San Francisco Obama Fundraiser Protest

October 15, 2009

On Thursday, October 15, 2009, President Obama breezed through San Francisco to attend a political fundraiser at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square.

While the donors inside grew teary-eyed in worshipful ecstasy listening to Obama's boilerplate fundraising speech, out on the street it was a different story altogether.

Over a thousand people (seen here from a distance, on the right side of the street) from numerous different ideological camps gathered in front of the hotel (on the left) to protest Obama's arrival. As cable cars clattered by, Obama's policies and statements were attacked from all sides of the political spectrum -- ranging from the far-left ANSWER and World Can't Wait who criticized him for continuing the wars in the Middle East; to Greenpeace who were dissatisfied with his waffling on Global Warming legislation; to 9/11 Truthers; to single-payer health care advocates angry about the murky compromise currently being pushed through Congress; among many others.

And of all the groups protesting, the largest contingent were the conservative "tea partiers" unhappy with just about every aspect of the Obama regime. Which was quite a surprise to me, because never before had I encountered a Tea Party in San Francisco.

I had been warned by the media and Nancy Pelosi to expect a gang of knuckle-dragging redneck fascists with assault rifles and swastika flags -- but instead the tea partiers at this particular Tea Party appeared to be just average people with an aversion to government spending...

...and an apparent obsession with "Liberty" and "Freedom."

I made sure to keep an eagle eye out for any evidence of extremism among the tea partiers, to see if the rumors were true. And in a moment I'll present eye-opening galleries of the "best" as well as "worst" Tea Party signs. But they were only half the story, because elsewhere at the rally, an approximately equal number of left-wing protesters voiced their displeasure with Obama as well.

In fact the strongest criticism came not from the right but from the left, as groups like World Wan't Wait lashed into Obama for failing to keep any of his anti-war promises from the campaign.

The Single Payer Now contingent earned bonus points for bringing their own band (and dancing girls as well).

Greenpeace was grumpy about Global Warming, though their complaints seemed a bit hollow since all they were doing was nudging Obama along in the same direction he's going anyway.

ANSWER was on hand too, but they seemed to have lost their focus; their scattershot array of disparate issues doomed them to irrelevance, as did the meager size of their crowd (fewer than a hundred, as opposed to tens of thousands during the Bush years). Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

We'll get back to the roll-call of leftist groups shortly. Because they really were little more than a sideshow to the main phalanx of "Tea Party" protesters: hundreds upon hundreds of conservative, libertarian and/or right-wing Californians who came together in unified opposition to the Obama agenda in all its manifestations.

What surprised me more than anything else were the vastly superior signs carried by the tea partiers as opposed to the leftists, who after all had decades of experience in honing their protest-sign skills. Instead, as seen in the photos above (and even moreso lower down in this essay), the left-wing signs tended to be wordy, or whiney, or obtuse, and above all humorless.

The Tea Party signs, on the other hand, were funny, memorable, sarcastic, snappy, and concise. Setting aside any political biases, and judged purely on style, the Right handily bested the Left at this signage showdown.

As evidence, I present here a selection of the Tea Party signs. Judge for yourself which side comes out on top in this Battle of the Slogans.

(The following section can also be found as a standalone post at zomblog; comments welcome!)

And so without further ado, I present:

The 20 Best Signs at the San Francisco Tea Party


Could it get any clearer?

Now, let's compare those signs to these -- some of the signs displayed by the non-tea-partiers at the rally.

You tell me -- which side did a better job of getting its message across?

The 8 Worst Signs at the Obama Fundraiser Protest

Say what?

Here's a small portion of one of the signs in favor of single-payer health care (I think).

And here's the reverse side of it. A complete mess. He seems to be critical of the Republicans and the Democrats for not implementing...uh, something or other.

The sign on the left is OK, but I'm still trying to disentangle the intended meaning of "We are here because you were there first."

All the exclamation marks and question marks in the world won't make this any clearer, I'm afraid.

The anti-ray-gun contingent made an appearance. I was hoping the reverse side of the sign would clarify matters, but...

...I was sorely mistaken. I mean, I'm all against organized stalking too, but who exactly is supposed to be stalking whom?

And the unquestioned "Worst Sign of the Day" award goes to these smug hoaxsters who devised an imaginary political movement called "The Lemon Party" in a juvenile attempt to trick the uptight Republicans into going home and typing in the URL of "The Lemon Party" Web page -- only to discover themselves confronted with the infamous "" spam site, which is nothing but a photo of some geriatric male swingers engaged in oral sex, accompanied by blaring music and porn ads. (Copy and paste this URL into a new window if you're morbidly curious, but trust me, you're not missing anything: Apparently the people who made the sign somehow thought that if they destroy the Internet innocence of some Tea Partiers, they will have achieved some kind of strategic victory.

Throughout the event, tourists would lean out of passing cable cars to snap photos of their first honest-to-goodness cross-my-heart San Francisco protest!

Back in the political mosh pit, the every-shade-of-left circus of competing factions battled for attention. There were...

...The Party for Socialism and Liberation...

..The Gray Panthers...

...the anti-AIPAC conspiracy theorists...

...The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club (one of many calling for single-payer health care)...

...the anti-NAFTA-and-CAFTA-ites...

...and the wearisome Billionaires for Bush, a worn-out satirical group recently rebranded as Billionaires for Wealthcare.

You may be wondering: But was there Truth? Of course! It wouldn't be a protest without Truth!

Queen of the Bay Area Truthers Carol Brouillet eagerly passed out her famous "Deception Dollars" to all takers.

A man, a sign: Truth.

Now that the Cheney Mob is out of office, Obama can finally release all the secret 9/11 documents. Right? Right??!!???

Truthism often overlaps with the anti-war movement -- because, after all, the whole reason the Truth movement emerged in the first place was to deny the justification for any military reponse to 9/11.

But for the first time ever, I encountered a variant of Truthism little-seen in these parts -- the extra-super-crazy-paleo-conspiracy-theory kind of Truth peddled by Alex Jones at his InfoWars site. Generally, we only get the normal anti-American anti-Semitic kind of lefty Truth in the Bay Area. I really wonder: Do the two Truth camps get along with each other? And more importantly: What do they want Obama to do with Charlie Sheen for 20 minutes?

The Truthers generally made a nuisance of themselves, milling around among both the liberals and conservatives, doing their best to discredit the whole affair.

In fact, what made this particular protest so interesting was that there were no dividing lines separating the rival groups. As seen here, the tea partiers had to stand cheek-by-jowl with the communists. Each side did their best to ignore each other, and focus their anger at Obama, not their fellow protesters.

With one exception -- this guy. While one side of his sign had yer typical anti-capitalist message to impress the girls...

...the other side had an intentionally confrontational message meant to piss off the "tea baggers." But in the end he chickened out. I followed him as he walked back and forth a few times near the heart of the tea-bagger zone, but he never said anything to them and no one really responded to his attempted but ultimately half-hearted provocation.

So, after a rather abbreviated career as a cowardly agent provocateur, he abandoned his sign and departed the protest. When I went over to take its picture, the guy who happened to be sitting next to it said, No no, that's not my sign, as you can see from his hand gesture. I assured him he wouldn't be in the photo.

Some sort of Secret Service helicopter kept circling the protest at dangerously low altitudes. This convinced everyone that Obama would soon make an appearance.

So when a motorcade of cops and limousines arrived, everyone pressed forward with their cameras to snap a picture of The One!

But no. It was a false alarm. The One was nowhere to be seen -- the motorcade was probably just a decoy, as he was undoubtedly ushered in through some hidden back tunnel somewhere under the hotel.

This being in sharp contrast to the last time Obama showed up for a fundraiser in San Francisco, when we hangers-on just walked up and shook his hand.

