Daniel Eran Dilger
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San Francisco Protests the Chinese Olympic Torch Run

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Daniel Eran Dilger
Demonstrators waving red flags in favor of the Beijing Olympics mingled rather peacefully among those protesting China’s atrocities in Tibet, its support of genocide in Darfur, and its record of human rights violations against its own citizens. Meanwhile, in efforts to avoid any serious confrontation or stop the Olympic torch run through the City, officials decided to hide the torch in a van and spirit it from the ballpark to Van Ness and Pine, where it was then run up to Fort Mason and then through the Marina to the Golden Gate Bridge, avoiding the planned route down the Embarcadero.


The original path intended to run the torch up the Embarcadero from the AT&T ball park to Fisherman’s Wharf and then back to Justin Herman Plaza in front of the Ferry Building, at the foot of Market Street. Thats where the media converged to document the clash between torch runners and protesters.

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The Embarcadero, the main boulevard along the city’s eastern waterfront along the bay, was packed with people, including many Financial District observers on their lunch breaks, bus loads of Chinese imported by the consulate and other pro-China groups to wave Red China flags and banners featuring the Beijing Olympic icons, and protestors, many of whom were waving Tibet’s red, blue, and yellow sun flag, demonstrating against the country’s violent crackdowns in that region. Demonstrations continued for about an hour until it went public that the torch run had been diverted.

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While the press tried to spin tails of skirmishes and violence, people on both sides of the issue mingled as they passed each other with few incidents. There was however a clear clash in style and substance between two groups of demonstrators, one holding corporate Olympic icons and the officially licensed cutesy panda bear characters and the other with stark, often hand-drawn posters mocking the idea of international games being held in a backward country where brutal repression of civil rights and violent attacks on political and religious dissent are making regular headlines.

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There were so many people on the Embarcadero that City officials decided to go with Plan B: an alternative route through the middle of town down the urban path of Highway 101. Van Ness handles 80,000 cars daily, so that change resulted in backing up massive amounts of traffic. Bus loads of police were delivered by special purpose Muni vehicles to secure the path, and still somehow showed up on time. Officers on motorcycles formed a mobile fence along spectators watching from the sidewalks, and even more police on foot and on bicycles ran alongside the entourage of chartered buses and other vehicles making up the procession. At least seven helicopters kept watch from above.

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Despite the misdirection, the Van Ness and Marina path was quickly swamped with observers and protesters who beat it across town once the new path was discovered. Others living in the area took the opportunity to run outside with hastily-created protest signs of their own.

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The torch runners ran closely behind a yellow Bay Area Quackers’ amphibious tour boat charted for the procession. The runners were escorted by police brandishing nightsticks and surrounded by a motorcycle entourage. (Click to enlarge the torch escort photos.)

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Replacement runners relayed torches into one of three vans catered for the run. Each of the three buses carried people holding unlit backup torches.

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Traffic backed up on the Marina from the Golden Gate Bridge approach near the Exploratorium and Crissy Field all the way to Fort Mason, the distant beige buildings on the waterfront in the background. Even after the long wait, drivers honked and waved in support of the protesters.

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A line of police blockaded the small parking lot of the Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts, the last remnant of the sprawling 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. How many police officers does it take to fence off an empty parking lot where nothing is happening? Apparently about two dozen. Once their radios chirped on with an okay to leave, they loaded back into their bus and disappeared, and the City went back to normal. Well, normal for San Francisco.

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  • droughtquake

    It was amusing to watch on TV. Once the original torchbearer ran into the warehouse and hid for half an hour, the in-studio anchors were speculating about possible routes (on the Bay via boat, buses to a location further north along the Embarcadero, etc). but everyone was shocked when they found the buses stop on Van Ness!
    If not for helicopters, there wouldn’t have been any TV footage.

    I just saw on TV that one of the Torchbearers tried to do a little protest (she had a small Tibetan flag), but the Chinese escorts confiscated her flag and got the SF Police to push her to the side of the road into the crowd.

