I was reminded over the weekend how much I love living in the Bay Area, and am extremely proud of how San Francisco and its major Ed Lee, residents and our connected community handled the various protests taking place on Saturday.
Everything from shutting down the far right extremist group Patriot Prayer rally at Crissy Field by encouraging hundreds of dog owners to come and carpet the field in advance with lots and lots of dog poo (which they did) to show how welcome they were, to the peaceful counter protests taking part throughout the city, to the “Peace, Love and Understanding” rally downtown that we attended as a family and with friends.
The brown carpet treatment at Crissy Field seemed to encourage the group to hastily change plans and move their event to Alamo Square Park. However, given the timing involved no permits were issued, which led to SFPD gating off and completely shutting down access to the park while local residents hung “Love Trumps Hate” signs on their homes and over 1,000 counter-protesters rallied at the foot of Alamo Square.
Patriot Prayer ultimately decided to flee to Pacifica, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco, to hold a “news conference” in a remote location stating their civil rights and freedom of speech were violated, and all they wanted to do was to “promote love and peace and freedom.” I smell dog shit.
In reality, they were granted a permit for their original planned event at Crissy Field – they chose not to move forward. No rights were violated, and their freedoms of speech and to lawfully assemble in public ware not denied by the local government.
Freedom of speech is one thing; freedom of hate speech is quite another. Spreading hate speech, discriminating and inciting violence is not covered by the First Amendment. Hate speech can not go unchecked. While Patriot Prayer’s leader Joey Gibson has publicly denounced Nazis, the KKK and other racist groups, Patriot Prayer has a proven record of attracting white supremacists and neo-nazis at their events, which often results in violent confrontations, and Mr. Gibson knows this.
Meanwhile, we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon of music, art, activism and love at the Peace, Love and Understanding rally in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza in front of City Hall, with Michael Franti and Spearhead headlining the entertainment. The event was really well organized, safe and delivered as promised; it was family-friendly and relatively free of political speeches – just people of all types coming together and celebrating our differences. There were no anarchists anywhere to be seen and no bullshit. Or dog shit.
While my wife Laura and I aren’t convinced that public rallies change the minds of those we tend to gather to oppose (peacefully or not), we agree that it’s generally better to act than not – whether to show our children what is right, to make ourselves feel better by doing something about the situation, or simply to convince those coming out of the woodwork on the wrong side of what is right that they need to change or go back under the rocks they crawled out from. It was also a really good excuse to celebrate the diversity, open-mindedness, acceptance and tolerance that makes San Francisco and the Bay Area such an amazing place to live and be a part of.
Only one person was arrested at the protests throughout the day — for public intoxication at Alamo Park. Mayor Ed Lee summed it up best when he said, “San Francisco residents made sure the face of love and compassion dominated over hate speech and incitement of violence.” The Patriot Prayer people ultimately returned to an essentially empty Crissy Field later in the day but it went largely unnoticed.
It gives me hope that collectively we can work together to hopefully help make America civil again.