Racists and Traitors and Birthers, Oh My! Or...Not.
The 15 "Worst" Signs at the San Francisco Tea Party

Much has been made of the supposed extremism or threats of the "tea baggers," as their detractors call them. At other Tea Parties, protesters have been accused of racism and of fomenting insurrection; of being "birthers" (people who think Obama was born outside the U.S.); of bringing guns; and all sorts of nastiness. At the same time, many people have asked me why I never covered anti-Obama protests when I had covered anti-Bush protests so often in the past.

Well, I never covered a Tea Party before simply because I had never been aware of one in my area before. This is the first one I learned of. So, in order to be fair, I went to great lengths to look for every possible evidence of extremism among the San Francisco tea partiers. And what I found was...not much. Below you will find the 15 most "extreme" Tea Party messages at the rally, none of which (to my mind) amounted to anything remotely racist, insurrectionary or threatening. Judge for yourself.

I found a grand total of two reproductions of the famous "Obama Joker" parody -- this being the only full-size one, showing Obama as an "Everybody Hates Chris"-type joker-kid on a Kool-Aid package.

The only other example was a teeny sticker on a larger sign also featuring Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and two "Andre the Giant/OBEY" parodies.

This was perhaps the single most extreme message, calling Obama "Judas." Although that does indeed convey an intense dislike for Obama, it is neither racist nor violent, nor does it call for his death nor anything along those lines. Just, basically: We hate Obama.

Never heard of the "Freedom Coalition" before, but (judging from their Web site), they seem to be a "paleo-conservative" libertarian political party fond of Christianity, Ron Paul, and helping POWs. Strange how the Ron Paul supporters used to appear at anti-war/anti-Bush rallies in 2008, and now in 2009 they appear at anti-Obama rallies too. From what I can gather, this group just doesn't like centralized government, period, whoever's in power.

This sign questioned Obama's patriotism. And...that's about it. (The tree on his shirt is a Monterey Pine, the symbol of Monterey County, where his group was from.)

This person accused Obama of cheating -- though cheating at what, I'm not sure.

This was the only "call for a revolution"-style message I encountered, though I really doubt that someone with a slogan as terrifying as "Party like it's 1773!" (the year of the original Boston Tea Party, one of the events leading to the original American Revolution, and the incident after which the Tea Parties are named), is really going to pose much of a threat. A t-shirt commemorating an anti-tax revolt is not the same thing as an armed militia.

This woman announced that she is a "resister" -- though it's in the eye of the beholder whether or not that counts as nefarious.

Several people picked up on the "You lie!" meme of Congressman Joe Wilson (who famously yelled "You lie!" at Obama during a recent speech).

The people tried to display their "You lie" signs toward the hotel, hoping that Obama might peek out and see them (highly unlikely).

And one woman even went so far as to declare that "Joe Wilson Was Right."

This guy sarcastically self-identified as a "Republican MOBster."

Though this sign has little to do with Obama directly, it still counts as the most in-your-face political message -- agreeing with 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy that communists had/have infiltrated the government and the media.

This was just about the only Tea Party sign displaying a possible example of the kind of spelling "issues" so common at anti-Bush protests -- in this case coining the new word "oligarchyize," which I guess is actually spelled correctly for a word that doesn't really exist.

Someone took the concept of "no centralization" a bit too literally.

Conclusion: I can't vouch for what happened at other Tea Parties in other cities, but at this San Francisco protest I saw absolutely no evidence of racism, death threats, birtherism, guns, intimations of violence, insurrection, or treason. Just a lot of people who don't like Obama or his policies.

What it was like to walk through the rally

For the sake of clarity, I've divided most of the photos above into thematic groupings. But as mentioned earlier, in reality the different political factions and viewpoints surged and swirled amongst each each other, creating a rather more discordant sensation as competing messages often appeared side-by-side. If Obama actually had peeked out the window, he probably would have been incapable of deciphering what the hell that mob below wanted out of him, seeing instead a muddied sea of mutually contradictory demands.

So, to wrap things up, I present a simulated walk through the rally, in which each sign neutralizes the one you just saw moments earlier.

The loneliest man in San Francisco: The only person at the rally who welcomed Obama uncritically.

Want to comment on these pictures? Click here to visit the zomblog comments thread for this report.

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