    It looks like the Chinese Consulate selected the audience allowed in the area around the Opening and Closing Ceremony stages. A sea of Chinese flags, but no Tibet flags or protesters. So all the coverage of those areas would have only shown what the Chinese wanted the world to see.

  • gus2000

    What a circus! All for just the freakin’ torch. At least it was peaceful; the French protesters got downright rude.

    Personally, I think the best way to get progress from an ill-behaved nation is to include them in world events, including the Olympics. People want to boycot? Ha! I say we go there, show them how fabulous we are, and then take home all the medals.

  • harrywolf

    Russia as a communist state went into rapid decline when its people, who are European, wanted to be part of the Levis and Macdonalds milieu that the USA exports to the world.
    Call it a soft revolution.
    China is not affected by the same things because, (a) they are not European, with the natural connection to the UK and USA, and (b) they make the goods that we are supposed to tempt them out of their closed world with.

    China is a nasty Oligarchy, has a fearful population, an extremely violent ‘legal’ system, and a desire to control more than just their own polluted country.
    But we dont say anything because they make all our stuff, including, of course, Apple Computers and iPhones.

    Now they are (again) killing Tibetans.

    Is it because we are killing Iraqis that no-one in Government seems to care?

    The Olympics? An over-rated, money grubbing, nasty Oligarchy, set up to make money and prestige for the IOC members, and with a desire to control more than just a few drug-ridden competitors. (don’t tell me that they are clean – thats nonsense and we all know it.)

    China and the IOC – a match made in hell – if no-one watches it on TV, maybe the madness and killing might stop….

    I hate to see the Cops stopping protestors and supporting the Chinese thugs in tracksuits running alongside the idiots with the torch.

    Athletes like grinning fools while blood spills on the streets of Lhasa.
    WRONG.

  • Janus

    The comparison with Iraq is a particularly irritating bit of underhanded sophistry.

    That is, unless I missed the part of the “Mission Accomplished” speech where Dubya pronounced “Iraq is an inalienable part of America forever.”

  • Berend Schotanus

    I’m very glad to see San Francisco doesn’t forget Tibetan freedom.

  • thebob

    Although the Chinese invasion/occupation is atrocious, there are aspects of the Tibetan Government in Exile that most people do not consider.

    Before the occupation, according to anthropologists, a vast majority of the people of Tibet were serfs (“mi ser”), often bound to land owned by monasteries and aristocrats and treated as slaves and chattles because of their non lama cast.

    These people saw only great progress, swapping as they did, Religious totalitarian rule for Communist totalitarian rule.

    The Government in exile represents a group, with a vested interest in continuing that system.

    If there is hypocrisy in the West’s dealing with China, it is that no support is given to democratic Taiwan in it’s bid to join the UN.

  • Jon T

    This is the greatest thing to happen for Tibet in a long time, some real support for their position at long last. I agree, include China, then embarrass them at every opportunity.

    Dan, were the pictures from your iPhone?

  • addicted44

    While the Tibet issue is at the forefront right now due to China’s well-publicized crackdown on the Tibetan protests, another aspect of the protestors are the Darfur protestors, who are tired of China’s obstructionism during the UN’s dealings with the Sudanese government, and China’s failure to keep the promises they made in the UN.

    @thebob – The support for/against Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN (I am not familiar with the details of this issue) does not seem to indicate any hypocrisy, since it seems to be a completely political matter and not involving human rights abuses. On the other hand, the Tibet issue gets a lot of sympathy because besides the political factor, there is the human rights factor, where China has forced a lot of Tibetans to flee, and has clamped down on several rights of theirs.

  • wangii

    I have big problem with the obvious one-side reports on this issue. Common sense tells me if it’s a 40 years problem it should not be as simple as good-evil fair tell. As a Chinese I’m very upset by the only one voice from the west. I don’t understand why smart guys stop using brains but only ears.

  • Jeff

    Wangii, look at the origin of the United States. Our country was created by fighting for independance against a large empire. We’re taught this our entire childhood and we celebrate it every July.

    I’m not saying that Tibet is exactly like the American colonies, but surely you must see that, as a people, Americans are going to be drawn to Tibet as something that’s familiar.

