SAN FRANCISCO — Activism took the spotlight on the second day of the APEC summit in San Francisco. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest the conference.
Activists protesting corporate profits, environmental abuses, poor working conditions and the Israel-Hamas war marched in downtown San Francisco on Sunday, united in their opposition to a global trade summit that will draw President Joe Biden and leaders from nearly two dozen countries.
The group was on move up Market Street Sunday toward the APEC Summit at Moscone Center.
Earlier in the day, there was a rally on the Embarcadero.
“For us our main thing is to shut it down. We want to make sure the economies, the things that people want can be heard, not just by heads of state,” said activist Justher Gutierrez.
Protests are expected throughout this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ conference, which could draw more than 20,000 attendees, including hundreds of international journalists. The No to APEC coalition, made up of more than 100 grassroots groups, says trade deals struck at summits such as APEC exploit workers and their families.
Many of these activists say they want a seat at the table when it comes to banning fossel fuels.
“Our message to today, is when you have a confluence of world leaders talking trade and enshrining a green economy, Exxon should not have a platform,” said Nik Evasco.
While activists are making sure they’re heard, San Francisco is trying to make sure APEC attendees are safe.
Blocks of fencing surround Moscone. Some businesses like the Starbucks at the Metreon have been boarded up to protect windows. There’s also a large police presence.
Activists say they planning a weeks’ worth of protest during APEC.
“Today’s protest is showing the world with a resistance to APEC, while they’re kicking off their summit, we are kicking off peaceful protests,” Evasco said.
It’s unlikely world leaders will even glimpse the protests given the strict security zones accessible only to attendees at the Moscone Center conference hall and other summit sites. But Suzanne Ali, an organizer for the Palestinian Youth Movement, says the U.S. government needs to be held to account for supplying weapons to Israel in its war against Hamas.
“Even if they cannot see us, as we’re mobilizing and marching together, they will know that we’re out there,” she said.
San Francisco has a long tradition of loud and vigorous protests, as do trade talks. In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Seattle during a World Trade Organization conference. Protesters succeeded in delaying the start of the conference and captured global attention as overwhelmed police fired tear gas and plastic bullets and arrested hundreds of people.
Chile withdrew as APEC host in 2019 due to mass protests. Last year, when Thailand hosted the summit in Bangkok, pro-democracy protesters challenged the legitimacy of the Thai prime minister. Police fired at the crowd with rubber bullets that injured several protesters and a Reuters journalist.
Chief Bill Scott of the San Francisco Police Department said he expects several protests a day, although it’s uncertain how many will materialize. He warned against criminal behavior.
“People are welcome to exercise their constitutional rights in San Francisco, but we will not tolerate people committing acts of violence, or property destruction or any other crime,” Scott said. “We will make arrests when necessary.”
APEC, a regional economic forum, was established in 1989 and has 21 member countries, including the world’s two largest economic superpowers – China and the U.S – as well as Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. An accompanying CEO summit is scheduled for this week, which critics also plan to protest Wednesday.
Headlining the summit is a highly anticipated meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who rarely – if at all – encounters protesters on home soil.
Rory McVeigh, sociology professor and director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame, said politicians use protests to gauge public opinion and that media attention helps.
“Probably a lot of protests just don’t make much difference, but occasionally they do, and occasionally they can make a huge difference,” he said.
The United Vietnamese American Community of Northern California plans to protest Xi and Vietnam President Vo Van Thuong. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines will be rallying for the rights of Indigenous Filipinos and protesting the presence of
President Bongbong Marcos, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Protesters are disappointed that San Francisco, with its rich history of standing up for the working class, would host CEOs of companies and leaders of countries that they say do great harm.
“It’s silly, from the mayor to the governor to the president, they want to say this is a great idea to have all these people who have been profiting off the intersecting crises of our time,” said Nik Evasco, a climate activist. “It’s just sickening.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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