Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Parade of the Vanishing Torch
Just got back from a long day chasing the "disappearing torch" across San Francisco. There were over 6,000 protesters that turned out and about as many ethnic Chinese countering. It was a victory for those of us involved in shedding more international attention and light on the human rights abuses China has committed, without any real consequence, over the past half-century in Tibet. The BBC Radio called it "The Parade of the Disappearing Torch," while the Toronto Globe and Mail called it a "hasty tour."
In the end it was just that. Going to elaborate lengths to make sure as few people actually saw the torch as possible, San Francisco city officials were, in the end, unable to avoid protesters who were in constant communication via text messaging and able to re-deploy along the last-minute altered route.
I myself was lucky enough to be part of a team of people trying to hang banners along the parade route that would visually support the protests going on at street level. Thanks to a crackerjack Communications team we were all informed of changes to the route and quickly figured out how to get back along the buses carrying the torch.
Here are some quick observations from the day:
- There were as many if not more China supporters as Tibet supporters.
- There were an amazing amount of extra-large Chinese flags flown in just for the event. Regardless, the impact of hundreds of large, bright red flags aligning the parade route had a visual impact that is hard to beat. Classic Communist tactic?
- Once the parade route changed, the "non-partisan" crowd thinned dramatically. Thousands were left stranded along the original route by the Embarcadero.
- Police presence was overwhelming especially close to the torch.
- Media was in the dark -- most had no idea where the torch was or were jockeying to catchup. This is why I think you will not see a lot of pictures or video of most of the actions taken by protesters.
- One runner dropped out two days before the parade, and another pulled a Tibetan flag out of her shirt-sleeve as she handed off the torch but was quickly grabbed by police and Chinese officials before being shoved back into the crowd.
Overall, I was amazed at some media had chosen to paint a rosy picture of the day's events. I was even more amazed at how incredibly, flat out wrong other new stories were. It made me wonder if they were being written by someone actually in San Francisco or by someone back in London or New York.
I was part of a group of about 10 people that tried to stop the torch caravan (which included about 50 riot police, 30-40 police on dirt bikes, two buses, 4-6 motorcycles from the SFPD and a whole host of police cars and unmarked vehicles). We were able to slow it down and deploy ourselves and a banner across the width of a four-lane street but were "absorbed" by a flock of police in a matter of seconds. No arrests were made but trust me when I say we were all kicked to the curb, that that's exactly what the SFPD did. I'm guessing that most of these officers were not trained in negotiation tactics (unless by negotiate you mean bruise and pummel). I'd like to know if I can trade in my brand new grated elbows and torn clothes for the ridiculous parking tickets SFPD LOVES to hand out.
Here is a decent video of what was happening on the ground. More on this later...