    Yes, I’m sure there’s more to the story beneath the surface, but as I’s sure you also know, only 1 out of 10 people are going to go further than an initial impression.

  • russtic

    @wangii

    What other side? China invaded and now occupies a sovereign country. There can be no justification for this.

    China’s human rights record, its censure of it people it lack of democracy is also not contested. I fail to see how there can be a counter argument. Other than the inane (albeit true) argument that there are worse countries.

  • JeanPhilippe

    @Wangii
    “I have big problem with the obvious one-side reports”

    I know, me too,
    We speak about the Chinese Government here right ?

    Don’t get people wrong most of the protesters are protesting about the repressive Chinese government not the Chinese people.

    More information on why such protests on:
    http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=174

  • kXe

    Tibet has been part of China for ages.
    I don’t understand why everybody thinks the Dalai Lama is such a great person. Do they like slave-owners? Or maybe it is only those Americans who think the south should have won in 1865?

  • ohopkins

    @russtic
    What other side? China invaded and now occupies a sovereign country. There can be no justification for this.

    China’s human rights record, its censure of it people it lack of democracy is also not contested. I fail to see how there can be a counter argument. Other than the inane (albeit true) argument that there are worse countries.

    America invaded and now occupies Iraq.

    Are we forgetting America’s excellent human rights record in that little pocket of the US called Guantanamo Bay where US courts have no jurisdiction and US marines are free to do as they please.

    Oh and you used the D word. Isn’t ‘democracy’ in America about who has the most campaign money?

    I’m not saying America is as bad as China, just that there is no black and white here and it makes little sense to pull the Cold War trick of trying to polarise opinion the situation.

  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    I think the average American spends more time condemning our own Government’s atrocities than forming opinions about foreign issues only because they are front and center. China was a focus this week because the torch was front page news. On principal, I think our citizens unite behind the idea of personal freedoms and democracy.

    Change here happens slowly; one two year step at a time. That’s both good and bad. Stability is good while the inability to bring about rapid change to correct our voting errors takes a lot of time. In the end, I believe the best international policy for the U.S. is to talk AND listen. Cultures are fundamentally different so what we believe is best for us may not be in the best interest of others. That said, when the people are empowered to decide their destiny they do a better job of it than a tightly controlled center. We still make mistakes though.

    PS Daniel, you’re easily as good at covering non-tech topics as you are at talking tech. Nice work.

  • wangii

    @jeff
    Thanks for your explanation. now i have a better idea of the hidden contexts. after all, we have to rely our own experiences to interpret facts.

    @johnnyapple
    what can I say? good points! can’t agree more.

    @jeff
    i think it’s unfair to simplify an international political issue and use big words. My experiences tells me it’s ideology. I understand Mac fans love simplicity and elegance, but daniel’s readers should know how much effort has been paid and how difficult they are, even in the 1/0 world.

    my only two questions are if it is necessary to have a devil’s advocate over tibet issue, and where is he?

    PS Daniel, you have the best Apple/MS analytical articles I ever read, consists of solid tech knowledge and business sense. I’d love to read your analysis on this issue.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    The biggest part of the media coverage over here in Britain was the chaos and the Chinese state presence with that coterie of bodyguards huddling round. The press here only just discovered how they’d been smuggled into Britain for the London stint under false pretences, with or without collusion by our own government.

    To every athlete and protester in Beijing itself who will be flying the Tibetan flag this summer: I give you my thanks. If this is how badly the torch is going, imagine how the whole games will be!

  • http://www.thecarbonlesspaper.com johnnyapple

    I have to back up just a step and recognize a key point that Daniel is making here. Policy and politics aside he was presenting his personal observations of this event and observing the clear contrast between voluntary, individual protest compared to organized presentation. I think it’s a really good perspective. An honest observation from somebody on the scene who isn’t at all motivated to sensationalize the event. Cool.

  • addicted44

    Yeah, good coverage Daniel.

