Civil Disobedience in San Francisco

Timothy Kincaid

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.


November 17th, 2008

Thank you to the brave people that risked arrest. This is something that sadly needs to be more common in my opinion.


November 17th, 2008

Recall how many people were arrested for their acts of civil disobedience during the black civil rights struggle.

This is all par for the course.

Kudos to you, Ryan! And all of those that you joined with in solidarity!

Bravo to you all!


November 17th, 2008

Ryan and other arrested individuals,

I’m all for civil disobedience and I realize you were doing what you felt compelled to do. But if you decide to get arrested again, I would hope you could do it in a way that would maximize your sacrifice (and it indeed is a sacrifice that I respect and honor).

I’m not belittling what you did, but I think we could use a few good people like you to take a time-out and plan an action where an arrest might have a bigger impact. If you happen to follow Soulforce, their folks have been arrested several times this past summer just by trying to talk to Christian fundamentalists on their college campuses.

Taking the cause to the places that breed discrimination might be something to consider next time.

Alex H

November 18th, 2008

I feel the love, Ryan! Thanks for being brave, as well as the others who joined you.

You guys have warmed my heart! =)


November 18th, 2008

This is a lot to expect, but are there any applicable people in the CA government willing to perform same-sex marriages and risk arrest/firing? Or, is any county willing to follow Kern County’s protest and not allow any marriages until same-sex marriage is restored? Just putting that out there.


November 18th, 2008

Thank you, thank you thank you for your courage and sacrifice :-)

Acts of civil disobedience can still be perfectly peaceful and principled, as I think this example illustrates. I’m going to keep that in mind when I see the religious right attempt to paint this with words like “lawlessness,” “riotous,” and “violent.”


November 18th, 2008

“If you happen to follow Soulforce, their folks have been arrested several times this past summer just by trying to talk to Christian fundamentalists on their college campuses.”

True, only wish soulforce could be bigger to be able and visit all the campusus. Even though they get arrested, they ussually get ppl talking, which… if maybe not a whole lot, is better than the whole lot of nothing concerning gay rights. Might even get some students thinking instead of simply breathing in the ‘tradition’.


November 18th, 2008

Thanks Ryan for the very moving account of your experience. Going to jail for justice is in the highest tradition of civil rights and social justice. Thanks from someone who couldn’t be there.

David C.

November 18th, 2008

Though we must harm no one, our first duty is to the Truth. It is our responsibility to ensure that this debate clearly, openly, and with the greatest transparency examines the implications of allowing a faith-based initiative to become law, as it has now in most of the Union.

“PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” -Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Common Sense, 1776

Ryan Kerian

November 18th, 2008

Thanks for all of the wonderful comments, everyone! As you can see, I think that non-violent and peaceful direct action can have a great impact and send a strong message. I firmly believe that this is a civil rights issue and that non-violent, peaceful civil disobedience can play a significant role in the fight for civil rights, as it has in the past.

I’d like to say something about why the action took place in San Francisco. Personally, I felt it was important to do an action in the place I lived — not only because it is my community – but because, in a sense, I thought at the time that many eyes would be on San Francisco. I would love to see people organize actions in their own communities, or in other communities that they are moved to take their message to. Importantly, I really hope that people are encouraged to take to the streets to express their feelings, have their voices heard and share their personal stories. Above all, we will not be silent. As Harvey Milk once said, “hope will never be silent.”


November 18th, 2008

Kudos to everyone who participated. Plenty of people engage in all manner of behavior or refuse to do their jobs, etc and claim their “deeply held religious beliefs” as the reason. There is no reason we should feel guilty for engaging in protests, boycotts and even civil disobedience for ethical/human rights stances.

castro resident

November 18th, 2008

kudos to Ryan and others who are willing to sacrifice in this way to drive home the message that prop 8 passage was a huge harm to people and that the community (including all of its allies) won’t simply walk away quietly.

let me clarify a few things. this act on saturday wasn’t the only civil disobedience. the various marches around the city (most w/ police escort) were not permitted or approved–at least that is my belief. so, those were acts of civil disobedience as well. thousands marching in the streets and impeding traffic. the police just happened to decide to let them carry on (though i was pushed a bit by one officer when they decided they didn’t like us on the opposite of traffic anymore). the act mentioned above was an act that police decided to arrest over. so, for all those folks who think they couldn’t ever do “civil disobedience” yet took part in one of the marches…guess what!

also, the opening of the post above gives me the impression that while most actions have been peaceful (doing what we were told, staying on the route, etc), this highway blockage was different. actually, you can have civil disobedience AND be peaceful. this group did exactly that. i just wanted to clarify b/c the way the story was introduced, it made it sound like highway blockage by sitting down was not a peaceful action.

thanks all!


November 4th, 2009

Kevin, please lay off preaching to people who take more risks than you do. I, for one, have no interest in “dialogue.” I don’t want straight people to like me, love me, understand me, or even necessarily talk to me. I just want my rights as a citizen to be respected. Those Christians you mention can hate me all they want–it’s their prerogative. But I refuse to collude in my own oppression anymore. I plan to act as a married couple regardless of what the law says and if the law discriminates against me I will nonviolently resist without regard for the consequences to myself. The actions of the heterosexual majority to defend its own privilege shall be on their own heads.

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