Starting the New Year off RIGHT!
Our spirits & purpose intensified as beautiful, hot pink, old and young women, several little children, a couple of dogs, and our male allies gathered together in the south end parking lot for a Kodak moment before beginning our solemn, significant walk up the path and onto the bridge.
Over the past few years, police, private security, even just random big middle-aged white men, have barked orders at us, telling us what we can and cannot do, with an authority they seem to truly believe their circumstance in life – white, male, uniformed or not – entitles them. I have heard the most ridiculous orders coming out of their mouths – many such things are documented in my journals – but the most ridiculous thing (besides assuming we would obey them) is that they truly believe they have the god & country given right to preempt our Constitution.
The previous time we were marching across the bridge, we were kicking off the celebration in our city of International Peace Day. We had attempted to follow the rules, we were assured, meant not to restrict our ‘freedom’ but for the ‘safety’ of pedestrians and commuters: i.e. securing a permit.
Our permit was denied for the early morning but granted for later in the day, after International Peace Day activities were well underway and the purpose of our march was over.
At that time, we were told if we just strolled onto the bridge along with all the other strollers, we wouldn’t need a permit. We were told if we did not carry banners or signs we did not need a permit. We were told if we did not intend to obstruct the sidewalk, we did not need a permit. We were told if we walked in small clusters of 2 or three, we did not need a permit. We were told if we did not break the law – the major one seems to be climbing onto the structure as if attempting to kill oneself – we would not get arrested.
We were even told if we did bring up banners without their permission, we would most likely be escorted off the bridge, not arrested.
Today, we left the south end parking lot, intending to walk silently, single file, 10 feet apart, toward the middle of the bridge and meet up with the other group of women who were coming from the north end.
We intended to publicly grieve the 689,402nd Iraq Civilian death and the 3000th U.S. Soldier death, to lament all the needless deaths previous; and to steel, on this incredible span, our determination to end this horrific war before the next deaths.
As we approached the base of the bridge, several uniformed men stood blocking our path. One, a white-appearing male in a dark blue uniform, puffed out his already massive belly & chest, aggressively ordered us to stop & informed us we would not be allowed on the bridge today.
Obviously, we could not believe the words coming out of his twisted mouth nor did we believe him. Who was he anyway? For a moment, he allowed people not in pink to slip by unimpeded, while disallowing any woman with pink to pass. His ranks were quickly closed by other men in the beige suits of the highway patrol.
We are not strangers to men spouting ridiculous things who think we will be intimidated by their sex, their race, their uniform, maybe even their political affiliation. Today, those things we heard said for the reasons we would not be allowed to march across the bridge ranged from: you’re in pink, you’re walking with your arms raised (peace symbol), you do not have a permit to walk, you disobeyed the captain the last time you were here - to this is private property and the owners refuse to allow you to cross.
This one officer and his cohorts made the deeply erroneous call to block our path across the bridge. Their superiors, compounding their mistake, chose to actually close the entire bridge down to all foot traffic, all bicycle traffic, all tourists, Californians, U.S. citizens alike because they didn’t want women in pink to walk solemnly across the Golden Gate Bridge on this significant day in U.S. peace history.
This particular officer escalated his verbal violence when he erupted into physical violence, striking upward with his open palm the camera perched at the eye of a TV cameraman filming our action or inaction as it happened to be – rousing testosterone flailed as heavy black boots, fists struck out and these two men were actually fighting each other.
A woman highway patrol officer quickly appeared on the scene. “This is private property”, was the mantra these officers chose to close rank behind. Many an incredulous protestor, a mother with two young girls, private individuals, tourists, a Viet Nam war veteran, even a young girl, attempted to inform these officers they were mistaken: this is our Golden Gate Bridge for god’s sake. One of our elders yelled something like “we’re old women and we just want to walk across the fucking bridge”.
We attempted in our valiant, non-violent CodePINK way to negotiate our way across the bridge: you can escort us; we will walk how ever many feet behind each other as you’d like; we will turn our shirts inside out.
We asked the CHP to negotiate for us with the ‘private owners’ whose orders they were there to force us to obey. We asked to speak with the chief or whoever was in charge.
We assured them we were peaceful, non-violent, we informed everyone the bringing of banners, posters, signs is prohibited and displaying such things on the bridge is an arrestable offense.
We found out there were CodePINKers on the bridge, a group of about 25, who had walked onto the bridge before it became a ‘private entity’ guarded by the highway patrol & bridge security. And still more CodePINKers were on the north side trying to walk across the bridge.
The police response to us: we could go to the parking lot or the areas down below, and they would allow us to demonstrate there; or we could leave.
We refused to leave. We sat down. We stood up. We sang. We attempted to negotiate some more. We passed around water, organic candied ginger, hot green tea with a little honey.
We talked with tourists, fellow citizens, WWII & Viet Nam war veterans, pro-Bush & pro-war outsiders, straight families, folks who spoke limited English, and more and more police officers.
We sang, we chanted, we sat down again. A woman shared some of the more meaningful inscriptions from the bricks lining the path leading to the Golden Gate bridge.
We had a joyous bitter-sweet reunion with two women from Iraq who were visiting San Francisco and just happened to decide to come walk across the bridge today too. Medea & one of the earlier CodePINK envoys had met with, worked with, cried with these women in Iraq prior to our official bombing, when they were determined to prevent war and determined to share their intense love of Iraq and Iraqis with us.
We sang, we chanted, we sat down some more. We found a small, long banner to hold up to passing traffic. We spread out the long string of pink strips, fluttering in the breeze and laden with the names of U.S. soldiers who had been killed in Iraq.
Janet brought Riverbend’s intense, moving blog excerpt that Jennifer had posted earlier to our discussion list. Janet & Medea read together her heart-wrenching portrayal of Iraq today.
We formed a circle and powerful women: we grieved; we solemnly spoke about our action, our fight, our country, our war, our constitutional rights, and our determination to be in D.C. over the next few weeks and months to do our democrat, civil, and humanitarian duty: to end this war.
Then the police moved in, grabbed several of us – 8 women and two men - and proceeded to take us ironically enough onto the bridge we weren't allowed to walk on to arrest us. They handcuffed us, patted us down, removed the contents of our pockets, our pocketbooks, backpacks, shoulder bags, and then escorted us over an orange steel girder, through the opened gate, onto the roadway and into the waiting paddy wagon.
The first thing we did, after ducking our heads, climbing onto the back of the wagon and being seated on the cold metal bench, was to slip out of the cuffs. We cheerfully greeted each woman as she came through the low door.
We continued singing, stamping our feet until we were asked not to stamp, and spoke of the ridiculousness of this arrest and our heart-felt gratitude & awesome inspiration toward our awesome CodePINK activists.
About 20 minutes later, we were once again individually lead off the paddy wagon, sat at a table hastily set up in the parking lot, informed by San Francisco city police that we were being cited and released. We did not smell the inside of the jail.
I’ve been charged with many things over the 56 ½ years of my life, but I never envisioned the day I’d be charged with trespassing on my own San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, after the Viet Nam War, I never envisioned the day we would be back in the same iniquitous war, different century, different country.
We were escorted through the parking lot and let out through a steel door in the cement walls, onto a sidewalk under the concrete columns of the highway overhung with barbed wire next to the jail. Renay and Deb’s partner Sabrina along with several other folks, were waiting for us, forming our very own spontaneous incredible jail support team!
We all decided we have begun our new year very auspiciously and dynamically – we are on the right path!