    Additionally, I think a lot of it is a cultural issue. Asian countries tend to weigh economic rights FAR MORE than political and social rights. In other words, for China it is far more important that people do not die of hunger than making sure that those people are free to say whatever they want. Considering the history of the country, and the challenges faced by it (limited resources, extremely large population) this does seem to make sense.

    On the other hand, Americans tend to weigh political / social rights such as free speech far more than economic rights. Consider the debate on universal health care, which is not an issue at all in asian countries. No one will protest if a government can set up a fully funded governmental health care program (and many do). However, Americans will put their lives at risk to ensure that their personal liberties are not taken away. Again, American history shows that this viewpoint makes complete sense.

    This difference in viewpoints causes a wide chasm between how Americans view the events in Tibet, as opposed to how Chinese view those same events. I think we all need to step back and listen, as johnyapple puts it very well.

  • Joel

    “Tibet has been part of China for ages.”

    It depends on which history you use. And if we’re going to use history to determine ownership, can we have the USA back please…? I think you’ll find that, since the UK settled most of it, its acually ours… :D

  • wangii

    @ JeanPhilippe
    I’m very interesting in any mainstream media reports/articles have different voices on this issue. could you please share me some?

    I have no problem at all with any protests, against anybody. for me it’s perfectly ok to have a protest against chinese people if we all did evil thing. my whole point is, mainstream western media should present stories from the other side, for sake of being not like chinese government.

  • JeanPhilippe

    @21 Wangii,

    “to have a protest against chinese people”

    No, nobody protest against “Chinese people” but against a government why do you want to reduce the centuries (millennium) of Chinese culture to the last 100 years.

  • http://johnsessays.blogspot.com John Muir

    @ Wangii

    Here’s the BBC’s report on the London stage:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7332942.stm

    ‘A contingent of pro-China supporters also tried to make their voices heard along the route, waving Chinese and Olympic flags and calling for “one China”.’

    And the San Francisco stage:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7339380.stm

    “Thousands of pro-Tibet and pro-Beijing demonstrators had gathered in San Francisco, prompting fears of violence.”

    The pro-China demonstrators are mentioned several times.

    There’s anything but a media blackout on the fact that some are counter-demonstrating in support of China’s games. But the numbers of pro-Tibet demonstrators are significantly larger, as is the controversy they represent and therefore the amount which must be written about them.

    We’re not all as biased as you might think. ;)

  • russtic

    @ohopkins
    I am not American btw. I do agree however that ‘the allies’ actions with regard to Iraq have been less than exemplary.

    It surprises me that the Olympic committee and national sports people are repeating the mistake of the 1936 Olympics. Allowing them to host it does send the message that they are accepted into the national community.

    (BTW I am not suggesting that China is as bad as Nazi Germany)

  • Silencio

    “Tibet has been part of China for ages.”

    Using that logic, maybe China should give Manchuria back to Japan?

  • gus2000

    “…can we have the USA back please…? I think you’ll find that, since the UK settled most of it, its acually ours…”

    Joel, feel free to take back any Blue state. Oh, I where do I sign up for the free medical care?

  • DingDong

    I wanna see a streaker during the opening ceremony.

  • even

    @Jeff
    “…look at the origin of the United States. Our country was created by fighting for independance against a large empire. We’re taught this our entire childhood and we celebrate it every July.
    I’m not saying that Tibet is exactly like the American colonies, but surely you must see that, as a people, Americans are going to be drawn to Tibet as something that’s familiar.”

    Ah, self-delusion…

    Our ancestors from Europe built this country on the land of Native Americans. Settlers killed the natives and took the resources.

    That is the origin of the United States, however hard we try to forget about it. We don’t ever mention it. It’s still there though, festering, and it makes it difficult for people elsewhere to believe us when we talk about Liberty and Human Rights. Especially with our track record since, with Blacks, with Vietnam, with Cambodia, with South America, with the Middle East…

    At least if we stopped lying to ourselves about our past, or even our present, then maybe we could start making some real progress.

