If U.S. forces attack Iraq, Bay Area anti-war activists hope the war
at home will intensify within hours.
Nonviolent protesters plan to try to blockade the Transamerica Pyramid, the
Pacific Exchange and other "war-making" corporate and federal headquarters in
San Francisco the first business day after a prospective U.S. attack.
Nobody -- not police nor activists who have participated in planning
sessions for weeks -- know how many people will show up. Still, mindful of the
ability of such free-form groups as the Critical Mass bicyclists to tie up
downtown -- and of the protests in San Francisco after the start of the 1991
Gulf War that resulted in 1,000 arrests -- police and some of the event's
intended targets are preparing for some sort of disruption.
Activists have crafted a civil disobedience plan designed to shut down the
city's Financial District to show their frustration with the U.S. government's
"The last thing I want to do is get in the way of a working person trying
to get to work," said Leone Reinbold, a veteran of civil disobedience protests
nationally who plans to take part in the San Francisco actions. "But when 200,
000 people marching in the streets (at the city's last anti-war rally) doesn't
get people's attention in Washington, this is our last resort."
The day-after events are being coordinated by a group identifying itself as
Direct Action to Stop the War, a leaderless collection of activists that is
not officially affiliated with any of the four co-sponsors of this Sunday's
planned anti-war march in San Francisco. The group came together after
protesters blockaded the Federal Building in San Francisco the night after
Congress passed a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against
Iraq, and it has organized several small protests since then.
Direct Action has been holding meetings in Oakland and San Francisco for
weeks about its nonviolent day-after plans, and its www.actagainstwar.org home
page been linked on the Web sites of Sunday's rally co-sponsors.
SKIP WORK AND PROTEST
The activists' proposed response to the war's start is simple and free-form.
They're asking sympathizers to skip work and head to one of two dozen protest
sites in San Francisco at 7 a.m. Those reluctant to blockade a building are
encouraged to tie up traffic with a bicycle protest or explain themselves to
commuters. The Civic Center will be a "safe zone" where people can congregate
or hold vigils.
Maps on the Internet of the event -- designed as a mock restaurant menu in
a winking nod to the city's foodie culture -- list two dozen intersections
where people can gather as "primi piatti," "secondi piatti" and "main course."
Protesters are invited to choose among corporate and media headquarters for
their direct action, including that of The Chronicle. Alternatively, they're
invited to clog traffic at dozens of intersections around the city, most east
of Van Ness Avenue.
In the spirit of the "organized anarchy" of the monthly Critical Mass
bicycle ride through San Francisco, word has spread through the same Web sites,
e-mail lists and underground channels that have drawn tens of thousands of
people to rallies in San Francisco over the past five months. Even those who
have attended planning sessions over the past several weeks don't know how
many people will show up.
"I just know it's going to be huge," said Reinbold, who has helped to plan
protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C., and at the 2000 Democratic National
Convention in Los Angeles. "This has been much more highly organized (than
those). And because this is the Bay Area, there are so many more people who
have done this (civil disobedience) before and are comfortable with it."
Prominent on the list of targeted sites is the Pacific Exchange, where
thousands of Gulf War protesters were arrested a dozen years ago. Exchange
officials have two goals for the day: protecting the 3,000 people working at
the exchange, the police and demonstrators, and trying to keep business
flowing as usual.
"If we get through the day and accomplish those two things, we'll be happy,
" said exchange spokesman Dale Carlson, who has seen dozens of protests there
over the past 15 years. "(Protesters) come to us because we're seen as a
symbol of capitalism."
Dozens of "affinity groups," clusters of friends or like-minded interest
groups ranging in size from five to 25 people, have formed around this protest.
An affinity group "spokescouncil" has been meeting weekly to discuss the
event, including a session Monday night at New College in San Francisco. There
is no leader at these meetings, merely a facilitator, who changes at each
gathering to make the process more democratic, according to Reinbold and
others who have attended the sessions.
It's the next level of protest for the Bay Area anti-war movement, which
has been emboldened by two mass rallies down Market Street that have drawn
tens of thousands of protesters over the past five months.
"The marches have been fantastic," said Sasha Wright, a Mills College
student who has attended several meetings to plan the civil disobedience. "But
there needs to be many different kinds of tactics used. We want to disrupt
business as usual."
At a half-day training session Sunday on the UC Berkeley campus, 21
students were instructed on everything from what to do if police take one of
your colleagues into custody to how to deliver sound bites to TV reporters.
"It's been helpful," Berkeley student Jamie Rowen said during a break in
the class. She has done civil disobedience just once before and wasn't
arrested. "The military is organized, so the nonviolent community should be,
POLICE ARE READY
San Francisco police say they, too, have prepared a day-after response plan,
whether the protest involves a few hundred people or several thousand. A
rally is also planned in San Francisco for 5 p.m. the day of an attack.
"It's never happened that there have been a significant number of
protesters in multiple locations where we couldn't handle the situation," said
Deputy Chief Greg Suhr, who coordinated the department's response to the two
largely peaceful anti-war rallies in January and October.
"We are definitely prepared for something to happen the next day," Suhr
Several of the targeted corporate and government institutions didn't know
they made the list. Yet most understand why.
"Nonviolent protest is certainly something we accept in a democratic
society," said Anna Stevenson, spokeswoman for the British Consulate in San
Francisco. "We just hope it remains nonviolent."
Like others on the list, Chronicle spokesman Joe Brown acknowledged that
"we're often a gathering point for demonstrations of one kind or another.
People are welcome to express their opinions," as long as they do so in a
Reinbold, the veteran of many direct actions, said that was the idea,
adding: "This is one action that I hope I don't have to do."
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle