Thu Mar 20, 2003

San Francisco Protests

Though Glenn Reynolds has a strong desire to believe the anti-war movement is dying (as evidence he cites the small size of the anti-war protest in that traditional protest-flashpoint of Knoxville today), your typical San Francisco resident is likely to tell you that anti-war sentiment is alive and well and blocking his commute. This morning, Laurie and I took the bus as far downtown as we could, then walked to one of the main protest points at 5th and Market. Unfortunately, we missed the vomit-in at the Federal Building, but there was plenty of other stuff going on.

Initially, I thought the protest was fairly small and somewhat sparse, but then two units of riot police arrived and we saw the mounted officers at Union Square and began to get a better sense of what was going on. It was disaggregated, not sparse. Demonstrators were not organized into one large march. Rather, clumps of 50 to about 300 people would come along in waves, walking from intersection to intersection. Occasionally there would be a sit-down protest, and those protestors would be arrested. At one sit-down, police surrounded the protestors and a minute or two later a stretch limo got stuck in the intersection next to everyone. “Maybe that’s the Paddywagon,” someone said. In general everyone seemed pretty well-behaved, though the intermittent and polycentric nature of the demonstrations made things a little more difficult for police. Commuters were the most annoyed, especially the ones who made the mistake of trying to run intersections as protestors arrived.

As we were watching things happen in the shopping district just east of Fifth and Market, a woman came by and asked someone standing next to me “Is this about the war?” “No, it’s just that the Spring Line at the Gap really sucks this season,” he said.

We walked north after about two hours. It was pretty clear (from the hovering TV helicopters, if nothing else) that things didn’t slack off much throughout the day. By the evening, most of the downtown bus lines had been rerouted and at least the Powell and Mason Cable Car wasn’t running to its terminus because the protest had picked up again. (After walking out to the Marina and around Russian Hill, we rode that Car from near Macondray Lane to Washington Street, where everyone had to get off.) The local NBC affiliate says more than a thousand people have been arrested over the course of the day. That last link also has video clips of some of the more dramatic incidents, which I think were not the norm across the day. The ABC affiliate has more news.

The New York Times has a report on protest activity around the country. It suggests that things got worse in the city later in the day, and that San Francisco itself had by far—at least by an order of magnitude—the most arrests anywhere in the country.