  • sebastianlewis

    Hmm, I figured this was the reason my bus was stopped for about (guessing) 10 minutes around Park Presidio and 14th Ave but your pictures of the Coach 21 confirm this. A small army of police trucks, motorcycles, and cars along with these Coach 21s passed in front backing up traffic for who knows how far back, there’s a small hill there just before the stop at Park Presidio (on the 31) so I could only see 1 or 2 blocks back.

    Sebastian

  • nok

    If this is only human rights related: What’s the point of Chinese goverment suppressing it’s own people while pursuing to be a wealthy and communistic/utopia country. ( Tibetans are also Chinese citizens with equal political rights. )

    It was a political revolution in Tibet as in other places in China back to 1949~1960. Remember! It’s revolution!

    It’s a pity the officers of Tibet province failed to handle the religious and ethnic/cultural problems very well — and most of the officers are Tibetans themselves! Why? Because like many officers in other places in China, they are grew up as farmers/workers, not as high level intellectual persons. Why they want to block the access to Wikipedia or Google? Because they just don’t know how to use it, or develop good internet laws compared to law makers of developed contries.

  • PhilipWing

    Ah, to get back to the days when the only politicization around Olympic Games was done by the host country.

    Heck, the world went to *Nazi* Germany in 1936. What happened? Athletes like Jesse Owens kicked Aryan butt… :) (Ok, maybe pre-Aryan…)

  • droughtquake

    In reading all the comments here (and many of the comments on articles on this topic on SFGate), I notice that there are two years that keep getting mentioned (1949 & 1959) as when Tibet was incorporated into China. It’s interesting how ‘has always been’ turns out to be only 49 or 59 years…

  • Peace brother

    THANK YOU Daniel,

    … for sharing these images and for reporting about the SF support for the Tibetan case. I’m from ’64 and the first black and white television images i remember still are how Chinese communistic soldiers where attacking monks in Lhasa. I must have been age 4 or 5 and i never forgot.

    THANK YOU Daniel,

    … for sharing these images and for reporting about the SF support for the Tibetan case. I’m from ’64 and the first black and white television images i remember still are how Chinese communistic soldiers where attacking monks in Lhasa. I must have been age 4 or 5 and i never forgot.

    When i see all over the world how police recently treats Tibetans and especially the monks, i feel sad about the hypocrisy, the lack of global moral and compassion. Even Nepal, the birth place of Buddha, which one year ago liberated itself through demonstrations is beating up demonstrating monks now.

    And the world just accept the fact that Chinese government twists truth like an Olympic Champion. They ‘liberated’ the poor Tibetans and the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize but Chinese government talks of a terrorist/seperatist they still refuse to talk to? They feel no shame at all and continue to bend reality beyond belief.

    Tibet, Taiwan, Burma – Myanmar, Darfur, …
    Why is the world putting it’s head in the sand for so long?
    Why don’t we outsource more to Taiwan and support their bid for joining the UN?
    China is a beautiful country that should not destroy Tibetan culture. Chinese all over the world please open your eyes, have compassion, change your minds…

    Be a true Olympic host by living up to the Olympic spirit: brotherhood, understanding and dialogue!

    Roughly Drafted Daniel,
    THANK YOU for bringing us Roughly Drafted Magazine
    THANK YOU for posting this!

    Peace

    And the world just accept the fact that Chinese government twists truth like an Olympic Champion. They ‘liberated’ the poor Tibetans and the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize but Chinese government talks of a terrorist/seperatist they still refuse to talk to? They feel no shame at all and continue to bend reality beyond belief.

    Why is the world putting it’s head in the sand for so long?
    Why don’t we outsource more to Taiwan and support their bid for joining the UN?
    China is a beautiful country that should not destroy Tibetan culture. Chinese all over the world please open your eyes, have compassion, change your minds…

    Be a true Olympic host by living up to the Olympic spirit: brotherhood, understanding and dialogue!

    Roughly Drafted Daniel,
    THANK YOU for bringing us Roughly Drafted Magazine
    THANK YOU for posting this!

    Peace

  • Peace brother

    Sorry for making bit of a mess in comment #33.
    Please feel free to edit by removing the first one and the last few paragraphs. You can also totally erase my mishandling of your blog by removing this comment too.
    :∫

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