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Anti-APEC, anti-China protesters block traffic on San Francisco streets

Police and activists stand face to face along at Mission Street.
“No to APEC” protestors face off with San Francisco Police Department officers in riot gear on Fifth and Mission streets in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Hundreds of protesters gathered in San Francisco on Wednesday around the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit’s security zone, blocking traffic at multiple intersections as they advocated for causes including a cease-fire in Gaza, Tibet’s independence from China and climate action.

Two San Francisco Police Department officers stand near a rally that includes people waving Chinese flags.
San Francisco police officers stand near a pro-China rally at Third Street near Market Street on Wednesday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Throughout the day, tensions ebbed and flowed between activists supporting China and those opposing Chinese rule in Hong Kong and Tibet.

RELATED: Photos: See Protests Unfold Outside the APEC Summit

A man looks into the distance during a protest with Tibetan flags in the background.
Demonstrators wearing "Free Tibet" vests faced off with police and pro-China protesters on Market Street Wednesday afternoon. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Despite the clashes, however, San Francisco police told The Standard that by late afternoon, at least, they counted just one protest-related arrest.

A person screams into into the distance during a protest with Tibetan flags in the background.
Protesters supporting Tibet's independence from China marched down Market Street on their way to a pro-China rally at Third Street on Wednesday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

The demonstrations began around 7:30 a.m., as protesters in yellow vests stood in front of a line of cars attempting to drive southbound on Fifth Street.

A pro-Tibetan demonstrator scales the flagpole—where she stayed for hours—in front of the Hyatt Regency Hotel near Third and Jessie streets in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Joel Umanzor/The Standard | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Dozens of police officers stood by before gathering in a group on Mission Street.

A pro-Tibetan protester screams and points in the direction of California Highways Patrol during a demonstration
California Highways Patrol officers stand between "Free Tibet" and pro-China activists during dueling demonstrations at Market and Third streets in Downtown San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

By 8:45 a.m., traffic was backed up for nearly two blocks between Howard and Harrison streets along Fifth Street, forcing many drivers to turn around. Climate activists blocked New Montgomery and Stevenson streets around 9 a.m.

READ MORE: APEC San Francisco: Everything To Know About Security, Traffic and Transit in 10 Maps

A long line of protesters side on the street blocking traffic with a "Demilitarize the planet"banner on the ground.
Climate activists protesting against APEC block car traffic on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard
Protesters stand in the middle of the street with and "End Climate Pollution" banner.
Climate activists protesting against APEC block car traffic on New Montgomery Street in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard
a white car reverses down a blocked street as poncho-clad protesters look on.
A car turns around as activists protesting against APEC block car traffic at Stevenson and New Montgomery streets in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard
An angry person yells while holding a phone to record an APEC summit delegate as they walk along the sidewalk.
A woman yells at an APEC summit delegate along Fifth Street in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard
cars turn out of a lane of traffic to make a U-turn
Drivers attempt to escape blocked traffic along Fifth Street in San Francisco as APEC protests continue. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

The protesters called for a cease-fire in Gaza and led their rally with a cry to “shut down APEC.”

“We won’t allow genocide to be normalized,” said Ronald Cruz, an organizer for By Any Means Necessary.

“We’re going to hold it down here as long as we can,” one organizer told the crowd.

A row of protesters holds a black banner with words in white block lettering with the words "War criminals out of SF" in front of tall black security fencing blocking off a street intersection.
Protesters demonstrate during a “No to APEC” protest at Fifth and Mission streets, a few blocks from the APEC Summit at Moscone Center in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Courtesy Eric Williams
A shaven-headed suit-wearing man threads his way past uniformed police officers and a few protesters on a street corner.
San Francisco police officers and protesters stand near a suit-wearing man with an "APEC CEO Summit 2023" lanyard Wednesday at Fifth and Mission streets near the entrance to the APEC security zone. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

‘I’m Trying To Go To Work’

Danny Gonzales, who was stuck in the resulting traffic, said he was trying to get to work just two blocks away from the protest.

“This is really affecting me,” Gonzales said. “I’m trying to go to work.”

A group of people attempting to get to work at a nearby hotel were surrounded by protestors but said they had nothing to do with APEC.

“We’re just trying to get to work. We’re SF natives,” said one man. “We’ve got a lot going on in the city. Their cause and their fight, I understand. But I’m just trying to go to work.”

READ MORE: San Francisco ‘Cleaned Up’ Streets Ahead of APEC. But How and What, Exactly, Did It Do?

A person wearing dark clothing with arms folded behind them stands in a crosswalk a short distance from a group of police in dark colored uniforms in the middle of a street.
A vest-wearing protester faces a group of San Francisco police officers Wednesday near Fifth and Mission streets in San Francisco. | Source: David Sjostedt/The Standard

“Some of these sneaky delegates walked past that intersection,” one organizer yelled into a megaphone. “If you see them in their suits, shout … make it very uncomfortable.”

