©Cecile Pineda, April 5, 2013
Although public transportation crisscrosses its vertigo slopes, San Francisco’s Pacific Heights is a fortress on the hill. Here on its tree-lined streets, the mansions of the rich sport elaborate mansards, stepped fountains of perpetually running water, manicured gardens, and security gates. Their blondes are the same as our blondes, only a little more bottled, their jeans a little tighter, and their heels a bit more platformed. They do not carry Gucci knock-offs. They do not favor police barricades—probably even less than we do—and certainly not in their neighborhood. When they drive by in their Simonized BMWs, their eyes focus straight ahead. It’s where the political crass comes trolling for megabucks—$30,000 a plate worth. It’s where two California Congresspersons keep their strongholds: Mrs. Richard Blum, and Nancy Mafiosi.
Already riding the Divisadero bus up the dizzying inclines, I know this is going to be the way it always is in San Francisco, no matter how terminal the cause: There’s a guy sporting a wobblies’ cap who’s published a book on Judi Bari and the Maxxam Spring; a Code Pink sister who’s walked the Golden Gate Bridge Peace walk with me for months on end. It’s a party of smiling faces, cheering each other on as more people pile on, displaying signs that read: Say No to XL Pipeline NOW; We’re ALL outside the Green$Zone now; No Nukes. Shut ‘Em Down, and What the Fukushima (at which a black church lady turns away her disapproving eyes. I guess her starchy upbringing didn’t prepare her for sacrifice zones).
The bus lets us off at Jackson before it heads east for Russian Hill. We gasp the last slope together. At the Pacific Avenue intersection, all four corners are crammed with demonstrators, obedient behind police barricades. I walk up Pacific to Baker Street. Another nicely-mannered crowd shivers, packed tight behind the barricades. But we are nowhere near the mansion where the Emperor of the Universe will be sweating it out, raiding the pockets of the rich, or where the rich will sweat it out to get “access.” It is rumored that the doyen, now retired, does not favor OKing the Pipeline, but never mind, they’ll empty their pockets just the same, and anyway the Emperor will continue doing exactly what their opponent want, enabling the Monsanto Protection Act, still getting a pass from the Kool-Aid Lotus Eaters.
The crowd takes off to the left, marching one block north to Broadway, packing the intersection even tighter. The Brass Liberation Orchestra blows a few tunes, but they can’t play The Internationale anymore because the younger ones haven’t learned the tune. Crowds groove to the inane chant Hey, hey, ho, ho, Keystone Pipeline’s Got to Go, while swaying to the music. The motorcycle brigade shares in the act. They need to show off their patriotic red and blue headlights, and the spanking new leaner meaner bikes they’ve traded for last year’s hogs. They practice their gavotte, denying us the slightest spillage off the curb, although, aside from their presence, there’s no other traffic in the roadway.
I press through the crowd shouting Hey, hey, ho, ho, insurrection’s the way to go, but we are domesticated, so numbed by our escalating griefs as one by one, our health, our welfare, our housing, our landscapes, our aquifers are being waged on the dice of those so elevated in power we never even get to see them—like radiation which you can’t see, or hear, or feel, or smell, except on some days when it visits you as a taste of metal in your mouth. Or when you fly cross-country at 30,000 feet, and you notice that your wristwatch stopped.
I turn the corner. The street swoops down into a hollow where it backs into the Presidio Wall. In the far distance, shrouded in fog, a white party tent flaps in the wind. Batteries of serving men, their black pants, white jackets emblem of their servitude, wait in the cold with no apparent purpose. A battalion of them marches in our direction. “They’re going to serve us dinner,” someone quips, but at $30,000 a
head, it’s not a dinner anyone of us will ever afford. We don’t even eat $30,000 worth of food in one year, although if we gorge ourselves we might manage it in ten.
The night grows chill. The skies darken, still no sign of the Emperor. We don’t know whether he’s arrived even before we knew it, or if his appearance is still expected. We begin peeling off. I trot down the hill accompanied by a 25-year-old. We get to talking. I commiserate with him, my 80 years to his 25, his country nothing like the one I was born to, the Sixties, our breath of evening air before the night, where people passing on the street actually made eye contact. He’s graduated with a degree in anthropology “It’s the only thing that interested me, it’s why I stayed. Perhaps I should have done a business major.” I reassure him. “No matter what, everyone must live doing what he loves. There is no other way.”
We catch the bus, the wait is long, the bus crowded, the driver hustles us toward the back. All the demonstrators push their way in, happy to be out of the cold, trading smiles and laughs, happy to have had our say, no matter how futile, knowing that in the long term, it’s not results that matter so much as affirming our right to walk our talk. Just as Chris Hedges resigns from PEN, as James Hansen resigns from NASA, it’s what we’re about and nothing less.
Home at last, I check e-mail. The message from San Francisco Occupy Enviro Forum catches my eye:
"After I saw the motorcade (pass my house AFTER we had all gone home), I got right on the phone to 311 (our hotline to the Mayor's office where they'll take down a long statement and send it right to the Mayor, including a request to be called back about it.)
"I said, "I was just at a large anti-keystone pipeline demonstration to be held outside an Obama fundraiser in Pacific Heights. About 1500 + people were there to let our President (who WE ELECTED) hear our voices against the pipeline. SF Police marginalized us behind the parked cars and at the corners of the intersections at least a block away from the event. After two hours of chanting, sign waving, and hot protest, an announcement went out that the President had arrived and was already inside at the dinner: the implication was that we'd been seen and should go home. Fifteen minutes later as I arrived at my house (California and Palm) the motorcade carrying the President zoomed by towards the event. My question to the Mayor is: Why would you want to keep the People who are the voters and the taxpayers away from our President who WE elected, who wants to hear our voices? A Protest like this is how democracy is supposed to work! The People do not appreciate being shushed up. I'd like the Mayor to call me back and explain himself."
"I would like to have everyone write an email to Obama with pictures and video of our protest and a line that says, "We were there. We want to tell you how we feel about the XL Pipeline. Where were you?"
"Those self-appointed march deputies who herded us onto the corners came out of nowhere, and we have no idea why they thought they were in charge or what the strategy of being so passive and being ordered around like children was. "Show me what democracy looks like!!! THIS is what democracy looks like" Flooding the intersection with the whole crowd shouting, that was a great moment!!!”
We are too docile still. We like to huddle behind those neat barriers put up to restrain our lukewarm angers. Now we need to "do it in the road". Lie down, get arrested, 400 of us, 800 of us. We need to do this until the emperor's new clothes are shown for the threadbarrrenness they are.