SAN FRANCISCO — 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 attended by President Joe Biden and world leaders from almost two dozen countries will take part.
Protests are expected during this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ conference, which could draw more than 20,000 participants, including hundreds of international journalists. The No to APEC coalition, made up of more than 100 grassroots groups, says trade deals struck at summits like APEC exploit workers and their families.
Given the strict security zones open only to participants in the Moscone Center conference hall and other locations at the summit, it is unlikely that world leaders will even see the protests. But Suzanne Ali, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement, says the U.S. government must be held accountable for supplying arms to Israel in the war against Hamas.
“Even if they can’t see us as we mobilize and march together, they will know we are out there,” she said.
San Francisco has a long history of loud and violent protests, as well as trade talks. In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets during a World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. Protesters managed to delay the start of the conference and drew global attention as overwhelming police fired tear gas and plastic bullets and arrested hundreds of people.
Due to mass protests, Chile withdrew as APEC host in 2019. Last year, when Thailand hosted the summit in Bangkok, pro-democracy protesters questioned the legitimacy of the Thai prime minister. Police fired rubber bullets at the crowd, wounding several protesters and a Reuters journalist.
Chief Bill Scott of the San Francisco Police Department said he expected several protests per day, although it was uncertain how many would materialize. He warned against criminal behavior.
“People are welcome to exercise their constitutional rights in San Francisco, but we do not tolerate people committing acts of violence, destruction of property or other crimes,” Scott said. “We will make arrests if necessary.”
APEC, a regional economic forum, was founded in 1989 and has 21 member countries, including the world’s two largest economic superpowers – China and the United States – as well as Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines. An accompanying CEO summit is planned for this week, which critics also want to protest against on Wednesday.
The summit will focus on a highly anticipated meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who rarely, if ever, encounters protesters on home soil.
China maintains tight security ahead of all events within its borders to ensure there are no protests. In addition, border controls will be increased at city borders and at transit points such as train stations and airports. Human rights activists based in China often receive visits or calls from police before important events to remind them not to demonstrate.
Rory McVeigh, a 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 a big difference, but occasionally they do, and occasionally they can make a big difference,” he said.
The United Vietnamese American Community of Northern California plans to protest against Xi and Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines will advocate for the rights of indigenous Filipinos and protest the presence of President Bongbong Marcos, son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Protesters are disappointed that San Francisco, with its rich history of advocating for the working class, is home to CEOs of companies and leaders of countries that they say are causing great harm.
“It’s silly, from the mayor to the governor to the president, they want to say it’s a great idea to have all these people who have benefited from the overlapping crises of our time,” said Nik Evasco, a climate activist. “It’s just disgusting.”
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