Iraq War Fifth Anniversary Protest, San Francisco, March 19, 2008

Occupation: Downtown

The first half of the day was supposed to revolve around a series of "direct actions" in San Francisco's Financial District, in front of various corporations deemed by the organizers to be "war profiteers." The direct actions were supposed to be coordinated from two locations on Market Street (the city's main thoroughfare). As things played out, however, the direct actions were too scattered and too ill-attended, so the focus of the protest became Market Street itself, where everyone was congregating as we waited for instructions on what to do.

Things kicked into high gear when a small group of dedicated activists carried a mock coffin into the middle of Market Street and sat down, blocking traffic.

The police, who had been waiting in the wings, immediately tried to isolate the "die-in" participants from the rest of the crowd, and forced everyone back onto the sidewalk.

As would be expected, every journalist within a five-mile radius instantly descended on the artificially photogenic die-in. Let the dance between attention-craving protesters and narrative-swallowing reporters begin!

"Yes, I am pretending to be dead, even though my eyes are open and I am talking to you. By lying on my back in the middle of the street, I have suddenly acquired an opinion worth hearing!"

The police, of course, were expecting something along these lines, and began to form phalanxes.

First order of business was to surround the traffic-blockers, in a well-coordinated encircling maneuver.

The captain in charge announced through a megaphone that anyone not on the sidewalk would be subject to arrest.

That did the trick. All the casual protesters, fearing arrest, retreated back onto the sidewalk, and a line of police kept them at bay (actually four lines of police, one on each corner of the intersection).

Professional agitators (I recognized some of them as members of the Black Bloc), knowing they were safe on the sidewalk, started up a chant of "Fuck the po-lice, Fuck the po-lice, fuck 'em! Fuck the po-lice, Fuck the po-lice, fuck 'em!" Mass ennui ensued.

Having successfully taken control of the situation, the police started arresting protesters one by one. Notice the electric Muni buses lined up down Market Street: because they run off of electric power lines overhead, they are unable to alter their routes, so the entire bus system got screwed up.

This oddball (whom you'll meet in other sections of the report as well) obviously had studied photographs of old Vietnam War-era protests, and offered a flower to one of the policemen (reminiscent of famous photos of hippies offering flowers to National Guardsmen during various late-'60s riots).

(Photo courtesy of Aaron D.)
Fellow photojournalist Aaron D. happened to capture the same exact moment but from the opposite angle.

(Photo courtesy of Aaron D.)
Aaron D. gives the following description of this scene: "I had just walked around the block to get to the other side of the street when a guy near me threw a plum at an officer's riot helmet, and took off into the crowd. The chase lasted all of 10 seconds but they nabbed him pretty quickly. Almost immediately the crowd started yelling "police brutality" and chanting "shame on you, shame on you" to the officers. There was one guy yelling out badge numbers of the officers involved in the arrest to rile up the crowd." A video depicting this arrest can be found at the end of his report on the Dr. Fanderbiles site.

Meanwhile, from a different corner, I captured the moment when the cops picked the guy up of the sidewalk and frog-marched him toward the paddy wagon.

He was none too happy about how things hadn't gone according to plan.

Somewhere around here it dawned on him: "Holy shit, I'm going to be charged with assaulting a police officer!" Don't worry: Mommy will bail you out of jail and Daddy will pay for a good lawyer.

Meanwhile, a guy standing right next to me tried the same prank: he took something red out of his bag and threw it at the cops.

"Who, me? Throw something at the police? Why, wherever did you get that preposterous idea?"

Unfortunately, this guy got away with it and was never arrested.

Someone else on a different corner apparently became violent (I saw a scuffle in the distance), and was also summarily carted off by the cops.

They used real handcuffs on this guy (instead of the plastic ties they were using on the other protesters), indicating they thought he was more of a serious threat.

This video shows an obsessive-compulsive anarchist who simply can't stop shouting anti-police slogans in a continuous barrage -- as if his life would be empty if he ever stopped. Despite his best attempts to provoke a reaction from the police, they stand there completely impassively.

One of the cops made the terrible, terrible mistake of actually engaging a Code Pink member in a discussion. What are you, a rookie? Don't encourage these people! They thrive on attention!

Having dealt with all the testosterone-fueled scufflers and interlopers, the cops began leading away the core group of die-in participants, who were mostly older women.

One by one, they were arrested and cuffed (with the aforementioned plastic ties).

And if you were really cooperative, you didn't even get the ties.

Some of the die-in participants feigned feebleness, and had to be helped on to the paddy wagon.

The only arrestees I had any respect for were these two foreign photographers who had gotten caught in the middle of the protesters after the captain had announced that anyone in the street would be arrested. Apparently they hadn't understood what he said, so they ended up being corralled with all the other die-in participants. But that didn't even faze these guys -- they kept taking pictures right up until the moment that they themselves were arrested. Now that's dedication!

After a while there were nearly a hundred people in the staging area, being processed before being taken to jail.

Code Pink, under arrest! A scene that will gladden many hearts around the country.

Eventually, everyone blocking the street was arrested, the excitement died down, and all the protesters wandered away (to re-group later that evening at Civic Center). The city clean-up crew was summoned, and they power-sprayed away all the politics. Half an hour after the protest wrapped up, there was no evidence it had ever even happened.

If you want to see more photos from this part of the day's events, the San Francisco Chronicle had a photo essay about the die-in (and other parts of the protest as well).

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