Monday, April 14, 2008

San Francisco Tibet Torch Run Down

Submitted by Guest Blogger Connie Pham

“Free Tibet. Free, free Tibet.” The chants are still echoing in my ears now that I’m back from the ebullient streets of San Francisco! Sister Christine and I went to protest Beijing’s Olympic torch as it made its only North American stop here in SF. Here’s a quick run-down from our view on the ground:

Tuesday, 04/08/2008:
-When I found out the Tibetan Association of Southern California was organizing a caravan to the Bay Area during my spring break, I could not pass up the offer. So, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, sister Christine and I joined the San Diego contingent in a 14-seater van. After making it to SF in record time, we arrived at UN Plaza at Market and Hyde by noon where a boisterous rally was already underway.

-After a press conference and the opening of the Tibetan Freedom Torch ceremony, organizers released doves into the brisk mid-day sun. The international media was out there in full force. Within the first half hour, Christine was interviewed by KPFA-Berkeley. I was approached by a crew from Univision, the giant Spanish news channel. The reporter was combing the crowd for a Spanish speaker to interview. After faltering through some simple but impassioned sentences, an aide working for City Hall stopped to help me translate my message. His name was Gus, he said, and since there would be Latin American media out here today and tomorrow, it would be good to be able to speak to them! (That inspired me the following day to make my own sign: “Derechos Humanos para los Tibetanos” [Human Rights for the Tibetans]. Christine’s sign read “Paz en Tibet” [Peace in Tibet]. Our signs attracted foreign tourists and passers-by, who were all empathetic to our cause. Together with a group of some very savvy and socially conscious students from Oakland’s Skyline High School, we turned it into a chant worth dancing to! Can you imagine?)

-Not long after, hundreds of human rights activists swarmed the street to the steps of City Hall. Though the ACLU had succeeded in forcing transparency of the torch route, Mayor Gavin Newsom had yet to sign the Board of Supervisors’ resolution critical of China’s crackdown in Tibet. After organizers met to mete out security details, we proceeded to march another mile or two towards the Chinese Consulate. Our line stretched for several city blocks. San Franciscans honked their support in traffic, and above us, a small plane flew by, carrying a banner that read “Stop the Cultural Genocide in Tibet.” Considering that there had been a minor explosion at the consulate recently, we were escorted by a phalanx of police officers along the planned route.

-The whipping wind made it a perfect day for flags. The sight of so many Tibetan flags wavering was a glorious and inspiring sight. I draped one around me and wore it as a cape all day long.

-After we wound our way back to UN Plaza, there was a two-hour break. We ran into some old friends who were now living in Grass Valley. Good Morning America thought we represented a good cross section of attendees—and what’s more, we actually made it onto the show the next morning, if only for 3 seconds!

6:30 pm- Candlelights for Human Rights vigil began at UN Plaza. This was my 7th trip to the Bay Area, and for the 7th time, I was woefully unprepared for the 40-degree weather. We were eaten up by the bitter cold, but the warmth in our hearts was undeniable as we listened to Archibishop Desmond Tutu’s words of encouragement. Chris Daly, SF’s City Supervisor, was proud to announce passage of his resolution, in which the city would meet the torch with “protest and alarm.” The program included activists advocating on behalf of East Turkestan and a cultural performance. After a local group of monks broke into spontaneous prayer, Richard Gere came to read us excerpts of His Holiness’ the Dalai Lama’s most recent open letter to Tibetans. Several thousand of us shouted “Free Tibet Now!” with our voices resounding against the city’s hotels and office buildings, making the scene at once both haunting and ethereal. It was surreal. A slideshow played against a backdrop and local Tibetan band rocked out as we left for the night, vowing to rest for the next day.

-Tenpa Dorjee, our wonderful driver, took us to El Cerrito on the other side of the Bay, where we would be staying at his friends’ home. Ngawang’s spacious house offered warm food, cozy lodging, and a beautiful view of the Bay and for this we are forever grateful.

Wednesday, 04/09/2008:
-The local morning news entertained us during breakfast. Reporters stated that spectators had turned out for the torch relay as early as 5am. No disturbances to be had— yet. We took the BART down to Ferry Park, where people were broken into affinity groups. We were warned of provocations, and urged to remain calm. Tibetans from Utah, Minnesota, and throughout North America showed up to what felt like a pow-wow of indigenous spirit and resilience. By 9 am, roving groups of protestors lined up along the Embarcadero and moved up and down the sparse streets. Barricades were up and police on mounted police patrolled the corridor, but where were the anticipated crowds of spectators?

-Local Beijing supporters set up shop along the piers. They waved the Chinese flag and shook their heads, but they were largely outnumbered. Besides a few shouting matches, we were peaceful. Group leaders and monitors made sure of it. At noon, my group made it back to Ferry Park and by this time, a coalition of Darfur and Burma activist groups had total control of the streets. Darfur activists were all in green, and Burma supporters were in burgundy. We alternated our chants. From across the street, I spotted old friends from college who were now up here for work or grad school. Small world! Displays of support were creative and beautiful. We chanted. We sang. We reveled. There was a template for signs that read “Another _________ for a free Tibet.” So we had grandmas, teachers, vegans, bikers, techies, Coloradans, feminists, black males, truthers, peacers, and otherwise, sentient beings vouching for us. A little girl blew bubbles, and a marching band ensemble came to play our way to peace. Office workers in their skyscrapers waved down at us and in the midst of this, the ice cream vendor was having a good day.

1 comment:

Mohammad Mertaban said...

This would have been such an amazing event to attend. This is what they get for stopping on San Francisco, rally capital of the US :)