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For The Intifada To Succeed, It Must Spread
With protests breaking out around the world in support of the Palestinian people, the authors were excited to see what would manifest in the Bay Area. The following essay was written primarily by a participant in the recent marches in San Francisco called by a variety of Left groups. After witnessing organizers trying to quell angry youth through a variety of methods including labeling those who disobeyed as infiltrators, the authors wish to convey a sense of urgency to act as a means to expand the struggle for freedom in Palestine, not contain it.
For two weekends in a row, a broad coalition of groups came together in massive marches through downtown San Francisco in support of the Palestinian cause. No permit was acquired to this author’s knowledge and thousands took over Market Street from the Embarcadero to UN Plaza. In these first two demonstrations, many made attempts to take all lanes of the street, while police insisted on keeping us on one side of the yellow lines. The police received help in this task by the “security team” which seemed to be mostly members of AROC (Arab Resource and Organizing Center) and ANSWER (Act Not to Stop the War and End Racism). The energy in the streets was palpable, despite the organizers’ intent of creating a harmless and photogenic march. So much so, that on the second march, a “die-in” was planned near the Westfield Mall, and not a very good one at that. People merely sat down on the ground at the insistence of those with megaphones, not even close to imitating death. But apparently the organizers felt it was necessary as perhaps the crowd was growing too rowdy, as the Israeli flag was burned moments before. Flag burning was later brought up by attendees as supposedly portraying us as too radical and one person even suggested it made us “just as bad” as Israel.
The next weekend, there was a third march held in downtown San Francisco, except this time, the organizers boasted of obtaining a permit. This was used in order to have the pro-Israel counter-protesters escorted off by the police, despite that not happening very quickly. It also meant that the police would allow people to take all lanes of Market Street. Not satisfied, a handful of demonstrators moved ahead of what the organizers had decided was the front line, enforced by a large banner, and a thick line of string that people held to cut off the entire street. It was also enforced by perhaps two dozen members of the security team, who stood in front of the banner, directing people when to move, when not to, and how fast to go. The only people they would permit on the other side of this line was the press. So, naturally, when some of these demonstrators displayed a small banner that said “Free Gaza,” the security team’s reaction was to call them “infiltrators” for not being on the correct side of their line. Their justification was that they were blocking the organizers’ banner, which wasn’t true, as the couple dozen security team members standing in front of it were all that was needed to block it from view, and the autonomous banner was far enough to the side anyway. Their other justification was that the people who were there, a diverse group that definitely didn’t arrive together, but simply drawn to the same spot, were not Palestinian and therefore were disrespecting the protest. At one point, when faced with, “I’m from Gaza!,” the security team member decided to ignore him and instead went to chastise someone else. Not long after, a woman who was holding the banner that ignored the orders of a security team member was called a “dumb bitch.” The banner stayed out for most of the protest, despite near-constant harassment from the security team, including being kettled at least once.
When the protest arrived at a Victoria’s Secret across from Union Square, the organizers again called for a die-in, hoping that it might distract from other tactics that would be used in the face of a company that profits off of the Israeli occupation. It didn’t work- several people made it inside to disrupt shoppers, and at one point, a sign that was set up outside advertising some sale was smashed on the sidewalk. At least one member of security team arrived to place themselves between the Victoria’s Secret entrance and the crowd that had gathered around it.
The logic that goes into these protests is a simple one: rallies and marches are visual petitions, to be measured in turnout. If there are one thousand, ten thousand, one million people marching, then someone in power will finally decide to start caring. The protest is also meant to be as photogenic as possible, which is why at each march it paused every block for pictures to be taken. This is under the assumption that the nicer it looks, the nicer the things the media will say, and the more people will be swayed to the cause. Perhaps those who are swayed to the cause will join the visual petition the next week. Therefore, when anyone steps out of line, even literally, in the most minuscule of ways, it is a threat to their photo-op. Much more could be said about it also being a threat to their place in the system. Just as unions are used nowadays to stifle worker’s organizing, non-profits and similar groups are used to channel growing protests and social movements into what they deem as acceptable outlets, which are coincidentally, or not, the least effective ones.
On the flip side of the coin, a group of people made plans to escalate tactics: blocking a cargo ship of Israeli company Zim from unloading at the Port of Oakland. This would be a direct action to harm the Israeli economy, and that impact is something that could possibly make Israel rethink its onslaught. This is a similar tactic that was carried out in 2010, and it quickly gathered a lot of momentum, with nearly a thousand people signing up for the Facebook event in a few days time, and thousands more fliers being distributed. However, just days before the action, it was made known that AROC had taken the lead of the event and organizers were calling off the blockade. At first it was claimed there was still going to be a demonstration to raise awareness at the Port, but the next day the entire event was called off. It was said that at some point in the future a real blockade might be attempted, once they feel comfortable with it. Supposedly, with over a thousand dead in Gaza, it is too soon to attempt direct action.
Whether intentionally sinister or inadvertently naive, is hardly the question. Nor is it a question of the more effective protest, photo-ops or direct action, as that answer should be obvious. But the question is why do we continue to allow ourselves to be sabotaged? Why do we continually give platforms to those who undermine us?
For the Port blockade on Saturday, this decision may be too late, as hundreds if not thousands had already planned to show and obstruct the cargo ships. Many might not even see the cancellation while others might intentionally disobey. If nothing else, the confusion that resulted from this power-play has seriously crippled any action that would have been taken at the Port.
The actions by the State of Israel are monstrous. In the wake of bombings and attacks that have left so many dead and injured, people have taken to the streets to fight the occupation forces. While in San Francisco, people march while chanting, “INTIFADA!,” the Arabic word for uprising, the question remains: why do people continue to stifle one here? If we are to truly show solidarity with Palestine, we must make their struggle our struggle. We must take it up and expand it everywhere.