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San Francisco, April 2008
Olympic Torch Fizzles in San Francisco
Photos by Luke Hauser
On April 9, 2008, as the Olympic torch was scheduled to be carried through San Francisco, thousands of people took the occasion to voice their opinion of China's political policies - both for and against.
After rowdy protests in London and Paris cast a shadow over the celebratory torch run, public officials in San Francisco decided against trying to force the torch through the huge crowds, which included not only pro- and anti-torch factions, but throngs of tourists and sight-seers.
Instead, while using lines of riot police to decoy the crowd, authorities secretly re-routed the torch far across town. Bearers ran a couple of miles with hardly any spectators (see report below) - then hustled the torch off to the airport without its ever appearing at the rally planned in its honor.
As the event fizzled to an end, a security guard said to no one in particular: "Looks like we all got punked."
The absurdity of the situation was summed up by the UK Guardian, which I cite here:
Olympic Torch Journey Descends Into Farce
Route cut in half as flame disappears from view
The San Francisco leg of the Olympic torch relay descended into farce after the authorities cut the route in half and hustled the torch away from waiting protesters and supporters of the Beijing games.
At the opening ceremony, the first torchbearer took the flame and held it aloft before quickly running behind the scenes and into a warehouse. It was unclear what had happened to the torch, with even the news helicopters unable to find it.
After a 40-minute hiatus, during which rumour spread among the waiting crowd of thousands gathered along the waterfront route, the flame reappeared about a mile inland, far away from the crowds.
Authorities, apparently in a last-minute decision to avoid the protests that had plagued the torch on its parade through London and Paris, reduced the six-mile route to three miles. A closing ceremony for the torch was also relocated away from the waterfront area.
The day began with thousands of people lining the announced route. With nothing else happening, small factions marched up and down the street. Here, a Free Tibet march approaches the plaza.
Although Chinese flags were preponderant, the crowd in the street was divided between pro-China folks, and those protesting conditions in Tibet, Burma, and Darfur.
Not everyone was chanting and yelling.
As the afternoon wore on and people realized they had been duped, spirits of the torch-applauders sagged...
...while the protesters cheered louder as it became apparent that the official celebration had been shut down.
The stage, where the torch was to be adored by the crowd, can be seen in the distance. No one except police, a marching band (white plumes) and a handful of disgruntled dignitaries were allowed within a hundred feet of the stage, making it a funereal zone amid the general melee. After every song, a wave of boos would rise from the protesting crowd, which by mid-afternoon outnumbered the pro-torch faction.
The VIP seating section was abandoned, leaving a void in the center of the "festive" plaza.
But not to despair - the San Francisco protest had its own torchbearers - skyclad, no less.
Witnessing the Torch Run
This morning I had the intention of going to Embarcadero Plaza (on the San Francisco Bay) to be one of the thousands to protest China's political action.
I had attended the rally and candlelight vigil at UN Plaza the night before and was moved by not only the speakers but by the people who stood around me and the solidarity that must be demonstrated during the Olympic torch run the following day.
I listened to the morning news for any updates on the run. I take public transportation, so I was attentive to the routes of buses and trains closure. I was suspicious that one bus (Van Ness #49 ) was mentioned when it was not really on the proposed torch route.
Still, I went downtown to the main rally site. I found a spot under a tree in the park across from the Ferry Building and watched groups of demonstrators pro and con.
As I heard the Ferry Clock chime one one o'clock, my suspicion arose again about the Van Ness bus. I decided to listen to my inner voice. I left the park and got a bus to Van Ness Avenue.
Sure enough, on Van Ness, a squad of police were closing the street. I gave a kiss to my inner voice.
I actually did not see the person who was carrying the torch because of the rows of police. But I did see the flame as it passed, and I thought of nonviolent struggles around the world. I asked the energy of the flame to support that energy.
I wonder if I had not attended the rally the previous evening - would my inner voice given me the "alert," so I could witness the torch and add to the nonviolent energy?
Photos ©2008 by RQ. Please do not copy, reproduce, fold, spindle, mutilate, or otherwise use them without written permission. Thanks!
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