Protestors then surrounded a man in a blue suit who was attempting to cross the picket line.

“You’ve got a cheap suit,” one protester yelled.

Protesters briefly block a group of people before a police officer arrived to guide them toward an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation entrance zone near Fifth and Mission streets Wednesday in San Francisco. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard


A protester who gave her name as “Maria CD,” wearing pink bedazzled shoes, followed what looked to be several APEC attendees down the street while screaming and pointing a phone camera at them.

“Shame. Shame. Shame,” she yelled. “There’s blood on your hands.”

A SFPD officer pushes a person who is grimacing.
A San Francisco Police Department officer pushes Angela Moreno, right, during a “No to APEC” protest on Fifth Street near Mission in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard


“They have no soul,” she said. “They have all this money to fund a genocide. They move homeless people. I want them to stand for something. … All they stand for is money and power.”

“No to APEC” protestors are confronted by San Francisco police officers in riot gear on Mission and Fifth streets. | Gina Castro/The Standard | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Around 8 a.m., police in riot gear attempted to make a path through the crowd.

“Don’t put your hands on an officer again,” an officer told a protester.

“Does this look like a riot to you?” a protester screamed.

‘What We’re Doing Is Working’

Cody Urban, steering committee member for the No to APEC Coalition, claimed the group had successfully redirected delegates from Thailand and China.

“What we’re doing is working,” Urban said.

Rhonda Ramiro, convener with the No to APEC Coalition, told The Standard the group started coalescing earlier this year when they first heard foreign leaders would be gathering in the city for APEC meetings. She said the group’s goal is to make it as difficult as possible for people to attend Wednesday’s APEC CEO Summit, which she said will include weapon manufacturers and oil companies. Companies such as Boeing and Exxon are participating in the event.

“We want to make it as difficult for them as possible,” Ramiro said. “Every day, the average person is living [pay]check to [pay]check. … Whose life is really inconvenienced? It’s ours.”

Protesters Denounce Chinese Rule in Tibet, Hong Kong

Just before noon, protesters advocating for Tibet’s and Hong Kong’s independence from China marched down Market Street, demanding that the Chinese government release political prisoners and urging the United Nations to intervene.

Marchers began their demonstration at the Chinese consulate on Laguna Street before moving to the Powell Street BART Station and then south toward Moscone Center.

Protesters carrying colorful flags and signs in Chinese march down the street under cloudy skies.
Protesters calling for the end of Chinese rule in Tibet and Hong Kong march along Market Street in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

“Xi Jinping, you’re not welcome,” a group of protestors shouted, referencing the Chinese president. “Shame, shame, China, shame!”

The demonstration eventually turned onto Second Street before circling onto Harrison and then back onto Fifth Street.

Protesters wave U.S. and Hong Kong flags and carry banners saying "Liberate Hong Kong" and "Free Tibet."
Protesters calling for the end of Chinese rule in Tibet and Hong Kong march along Market Street in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Topjor Tsultrim, an organizer with a group called Students for a Free Tibet, said the march would circle the security zone around the Moscone Center.

“We have gathered, Hong Kongers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Taiwanese and Chinese dissidents, to rise up together against Xi Jinping and reject his narrative that China is a peaceful, prosperous country that is open for business,” Tsultrim said.

A long line of people stand along a city street holding American and Chinese flags and one man to the far right holds a Tibetan flag.
Mike Roche, a Berkeley resident and supporter of Tibetan rights, right, stands at the corner of Stevenson and Third streets near the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

Mike Roche, a Berkeley resident who stood at the corner of Stevenson and Third streets near the Hyatt Regency Hotel with a Tibetan flag, said he was involved in a small back-and-forth with pro-China demonstrators.

Earlier in the day, Roche recounted how the differing sides got into a scuffle—but said he believes in engaging people with differing opinions.

As Roche tried to display the Tibetan flag, demonstrators covered his area with a large flag of China.

“One China!” a protester yelled at him.

A man stretches a large, red, Chinese flag around a Tibetan flag on a city sidewalk as pedestrian pass.
Pro-China demonstrators attempt to cover up a Tibetan flag during a demonstration at the corner of Stevenson and Third streets by the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco on Wednesday. | Source: Joel Umanzor/The Standard

When asked if he was worried about expressing his opinion in the crowd, Roche said it wasn’t weighing too much on his mind.

“I’m an American citizen expressing my opinion in the United States,” he told The Standard. “We need freedom of speech in China and the United States. Let’s keep talking.”

George Kelly can be reached at gkelly@sfstandard.com
David Sjostedt can be reached at david@sfstandard.com