By Cindy Milstein
So much could be said of yesterday’s large, boisterous, self-organized #ShutItDownForMikeBrown disruption of downtown San Francisco during the evening hours of Black Friday.
That no one and everyone organized it, simply by coming together with banners and signs, voices and bodies, and a whole lot of boldness, was perhaps the best part of this demonstration, which did indeed halt business as usual on this Black Friday in one of the United States’ most expensive and high-tech-gentrifying cities.
At the start, some 500 rallied on the Embarcadero, listening to impassioned short talks about murders at the hands of police and state, from Alex Nieto here in SF’s Mission to the 43 students in Mexico to Mike Brown in Ferguson, while the Antirepression Crew shared words about having each other’s backs. Banners reading “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the State Is Our Enemy” and “Safety for Who? Rest in Power Alex Nieto. Never Forgive, Never Forget” as well as “Ain’t Gonna Hold Us Down” lead off a march that took over most of Market Street, with the numbers growing to perhaps 1,000.
Once downtown, masses of protesters and shoppers and police made for chaotically beautiful disruption. The demonstration forced the cops and many store owners to shutdown and try to evacuate Westfield Centre mall. The Apple Store, spray painted with a huge “FTP,” locked all its customers inside; they stared out the huge plate-glass window at the loud protest walking by. Security gates came down on many a store, and places like Macy’s amped up their security guards to block entrances, for fear of folks deciding to go inside, as happened in so many other malls and Macy’s and Walmarts around the country the past couple days. MUNI and even tech buses and other traffic came to a halt on Market Street for a good while. The BART authorities closed the 16th and 24th street stations due to “civil unrest” — the second BART shutdown in one day, thanks to the powerful #BARTLockDown by the Blackout Collective (@blackoutcollect) at West Oakland yesterday morning.
As the night wore on, things decentralized themselves further, with some running off to try to shut down a freeway entrance, though not succeeding. Others smashed windows on several police cars small and large, or threw bottles at the menacing riot police, or freed up barricades, among various efforts to express the rage and sorrow at the lack of “justice or peace” in a world where black, brown, and other lives do not matter, much as this #BlackOutBlackFriday demo shouted #AllLivesMatter #BlackLivesMatter over and over during the night, alongside the chant “Fight for the Living, Remember the Dead.”
Toward the end, several hundred sprinted through the Mission, ending in at least two kettle situations, and some 50 to 60 arrests (most or all were cited and released last night). On Valencia Street, as the police blocked off a whole block to load protesters into vans so as to whisk them off to the jail at 850 Bryant, folks came out of a bar and started chanting, again and again, “Alex Nieto, RIP.”
Two sentiments seemed key.
For one, there was much solidarity between struggles, particularly those involving cop and state murders of people of color. This is not to minimize the tensions that exist — understandable tensions due to the legacies of white supremacy, patriarchy, or other forms of domination. If Ferguson (and elsewhere) continues to catalyst a much-needed collective reflection on white supremacy in the United States, all those of us striving to resist systemic domination and oppression must also work to abolish our own socialization and experiment with new social relations.
But it’s also not to erase the palpable and growing sense of people acting in concert, whether at the same moment on the street or not, for larger aspirations of dignity and social freedom, at this historical moment handed to us. That lives and land have been stolen from so many — ranging from these past few months to over five hundred years — is increasingly understood and increasingly being acted on in public, cooperative ways. Space is being made to share struggles, tying them together, lending hands to each other. Various Bay Area direct actions, for instance, generously tried not to overlap in time and space, but saw the power of letting each unfold in turn, building momentum.
Second, there was lots of spontaneity. Such spontaneity isn’t always a good thing. The outpouring of uprising on Bay Area and so many others streets, if it continues, could use a renewed emphasis on “do-it-ourselves” structures like street medics, assemblies, nonelectronic decentralized communication, and the like — a diversity of tactics and techniques that afford inclusion, and allow us to grow as well as watch out for each other.
Still, last evening’s spontaneity manifested in an autonomous show of resilience and resistance that, in turn, “shut down the system,” at least for a few hours. It’s a system, as those on the streets right now well know, that would prefer people to merrily shop than deal with institutionalized racism and racist policing. Sometimes one can’t plan such push-back, in this case against racism and social control, against the murderous logic of the state. History itself decides to create space, for those who in turn decide to take the high ground within such moments and fight the good fight.
And even though the mainstream media largely decided, likely thanks to encouragement from policing agencies, to nearly blackout coverage of the disruption to SF’s Black Friday, that didn’t stop the social-media circulation of what might be the best image from the night: this now-viral video of, as one Ferguson tweet noted, “the SF protests. Crazy. Wow!”
This video captures one small point in the demonstration, when it was in the heart of SF’s downtown. Some folks decided to target a diamond store’s windows — one would presume to make the link between blood diamonds, racism, and black lives lost. The police thought they got the best of them. But on this evening when San Francisco came alive with #SolidarityWithFerguson, as so many places are doing night after night, one has to wonder who has the upper hand on the streets at this moment.
A crack is appearing. It may not stay open for long. But for now, ’tis the season of good cheer and rebellion.