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.
Throughout the day, tensions ebbed and flowed between activists supporting China and those opposing Chinese rule in Hong Kong and Tibet.
Despite the clashes, however, San Francisco police told The Standard that by late afternoon, at least, they counted just one protest-related arrest.
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.
Dozens of police officers stood by before gathering in a group on Mission Street.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”