“I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope.”
– Rebecca Solnit, author of “Hope in the Dark,” from a Words Against War Read-out yesterday on the street in downtown San Francisco
On Saturday March 15 and Wednesday March 19, I protested the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about why I am against the war, but I did blog at AllVoices.com about why I think protesting is important and a few thoughts on the future of the anti-war movement.
What I want to do here is give some photos and an account of what happened at at the two actions I participated in as part of my affinity group, Bay Rising, and the larger organizing group Direct Action to Stop the War, to give a sense of what it was like to be there.
March 15, 2008 – Rally and Direct Action at Chevron’s Refinery in Richmond, California
As part of a lead up to the anniversary of the war, we decided to target Chevron, which has its headquarters in San Ramon, California (we did a protest there last year), and a refinery in Richmond, California, just north of Berkeley.
Why Chevron? They are the perfect example of a corporation that has been a driving force behind our presence in Iraq, a clear beneficiary of any oil policy that gives control of oil to foreign corporations, as well as a clear criminal at home – their refinery in Richmond spews tons of toxic waste onto the community. Right now, community groups in Richmond are fighting against a proposed expansion (or, “retooling” if you prefer greenwashing), so it’s a clear link to war abroad to war at home – and a link to an ongoing community struggle. Organizers often get frustrated when they do actions and there are no next steps – here there are clear ones, like showing up to the planning commission meeting in Richmond about the expansion, which, incidentally, is happening about an hour from now.
I was really proud of the work of my fellow Bay Rising and DASW comrades. Although I wasn’t super-involved with the organizing, I was proud that we were good allies, by doing things like:
- meeting with groups in Richmond to make sure that they felt that our action would support their ongoing campaigns, and not hurt it
- making sure that the messaging and goals were agreed to by everyone
- having meetings in Richmond so that the community groups didn’t have to travel
- bringing community organizers from Richmond to DASW meetings so that other parts of DASW can connect with the community groups
What was planned was a rally at a park and then civil disobedience/direct action at the refinery. In the picture below, I’m locked down (in the middle) between two really good friends – roommate Max on the left of the photo and friend Matt on the right. The point of locking down was to prevent Iraqi oil from going in or out of the refinery for the time we were there. Though we had planned for there to be 20 or so people risking arrest, when we came up with the march from the rally and a bunch of people ran up and sat down, there were over 70 people either locked in boxes (like the ones pictured below), or sitting in, blocking the entire roadway. It was super powerful. My favorite part of the action was when a bunch of bicyclists got off their bikes, sat down, and chained the bikes together. That was hot because it was unexpected and some of the people were new to direct action and it looked cool. (I almost wrote “hella cool” there. Does that mean I’m a true Californian now?)
There was tons of great media coverage, and it looked awesome, and we accomplished our goal of disrupting business as usual for one of the largest corporations in the U.S. It felt good. I hope that it was able to bring some much needed attention to what Chevron is doing in Richmond.
Eventually there were about 25 arrests, and I wasn’t one of them. I thought that it was a great way to start off the week. Oh yeah, I’m not sure who took these photos. I stole them from Matt’s Facebook album, but since he was locked down with me, I know he didn’t take them.
March 19, 2008 – Decentralized Direct Action in downtown San Francisco, California
Yesterday was different. DASW is organized as affinity groups, and all the different affinity groups planned different actions downtown, targeting politicians, war profiteers, and military recruiters. It took months of organizing and we were at it all day. I’ll let you know about the actions I witness. Bay Rising was pretty burnt from doing the Chevron work, so we split up a bit and worked to support what others were doing, including working on communication and media teams. Throughout the day, there were text message updates via Twitter, alerting us to what was going on where – super helpful, and recognized by the SF Chronicle and Wired as being savvy.
I first arrived at the Federal Reserve building at around 7:30 a.m. to see the last activists being taken away. There were tons of people on bikes (yay bike bloc!), tons of media, and lots of support. I had gotten a text message telling me where to go. There was a great photo of Adrian on the SF Chronicle site, with a chain around his neck and his arms in lockboxes.
Then a text arrived that the blockade was deployed at Chevron’s “Energy Solutions” office… where they spend less than 1% of their revenue coming up with alternative technology. Way to support the green revolution there, dudes. I headed over there and held a banner and supported those folks before they got arrested.
Then there was a snake march which left from Sansome and Market (where people could go all day long and get info), which went by Chevron and other targets, and ended in a “die in” on market street with several arrests.
And then there was great performance art by Keith Hennessey and a crew of about 40, silent and powerful.
And then there was a reading, coordinated by City Lights, featuring Rebecca Solnit, Guillermo Gomez Pena, and others – I quoted Rebecca above.
And then there was a die-in at Market and Third, in front of Feinstein’s office, when a group of activists from the Iraq Moratorium and others were lying in the middle of the street. This was the only place where there was a scuffle with cops – when the cops moved to surround the people they wanted to arrest, a bunch of people include several reporters, a few bicyclists, and a legal observer got stuck inside with the arrestees, without wanting to. That included KPFA reporter Brian Edwards-Tiekert, who was broadcasting live the whole time, a crew from CNN, and others.
And THEN – I know, a lot was going on – the group Act Against Torture walked up near the same intersection, dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods a la Guantanamo, and sat down, spanning the entire intersection. I was kinda surprised that the cops let them sit down like that, but they did.
The total arrests for the day was about 150, and the last group held the intersection for several hours until removed by police. Most people were cited and released quickly from jail and the day went smoothly. Later there was a protest at a recruiting center and a large rally in Civic Center.
And, I forgot to mention the affinity group that all came dressed as animals with great costumes and witty signs – you know, “animals for the ethical treatment of humans” style.
It was powerful. It was powerful because it helped send a message to Americans at home that there are other people out here who oppose the war, who feel so strongly that they are willing to risk arrest. It also sent a message to people outside the U.S. that we don’t support the actions of our government, and it prevented people from going about their day as if there isn’t a war going on, now in its sixth year, in a foreign country where civilians and our soldiers are dying every day.
I am glad that I was able to participate in these actions. I learned a lot about organizing large numbers of people and running big meetings and even learned some hands-on skills that I’m sure will come into use later on. Personally, the most important part of the day was being out there all day with friends, knowing that I wasn’t alone. Being there with Josh, David, Sharon, Jess, Marina, Rebecca, Steve, Larry, Matt, Scott, Mike, Jeff, and many others made me feel strong in my community, and that made me happy. Thanks everybody.