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Narratives from the J28 SFO Protests
If you had told me two months ago that the SF International Airport would be shut down by hundreds of liberals chanting “no borders, no nations,” — I would have thought you had completely lost your grip on reality.
Narratives from the J28 SFO Protests
Last night (January 28, 2017) about 40 people out of the thousands who were here protesting at midnight spent the night in SFO airport. Today (Sunday, January 29), all international departures gates have been blocked here, with many human barricades actively blocking big guys trying to push through to their flights. There have been reports that the families detained here were released, but demonstrators are determined to stay “until the detainees are released everywhere.”
Here are two accounts from Saturday’s protests at SFO.
If — last year — you had told me that open fascism would take root in the US within a year I probably would have believed you. But, if you had told me two months ago that the SF International Airport, and airports around the country, would be shut down by hundreds of liberals chanting “no borders, no nations,” ready to free detained immigrants by any means necessary — I would have thought you had completely lost your grip on reality. But that’s exactly what happened at SFO last night.
When my friends and I arrived there were already hundreds of people there, completely shutting down the street in front of the international terminal. The air was thick with possibility — children and elders chanting, cheering, ready to make a stand. The crowd moved inside, eventually taking over the entire international terminal, shutting down traffic and the security checkpoints. As more people arrived throughout the evening so did a grand feast. Pizzas by the dozens, sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, chocolate, water. There were full pizza boxes stacked 4 feet high in multiple places. I have never seen so much food at a protest. Apparently when the middle class gets pissed, the revolution will be well fed.
Later in the evening as the crowd was starting to tire, the revolutionary marching band, Brass Liberation Orchestra, arrived on queue and started playing in the middle of the international terminal. A cheer rose up from the crowd and everyone started dancing. By midnight my crew was tired and ready to leave, but the action was still going strong, with more folks arriving by the minute. I’m told that many stayed in the airport all night, and today the crowds are even bigger than they were yesterday, with no signs of stopping.
This is one of the most singularly amazing actions that I have seen in 15 years as an activist in The Bay. I haven’t seen crowds this big at a direct action since Occupy Oakland, and the crowds are far more diverse in terms of class, race, and political spectrum. The US middle class is pissed, they are ready to fight, they are beginning to question their belief in the validity of the state. Anarchists and freedom fighters must seize this moment. We have been fighting the state for years, and now we have the opportunity to shape this nascent movement into a radical one.
[ First They Came for the Muslims and We Said Not Today Mother Fuckers ]
Early Days and Innocence at SFO
At San Francisco airport on Saturday afternoon the #MuslimBan protest developed very quickly. At first it was a circle of a few dozen, then a couple of hundred Quaker-ish looking folks with homemade signs, chanting. A few cops buzzed around us on Segways. A little before 3pm, the protest start time, they asked us to go outside. A surge of people arrived from public transit, some as individuals and families and some as loosely organized groups. The crowd grew to over 1000 very quickly. California Highway Patrol, SF Police, and airport security hung back around the edges. Once we spilled out into the street, police more obviously started taking photos of the protesters. Many people were in the street holding their small children. It struck me that disabled people and those with small children were usually on the edges of the crowd being heavily photographed by the cops. It really made my back itch!
I jumped the curb in my wheelchair to get into the street and zoomed around the perimeters of the main protest, reporting the crowd’s mood on Twitter. Phone and wifi coverage was spotty; lots of people were livestreaming snippets or uploading photos. During protests and marches I like to report on the event as steadily as possible, while also keeping an eye on other reports and news coverage, to calibrate my own ability to judge what’s happening and how it gets reported later. Reporting consistently means that people end up asking me questions — simply how to get there, or if it feels “safe” for disabled people or parents with small children, or for me to ask around to see if people need particular supplies. If you aren’t super into chanting Hey Hey Ho Ho for the 50 millionth time in your life, as I am not, then being a reporter and information node — or a dispatcher and quartermaster — is a very useful role to take on!
“Move, Trump, get out the way, get out the way Trump get out the way” was a popular chant. But the one that inspired protesters the most was simply “LET THEM GO! LET THEM GO!” People were cheerful, sharing information, asking for help, making way for others; lots of easy camaraderie. It feels like early days, a feeling of civic duty and starry-eyed trust, innocence.
Families of people being detained were in the airport. There was a group of immigration (and other) lawyers there to help. Many people declared that they weren’t going to leave until all the travelers detained were released. Since planes will keep arriving over the next week, the protest will likely continue.
As the crowd grew, more structure started to develop, with people using tactics fairly well known from Occupy, like the human microphone. A bit later, people took over the (empty) information kiosk for distributing information, water, food, and battery charging. People showed up with huge amounts of pizza.
In the evening the police put on helmets with face shields but otherwise didn’t heavily riot gear up. One friend of mine went around offering them pizza. “Take off your helmet and have some free pizza!” Police and security refused, but the airport maintenance workers happily shared pizza and talked about their own and relatives’ immigration stories. The most tense moments from SFO seem to happen around the security checkpoint areas, where cops put on their face shields and line up in a militant way.
By that point I had left. I continued following the livestreams from SFO until midnight. A jazz band (including someone playing the tuba) showed up to entertain the crowd. A few hundred people stayed overnight. The word was out that a new shift would show up at 6am, but the main invitation for people to come back was aimed at noon on Sunday. It was beautiful to know that people were determined not to leave, not to let the protest fizzle out. It was heartening to see so many people come to SFO on Sunday to keep the energy going!
The last thing I’d like to mention is that, no matter what happens in the current situation, we should support the struggle to free people already being detained through organizations like Detention Watch Network. People talk about being afraid of “camps”… Well, the “camps” are already here.
5000 protesters at SFO. Security checkpoints at both International terminals are blockaded, along with most entranceways and escalators.