war over the chants. There were several reporters - I was in front of someone who seemed to be reporting into a radio station - and a lot of people running around with video and regular cameras, watching protesters get dragged off one by one.
They had to get the fire department to come in with chainsaws (actual, honest-to-god, bright orange chainsaws, if I remember the color correctly) to cut people out of the pipes. Later on, some of them showed me their singed knuckles and hands. One of them manged to get the end of her sleeve over her hand inside the pipe - and there's a tip for you.
I'm thinking "gloves," personally, if that's ever me. Now that I know.
There's peace somewhere, I can breathe it in the air
Like the wind that blows across the wide sea
Mm-m let it carry me, I want to be where
I can feel that peace inside me
I want that peace inside me
As I watched, they got a lot of the line disbanded. There were cops all along it, and at the ends, so that no one else could join those protesters, and cops along the crowd making sure people stayed on the sidewalks. A woman in a ... oh crap, I don't remember what their affinity group was. Something Orange, in reference to the fact that we're on... code orange, maybe? Hmm. One of them, early on, had a poster with the different emergency code colors on it and stuff about what they really mean in activist terms, and orange was something extensive about liberation. Anyway, there was a woman from their group (see how casually I assign gender!) telling someone on her cell phone that they needed more people down here, like, NOW.
So I followed her and waited till she hung up and was all "Um, you said you needed more people? I could do something...." She said "Okay, what you can do is go over, see behind the line of people there's another line forming, and sit down with them."
I wandered over and checked it out. Behind the line of protesters , there weren't any cops and there was a crowd of people, some of whom were sitting down with their arms linked. I figured that if I was going to either sit there forever or get arrested I had better pee first. A woman at McDonald's let me go without buying anything, which I think is excellent work for peace and she's my favorite activist ever.
I talked to some people in the crowd who were standing up. The people I talked to were pretty ambivalent about whether to disperse or get arrested. A couple of them were reporters, with gear recording the ongoing action. I stuck close behind them for a few minutes while the cops told people that they had to disperse or get arrested. Then another young woman sat down at the end of the new chain of people. It only covered half the intersection. I sat down next to her and linked arms.
She squeezed my arm tightly. A guy in a tshirt with a big red star on it sat down and linked arms with me. That was it; the cops came up and surrounded our line and told us that if we didn't disperse, we would be arrested. I think the cop who told me that could see that I was terrified. She was one of the nice ones. They pulled the guy off and had to carry him away, in the classic passive resistance scene. Then they pulled me off, which took them awhile because we had our arms linked really hard and I just went limp when they tried to move me around. I think I finally let go so I wouldn't hurt the girl next to me, or maybe they just pulled hard enough. I don't remember.
I had seen people walking off with the cops when they got arrested. I had also seen people being carried off by four cops each. I thought it was really cool that if I got arrested I could take four cops away from the action.
It took two cops. I was so embarrassed. Another one came up and was all "Do you need a hand with this one?" and the cops were like "Nah."
I was all, I'm gonna go home and eat an entire turkey. Made of lead.
Is there peace somewhere?
It's a question, it's a prayer
It's a voice crying out from inside me....
Both the cops who arrested me seemed to be careful not to be rough. I think the cop who cuffed me was the woman who told me I was being arrested, and I think she felt sorry about it. 'Cause she cuffed me WAY too loosely. And I already could tell I could slip out of it, and then when they dropped me on the ground in the holding area and I rolled over to sit up, one of the cuffs snapped loose. The guy next to me was all "Did your cuffs just snap?" and I looked at the cops around the area and said "Nooo... It just made a snapping noise...."
The other cuff totally came right off. In fact I still have it. They were using plastic handcuffs for everyone, although I saw cops at 850 Bryant with real metal cuffs hanging from their belt. There were police officers at the protest with entire arms hanging full of handcuffs, and another heap hanging from their belt, though, so I can see why they were using plastic loops for this. I don't know what else determines it for them.
So I was wandering around free in this big group of people who had already been arrested. I fixed one woman's hair for her cause it was hanging in her face, and stuck my bobby pin in it. (Yes... the one I keep in my pocket to stick in my tongue ring hole. what? it's clean!) And I watched people go over the wall.
The holding pen was just those "do not cross police gate SFPD" metal fences they hook together along the sides of parades and such. There were cops around it, but most of them were still over in the street arresting people and holding the crowds back. The back of it was just the wall of this little corporate gardeny walkway around the E*Trade offices. And there was someone with a pocketknife who was sawing people's cuffs off.
I saw a lot of people jump over the back and escape, and one person jump the fence and run off. Some cops would only chase halfway and give up; one of them who was eventually assigned to watch the walkway totally saw one woman escape and just ignored it. So I waited and then jumped the fence with this other guy.
Little did I know that a cop from the other end would see us and run. Damnit! He totally tackled me. I am super-proud though because I totally used my Mills College self-defense class and fell in front of him so that he tripped over me and went WHAM! Full-length on the floor. Partly on top of me, though, unfortunately! I tried to get out and run again but I wasn't fast enough.
I felt bad about the fact that I didn't know enough self-defense or whatever to get away after that, but then I realized that the question before me had been "how do I use self-defense skills to aid me in escaping without doing anything that could get me beat up?" And really there's not much else I could have done that wouldn't be perceived as attacking the cop which is a really really really really bad idea. So I am proud of finding that balance, anyway.
