Last Thursday, March 20, 2003, happened to be the day that the U.S. began its military action in Iraq. A nationwide group of political activists had planned a nationwide protest to coincide with this military action. This protest was called “No Business As Usual,” questioning how we, as Americans, can go about business as usual while our own country drops bombs on a nation overseas.
Many businesses supported this idea by closing their doors on this day. My company was one of those businesses who decided to “not do business as usual” that day, in support of peace, but also with the anticipation that many of us might not be able to get to work, with the expected shutting down of our City’s streets, bus lines, bridges, and trains.
Of course, this was a day I sat very much glued to the television, watching coverage of the beginning war, so far away. But the rumblings of my City’s growing unrest couldn’t be ignored. At 7:30 AM a small group of protesters marched down the street in front of our apartment. 9th Street is a freeway exit for commuters heading downtown to work, and the protesters were determined that there would be “No Business As Usual” this day in San Francisco.
All day long, and for every day since, helicopters hovered over our little flat at 9th and Howard Streets. Our neighborhood, the South of Market District (or SOMA), sits just 2 blocks from Civic Center, City Hall, and the Federal Building, is the residential neighborhood adjacent to downtown’s southern edge, and lies between the Financial District and all of the freeways (I-80, I-280, and HWY 101, all of which exit through SOMA to enter downtown San Francisco). This made us, haplessly, at the epicenter of the day’s civil unrest. The droning of helicopters has become the normal background noise of our neighborhood, yet I find it leaving me teetering on the brink of sanity. If I never hear another helicopter again, it will be too soon. Yet, I ponder how much worse it must be to live in a war-zone.
As the morning blossomed into a bright, warm sunny day, the City descended “into anarchy” (according to our own Police Chief). The police were outnumbered, and spent the entire day fighting a losing battle. The protesters weren’t gathered in a single location, but were spread throughout the City, and as one area was cleared by police, protesters had already moved back in to areas previously cleared. Some intersections were blocked by protesters who had locked themselves together with metal pipes, which had to be cut away with band-saws before the protesters could be moved. Eventually, patience wore thin and violence became inevitable.
The local news did a fair job of covering an unprecedented day. By the day’s end, nearly 1700 people had been arrested. But it was astonishing to me that this City in turmoil got so little notice by the national news. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the protesters, it is exactly this experience of being ignored that the protesters were acting out against. And I must blame the media for whitewashing and diminishing an event for the rest of the American population who did not witness it.
At any rate, I did have to go out and run a couple of errands of Thursday, and I brought my camera with me. I first went to the pharmacy at Market and Van Ness Streets, about 4 blocks from my apartment. Van Ness Street is where Market was closed to traffic (from Van Ness all the way to the Ferry Building, on the water, in Downtown San Francisco, a 4-mile stretch) because of the overwhelming number of protesters in the streets. After the pharmacy, I needed to deposit a check. The most convenient bank ATM (I certainly wasn’t going to attempt to drive this day) is at 3rd and Market Streets, downtown. So I hopped on the Underground at Van Ness Station, and got off at Montgomery Station. This is where I took most of my pictures.
I’ve posted my photos on Ofoto.com, and you can see them by clicking the following link:No Business As Usual
Each picture is captioned, so you can get an idea of what I was photographing. Enjoy!