Thousands of protesters rallied Sunday in San Francisco to denounce this week's APEC gathering and push for a cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Demonstrators gathered at noon at Harry Bridges Plaza on the Embarcadero, then marched down Market Street to Moscone Center in the South of Market neighborhood.
The No to APEC Coalition—an umbrella group of over 150 grassroots organizations—has criticized the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum for pushing “free trade” to harm Indigenous people around the world. But trade was not the only issue on demonstrators' minds.
The protesters carried a variety of banners and signs, with messages including "Ceasefire" and "Until Return & Liberation"—referring to the Middle East war—and "Uphold Sovereignty of Nations" and "Shut Down APEC! Junk IPEF!"
In a statement late last week, representatives from the No to APEC Coalition said protesters would peacefully speak out about their opposition to the gathering, as well as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)—the Biden administration's road map for a new Asia-Pacific economic strategy—as well as climate initiatives they perceive as less than transparent.
Around 12:30 p.m., an organizer led a thunderous "Shut down APEC!" call in the plaza before speakers addressed the crowd.
David Canham, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents more than 50,000 employees in local governments, nonprofit agencies, health care programs and schools throughout Northern California, was among those in attendance.
"APEC, just like NAFTA, is not good for working people in the Asia Pacific. The corporations that are going to be benefiting from the policies that are benefiting currently from the policies of APEC are actually the same corporations that we are fighting right here in this country," Canham said. "So it's in our interest to stand in solidarity together here, but also with the people in the Asia-Pacific region."
Some participants came from out of town, including Donna Denina, 46, of Seattle. Denina said she came to San Francisco specifically to attend the APEC protests and she had participated in demonstrations against APEC earlier in the year when the forum held some lower-level meetings in Seattle.
Denina said she feared "detrimental impacts" from trade agreements advanced by APEC, and possibly under IPEF. "Part of why they have an interest in that region is mainly because of corporate interest. Cheap labor, raw materials, things like that," said Denina, who added she was a member of the International Women's Alliance, which is a member of the No to APEC coalition.
"I just hope that people educate themselves around APEC's impacts ... because we really need to understand how important it is for world leaders to see how everyday people are impacted by decisions that they make."
Rhonda Ramiro, a convener of the No to APEC Coalition, said demonstrators gathered to "say that we are against the policies that APEC is promoting that have led to the climate crisis that we're in, that have led to the largest economic disparities that, we've seen, that have led to the driving down of wages and the exiting of livable jobs from people in the United States."
Ramiro sought to draw a line between the promotion of trade and economic integration policies and conflict in the Middle East. The "economic policies of the corporations and countries in the world have caused oppression of people around the world," she said. "That includes the occupation of Palestine by the Zionist state of Israel."
The march terminated around 5 p.m. near Moscone Center on Fifth Street amid a significant police presence.
As the demonstration wound down, Kobi Guillory, an activist who came from Chicago for the demonstration, called out to protesters from the lead sound truck on a microphone, telling the crowd that their myriad struggles were connected by a common thread: U.S. imperialism.
As he spoke, members of Gabriela USA, an alliance of progressive grassroots Filipino women's organizations, chanted, "Women over profit! There is only one solution: proletarian revolution."
Guillory led the crowd in boos denouncing the Democratic Party's planned convention in Milwaukee in July ahead of the November 2024 presidential election.
"Solidarity is how we will overthrow this whole damn system," Guillory said. "We're going to keep fighting until we win."
APEC, launched more than 30 years ago, is a grouping of 21 member economies, including the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Australia, aimed at promoting free trade throughout the Asia Pacific region. It hosts multiple meetings in a given host nation throughout the year, culminating in "Leaders Week," which is taking place in San Francisco this week.
Alongside Leaders Week is the APEC CEO Summit, which will bring heads of state together with business executives like X owner Elon Musk and Salesforce boss Marc Benioff.
The U.S. Secret Service is the lead agency for security for the APEC events. Restrictions on pedestrian and vehicle traffic will be in place around the Moscone Center, transit lines will be rerouted or closed, and air traffic over San Francisco will be limited.
President Joe Biden will be staying in Nob Hill, and additional security measures will be in place there. Part of the Embarcadero will be closed Wednesday for event that will bring world leaders to the Exploratorium.
More than 1,000 outside law enforcement officers have come to San Francisco to deal with any potential disruption.
While activists gear up to get their message heard, San Francisco is doing everything it can to facilitate a successful APEC, including ramping up security, rerouting traffic and broadcasting a marketing campaign to promote the event. Leaders and wealthy sponsors of the summit are also hosting fancy events and celebrations across the city.
George Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org