He was pissed. He and another cop had to drag my right arm out from under me. My glasses had fallen off and he stepped on them. By that point there were crowds of protesters around yelling "Stop it! You're hurting her! You're stepping on her glasses!!" He got off them and I managed to take them and stick them in my pocket. I have no idea how. Maybe someone handed them to me, but I don't think anyone was close enough. One of the cops? Did I just take them? I think I just snagged them real fast.
He was pissed cause I wouldn't get up, too, or at least one of the cops there was, and he did this thing where I think he stuck his finger in my chin and/or shoulder to pull me up. It didn't hurt, although I think he thought it would. The other cop kept telling me to walk, and I kept staying limp, and he was all "walk, or we're going to bend your arm so you will walk," and I just said, "Don't hurt me" and he was all, walk, and I was all, don't hurt me, and we were at a stalemate, and then the other cop was all, "Just bend her wrist, she'll walk." And he bent my wrist in what was clearly supposed to be some excruciatingly painful way, but it didn't hurt (ha!) so I just stayed limp and they finally dragged/carried me in disgust.
I was happy: I got to get confirmation that I fall really well. Like, I always thought that being fairly klutzy over the years has meant that I learned to fall without hurting myself, plus then having dance and self-defense classes where we learned more about that, and so it was pretty well borne out by my experience yesterday. They totally tossed me back in the holding pen so I fell face-first, and everyone was all "shit, are you okay, they threw you on your head!" and I was like, no, it's ok, see you just arch your back a little and you hit with your torso....
It's the hope for tomorrow and the answer for today
I want that peace to guide me
I want that peace to guide me
And they threw me practically at the feet of Josh Kelly who went to high school with me. He didn't even register me for a while, and I had this whole conversation with his friend Sarah who moved to Davis from New Jersey while I tried to fix my glasses. And then she was all "Hey Josh, she went to school with you!" And he was all "wait... dan... Danica?!"
It's a small world.
I was re-cuffed behind my back, darn it. It was really amazing: most of the people there were cuffed behind their back, and there were some truly intricate acts of solidarity going on where people somehow managed to get each other's cigarettes and cell phones and lighters and food out and work together to eat and smoke and call people with all of their hands tied behind their backs! And get down their pants and get out bottles and form walls so they could pee and then pour the bottles out into the trash. After I unbent my glasses one-handed, Josh and Sarah managed to jam them back on my face. People are amazing.
We were there from... well I was probably arrested around 8 or 9, and we were there till 1, and then in a holding cell until around 11 o'clock at night. With more people being arrested for a while after me. They had that intersection closed off for a long time after we left, too. They had to bring in Muni busses to take people away: one double-length busload that I think went to Pier 27 to be processed and released, and then another double-length and one regular-length bus when I went, and there were still a whole lot of people there.
I think most of the people still there were planning to do prison solidarity, as were some that went with us. They left their IDs at home and were going to refuse to give their names. I got to learn all about it. Apparently it means that the prison/police system is tied up for as long as possible, in order to:
- use the tax dollars that we already pay into them as much as possible,
- make it as complicated as possible for them,
- take up room and resources that they could otherwise use to arrest more protesters (or depending on your politics, more people at all)
- make sure that everyone in the group gets treated the same, whereas otherwise they might charge certain people with harsher things (especially known activists, people of color, working-class and homeless people, etc.) or let others out early in order to break up the group's solidarity. If you're all in there as Jane and John Doe, they can't charge you differently or at all or let you out.
Max was doing prison solidarity; when I got released late that night, there were still 800 people in prison. Some of them were not released for several days.
It was, ultimately, an extremely large event. More people were arrested in that day than in any previous day in San Francisco history. Protests of different kinds continued for weeks, and people continued to effectively shut most of the city down for a total of three days.
The same thing happened in a lot of cities around the country. Regardless of the sheer size of the protests, many print and television media outlets ignored them. Large parts of San Francisco, California, Chicago, Illinois, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and other cities were shut down. And according to the International Action Center,
"In New York City many thousands of protestors overflowed police attempts to barricade them at Times Square and marched through the city in defiance of a police ban on marches.... In Washington DC high school students walked out of classes and marched through the city beginning at the White House, where more protestors demonstrated outside Lafayette Park into the evening, despite the White House's demand that the "People's Park" be closed to protests. Earlier in the morning protestors stopped morning traffic on D.C.'s Key Bridge.... More than 1000 high school students walked out of school in Minneapolis and St. Paul. There were emergency anti-war demonstrations in cities in every state from Lexington, KY and Knoxville, TN to Boston, from Cleveland to Austin to Chapel Hill, NC.
"There were spontaneous protests across the world as hundreds of thousands of people converged on U.S. Embassies in Buenos Aires, Manila, Paris, Seoul and Brussels, and made visible the overwhelming popular opposition to Bush's war on Iraq, including in Ankara, Rome, Milan, Taiwan, Calgary, London, Damascus, Cairo, Quito, Bangkok, Johannesburg, Calcutta, Glasgow, Brasilia, Kiev and Moscow. Thousands of students marched through Madrid; a hundred thousand people filled the streets of Athens; and 50,000 marched under the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin."
More information about your local protests and related events can be found there, or at IndyMedia
) or at Direct Action to Stop the War (http://www.actagainstwar.org) and International A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition (http://www.internationalanswer.org). More on the Bay Area events
can be seen at http://sf.indymedia.org/features/antiwar.
The quoted song is "Peace Somewhere," an anthem of sorts by Judy Fjell, noted activist and folk musician who has also written "Teaching Peace" and "Another Song for Peace." This writeup is hereby CST Approved!