April 10, 2008
If a train leaves Mamaronset at 2:00 pm,
what is the sound of one hand clapping
AS A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST?
A zen koan I developed while standing around on the Embarcadero waiting for nothing to happen. Author Eido Shimano describes the koan as “the place and the time and the event where truth reveals itself.”
AND THAT TRUTH REVEALED ITSELF,
as it has so many times, in its most shameful and embarrassing manifestation yet—Gavin Newsom is not fit to be Mayor of San Francisco. That’s just my opinion as a protestor, a spectator and a San Franciscan. I feel gypped, disappointed, angry, disgusted.
It was either the most eventful non-event I ever attended, or the most uneventful event, I can’t decide which. Others have called it an “epic fake-out,” “screwball comedy,” “bait-and-switch,” “trickery, chicanery,” “hide-and-seek” and “farce.”
“San Francisco went to elaborate lengths,” reports the New York Times this morning, “to avoid the messy chaos of the [Olympic torch] flame’s recent trips to London and Paris, employing hundreds of law enforcement officials, miles of barricades and, in the end, subterfuge.”
CONDITIONS WERE PERFECT
for Gavin to fuck up. The place and time and event were all in concert. Beautiful sunny, breezy weather. I, and about ten thousand of us from across the country and perhaps the world, dressed in all manner of get-ups, hoisted signs, sported slogans and waved flags—Chinese, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Burmese and American—in what felt like a colorful festival of nations and religions and protest and celebration—a $75,000 party, as a security guard put it. And oh yeah, there was supposed to be an Olympic torch running past us.
OH MY GOD, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!?!
I excitedly asked a friend the night before Newsom/Gonzalez election day. That’s how I felt Tuesday evening, coming home from the United Nations Plaza rally in solidarity with Tibet on the eve of the Olympic torch relay. What on earth would happen the next day? Nothing. And I waited five hours for it to not happen. As I listened at this beautiful ceremony on the eve of the torch run, to Archbishop Tutu’s impassioned plea for George Bush (“Don’t go!”) to not attend the Opening Ceremonies, I felt sorry for Gavin Newsom—because this was San Francisco at its best, and he—our chief elected official—was not there. Perhaps he was sipping a white wine with Jen at Plumpjack.
I HAD THOUGHT
Gavin himself didn’t seem to like what he was doing. His impatient defensive stance after Daly’s resolution passed was painful to watch. “I have a scarf,” he said, referring to the one given him by the Dalai Lama. “I should be wearing it right now.” In other words, he knows he should be standing in solidarity with Tibet, Darfur, much of the city’s views and the legislative branch. Instead he is wearing the mantle of Mayor of a city with a huge Chinese population and standing as an international tourist destination. But the way he strode down Ellis Street with his hands in his pockets, and the glee he exhibited after the relay, made it obvious that to Gavin the event was an unqualified success.
One guy carried a homemade job reading “I can’t afford an actual sign.” “Oh, I’m retired,” he said, the Washington Post quoted him as saying. “I just play. I live in San Francisco. San Francisco is Oz.” The sign allows both sides to laugh at it, the bearer David Gemigniani said. “It allows for free speech without fisticuffs.”
Gavin can’t afford to have a real protest. It would be too damaging to his political standing with the only people he cared about pleasing—the Chinese government, the International Olympic Committee, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and I don’t know who all—his father, his advisors, downtown interests, rich friends, Dianne Feinstein et al. The man is going to be running for Governor, you know. He stipulated that he would not be told what to say by Chris Daly, but someone sure enough is telling this guy what to do. In this case, Chief of Police Heather Fong, conveniently enough.
MY OWN SELF,
I think Plan B was Plan A. I say it was in place the entire time, and that the announced route was a fabrication. We were directed to the Embarcadero to prove San Francisco supports free speech, and the torch was then spirited away from the danger zone right from its starting point at McCovey Cove. It’s true that we will never know what Gavin might have saved us from—rioting, arrests, maybe someone’s death—but the main thing Gavin saved us from was embarrassing the Chinese government. Really, what he saved us from was life. Life happens. Every person there was there at risk to his or her own personal safety, and thousands of us found it necessary to be there.
of the SF Chronicle found Chris Daly’s sponsoring of the Olympic Torch protest resolution a case of ego-trip international grandstanding. I see his point; in fact, I don’t take issue with his point. It’s the other side of the coin. He did have kind of a blustering air about him on stage, and did spend an inordinate amount of his and the City’s time on a nonbinding resolution, “which Gavin called “just a piece of paper, not a law”—from writing it to arguing the case, moving from committee to committee, hearing hours of public testimony—but hey, he was the galvanizing leader of strong public sentiment. To me, it was important.
GAVIN PLAYED IT SAFE.
Welcome the torch and conduct the relay at little or no risk to public safety or offending bigwigs. Let it stand that San Francisco “officially” via resolution and protest permits, welcomed protest to the torch, but didn’t actually expose the torch itself to that protest. This city, with its history of dissent and demonstration, deserves better.
At the rally, the “alarm and protest” Daly had proposed we greet the torch with now escalated to “great alarm and significant protest.” Supervisors Daly and Mirkarimi milked their minute in the spotlight to the max, as if the world and China are ever going to hear what they had to say, as if Gavin or the Board or anybody is going to care what this column says. Nevertheless, we wanted to have our say, and we were well represented.
“CHRIS DALY, THE DALY LAMA,”
as Mirkarimi said he is known at City Hall, by the way, was wearing his scarf, and rightly so. “One of them is going to be the next mayor of our city,” said an Asian man next to me, of Mirkarimi and Daly, who, backs to us, were both talking on their cell phones, a Kodak moment I missed out on, having forgotten my camera. Here’s hoping, as I hate being (not) represented by Newsom.
WHAT A GYP.
My friend Saand and her lovely, peaceful smile, wearing a “Team Tibet” T-shirt and “Expose Beijing” headband with a picture of the Dalai Lama stuck into it with the legend “Free Tibet,” was the subject of many a picture as she posed with her fingers in the peace symbol. As we were resting at Justin Herman Plaza, where the closing ceremony was to have taken place, a mother, her sobbing blonde little daughter beside her, asked one of the protestors to explain what the protest was about to help her inconsolable daughter who didn’t get to see the torch pass to understand why, why instead there was a private party for the torchbearers, and Olympic and City officials at the airport. What a sad little scene. But what a good mother.
Maybe we should launch the sort of sorryeverybody.com website that arose after Bush was reelected. “Sorry world (we tried).”
I HAVE CARRIED SO MANY TORCHES
in my lifetime I can’t believe they didn’t invite me to participate in the relay, but I’m good and ready to lay this one down. Let Buenos Aires have it.
The author will update this in the fullness of time.
I carried the torch
What time does the train arrive in Croton-on-Hudson?
copyright Alexandra Jones 2008