archives of global protests

A21 San Diego: An Overview
by Anna Kunkin 5:42pm Mon Apr 23 '01

While thousands of protestors surged through the streets of Quebec City April 21 to protest the Summit of the Americas meeting and the FTAA, people from all over California gathered in solidarity near the Mexican Border in San Diego.

An estimated 2000 people of all ages, races and political persuasions gathered in Larsen Park; a stone's throw away from the eerie sight of the Mexican flag flying above what looks like just a flimsy picket fence, but what is, to some, a symbol of class and race apartheid.

The day had a very positive tone, with, for the most part, a fairly relaxed although vigilant police presence. Under an alternating rainy and sunny sky, veteran demonstrators networked and passed out literature, while others painted banners and put the finishing touches on puppets. Milling through the growing crowd were folks bearing t-shirts claiming their affiliation with groups such as The Revolutionary Communist Party Youth Brigade, The S.E.I.U. (service workers union), Wages for Housewives, and The Socialist Party among others. Black clad youths, faces covered with the ubiquitous black bandanas gathered in a small cluster, and were watched suspiciously by the police. Drummers, a must have at all modern day protests, brought out their instruments and soon a joyful drum and dance circle created a rhythmic groove throughout the park, and set a tone of solidarity for the day. Food Not Bombs supplied lunch.

The planned rally began at around 12:30 and speakers included Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange, labor representatives from the A.F.L.C.I.O., and local organizers from both sides of the border. The basic message was that the workers and people from around the world need to rise together to fight the corporate greed that threatens to throw millions of working people around the world into poverty, destroy any vestige of democracy or national sovereignty while completely ignoring the environmental crisis we now face. In the words of Los Angeles organizer Don White, "We are not against globalization; we are for the globalization of resistance."

The beauty of being so close to the Mexican border was the highlighting of the proximity of our two nations. Unlike Europeans who all live in close range of many different countries and cultures, most Americans are insulated from the effects of national borders and the ways in which they can divide peoples. Holding the demonstration at a border crossing where hundreds of refugees from poverty die every year while attempting to cross to the other side brought home the true effects of artificial boundaries on poor people around the world. Speeches in English and Spanish served to show that we share the same concerns with not only our close neighbors, but with all people. The lesson to be learned was that only false ideas separate us, not languages and cultures

The original rally plan had called for the entire demonstration to move to Border State Park at 3 p.m. where a hand-across-the-border ceremony was planned with a group of demonstrators mirroring the protest activities in Tijuana. However, due to rain and mud, access to the state park was deemed impossible, and a plan "B" was hastily created. This new plan called for a march to the border crossing, about a half hour's walk away, and a solidarity demonstration at the border. Another option allowed for people to walk across the border and join the Mexicans for a rally near the beach. Some opted to cross over, while the majority stayed on the American side to avoid the possibility of being hassled at the border on the way back.

The march to the border was festive, upbeat and noisy, with puppets and banners supplying color. Drummers accompanied lusty chants in both Spanish and English proclaiming allegiance to the Zapatista movement in Mexico, and solidarity against the FTAA. Local residents and tourists added to the feeling of a parade by gathering on the sidelines, some curious, and some cheering and offering thumbs-up support.

It wasn't until the group arrived at the border that the energy changed from the sense of a celebratory picnic to something more angry and passion driven. A portable microphone appeared from somewhere, and several young speakers took the opportunity to shout their rage at the system. A large drum circle formed a few feet away, and the steady rhythmic beats added to the sense of building anger while clueless tourists scurried to the sidelines. The police, sensing the escalation of energy, began to increase their heretofore rather loose presence, and surrounded the protesters in a stiff soldier-like formation, billy clubs at the ready. Soon the San Diego police in their black uniforms were joined by a number of California Highway Patrol officers in green. Although there were no tear-gas canisters in evidence, the tension was mounting, and the sense was that anything could happen began to build.

There was concern amongst some of the protesters as well, and veterans from other incidents began to move out of the way to avoid being trapped in a confrontation. One young latino man was overheard saying he didn't think some of the white protestors understood that in the case of any trouble it would be the brown people who were more likely to get hurt by the police. When questioned, he proclaimed his solidarity with the days events, but said he was concerned about the safety of brown skinned people, and just wanted to make sure they were alert and aware of the potential for violence that he felt was brewing.

The San Diego organizers were quick to sense the energy escalation, and managed to defuse any potential for trouble by calling for the entire gathering to return to Larsen Park. This was accomplished smoothly with only one more minor incident, when the police, seeming to think that a shopping center on the way back was at risk, felt the need to surround the group of black-clad youths who were marching peacefully together, penning them in. Would the windows of the NIKE outlet store have been smashed? We will never know. And the Black Bloc will never tell.

The day ended with music by local bands, and the crowd dispersed peacefully with the message to continue the fight against the corporate economy.

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