Civil Disobedience in San Francisco
November 17th, 2008
One of the notable attributes of the protests in response to Proposition 8 is that they have for the most part been peaceful. In all reports I have seen, the police worked with the community to minimize conflict and keep peace and the gay and gay-friendly protesters have not rioted or destroyed property.
There have been reports of some vandalism in Utah caused by a BB gun and someone sent some white powder to a couple Temples (harmless, it turned out); these incidents may be related to the Proposition 8 and the gay community. And a few folks have stepped over the line (sometimes literally) and been arrested. But otherwise, the nationwide protest has been peaceful.
Gay folk have, for the most part, stayed on the approved protest route, stayed off private property, and did what we were told. But during the protest on Saturday in San Francisco, one group decided to engage in an act of civil disobedience. A group of 15 protesters were arrested for closing a freeway offramp. (from CBS5)
The offramp from U.S. Highway 101 to Octavia Street in San Francisco was temporarily closed today and traffic in the area remained heavy at around 1 p.m. due to an anti-Proposition 8 march traveling down Market Street, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The Octavia Street offramp from Highway 101 closed and a Sig-alert was issued at about 12:30 p.m., CHP Officer Peter Van Eckhardt said.
“They’re kind of locking things up there for a little bit,” Van Eckhardt said.
Van Eckhardt said the intersection at the offramp was cleared, but traffic in the area remains heavy and drivers should avoid Market Street while the march continues. He added that police have arrested several protestors.
One of the participants who was arrested, Ryan, is a reader here at Box Turtle Bulletin. He explained that he is not your usual activist and has a fairly conservative job. But he felt strongly that the population at large was not recognizing how hurtful it was to have a fundamental right stripped from you and he was willing to make a sacrifice to raise visibility.
Some readers will no doubt feel that such acts of civil disobedience only give fuel to those who like to describe gay people as unlawful and a threat to society. Others will call for more disruption and higher visibility; as I heard recently, “If you can take away my fundamental rights, I can at least inconvenience your drive home”.
Ryan has poetically expressed his emotions and his reasons for taking part:
On Saturday, on a sunny day in San Francisco, 15 beautiful people were arrested for you, your neighbors, your friends, your family and the people you love. We did it for people you may not even know, we did it for people you may fear and we did it for people you may not understand. Most importantly, we did it for civil rights.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the nation on Saturday November 15th in a heartfelt cry for equality. We came from different backgrounds but all with heavy hearts. On November 4, 2008, Californians voted by a simple majority to amend the California Constitution to remove the fundamental right of gay and lesbian couples to marry.
This led me, on Saturday, to walk into a room full of over 20 people from all races, creeds, socioeconomic backgrounds and beliefs. We came unified. We came with courage and conviction. We came with one goal — to orchestrate and support a direct act of civil disobedience in the name of civil rights.
I didn’t recognize all of our faces; some of us had never met. Others of us met tirelessly throughout the week to share our feelings, set our goals and plan our action. We found ourselves unified around human rights and we vowed that we would not be silent.
At first, I was there to support our action. I would not risk arrest. I was afraid and I’d never been arrested before. Yet, on that Saturday a spirit of tearful hope called me to overcome my paralyzing fear, uncertainty and grief. After pacing the room for what felt like an eternity, I tore my shirt off to don one with the message “Repeal Prop 8.” With that symbolic gesture I joined the “arrestables.” We were clergy, activists, lawyers, heterosexuals, queers and most importantly humans who love, live, feel and want a world where all persons are treated equally as they were created. We are you.
Together, with our wonderful supporters, we walked down a sidewalk toward a large group of police officers with batons standing in directly in our path. Together and afraid we walked proudly in front of those officers, linked arms and sat blocking the off ramp of a major highway in San Francisco, as cheering marchers passed us by. Despite our fears, with officers surrounding us and hundreds of cars bearing down upon our backs we sat in solidarity. For you.
We were warned to move. We were warned we would be arrested. Still we sat and then stood, with a banner in our hands that read “Human Rights Now — Repeal Prop 8.” We chanted for justice and for equality over the menacing message coming over the megaphone. One by one we were handcuffed and led into police vans. We sang songs of joy and hope on our way to the police station.
We hope that, if our action teaches anything, it is that we cannot and will not point fingers or target individual races, religions or persons. This movement is about all of us.
We were arrested for you on Saturday. Feel our hope, feel our unity, feel our love for each other and feel our love for you. Embrace our love, for we are you.
A video compilation of protest pictures can be seen here.