Aug 16, 2011

Report Back: #opBART Shuts Down Four San Francisco BART Stations

Yesterday the world was watching San Francisco after the hacker collective/network Anonymous issued a statement calling for people to rally at Civic Center BART station in San Francisco. I attended the action and wanted to share what I saw and give some strategic and tactical analysis of the action.

For anybody not familiar with the events immediately leading up to this protest, on July 3rd BART police shot Charles Hill, a homeless man on the train platform of Civic Center Bart, 25 seconds after arriving on scene to respond to reports of "a wobbly drunk." Below is the security camera footage released by BART.

On July 11th people protesting the killing managed to take over a train at the same station, causing it to be completely shutdown, before moving on to and shutting down two other stations, 16th and Mission and Powell St., causing system wide delays on the crowded light rail line. This protest gained extreme notoriety due to the disturbance it caused in the capitalist infrastructure and the powerful imagery of a protester climbing on top of the train car, below.

Allegedly there was to be another protest at Civic Center Bart this past Thursday, August 11th, although nobody I talked to who participated in the July 11th action knew about this action and could only say that some group called "Uhuru" had planned it. To foil this protest, which was supposed to be organized using mobile phones, BART official completely shut off all cellphone and therefor mobile internet use in the station. This cause BROAD outrage and was the first time this type of censorship was used in the U.S., although it was famously used by Mubarak to attempt to quell the recent Egyptian revolution. In response, Anonymous issued this statement:

On Sunday, August 14th, they conducted multi-tactic attack on BART electronic infrastructure, defacing two website, releasing hacked user data, and sending black faxes and email bombs to BART.

Yesterday, August 15th at 5pm people converged on Civic Center. There where three groups in three areas, as nobody was sure where to meet. Some were above ground in UN Plaza, others in the unpaid area of the station and some on the platform itself. It took a while for things to get going, with people standing around waiting for something to happen.

A small protest started on the platform, which caused the riot police to shutdown the elevators and other access to the platform. Over the intercom, an announcement came that the station was closed and a dispersal order was issued on the platform. The metal cage gates were pulled down to prevent anybody from entering. The group from the platform started to march up the escalator and chant while the left the station. As they were doing so a group of anarchists with a banner attempted to enter the station via the stair only to meet a metal gate.

As we exited the station onto the street and the three groups converged, some people lead a group West on Market St, headed towards 16th and Mission station, which is probably a 15 minute walk. I followed these people, who I soon realized where members of the RCP-USA who couldn't lead a march and I shouldn't have followed this group. At this point the protest had become completely decentralized, with various groups scattered along market street.

The group of 30 people or so walked to Market and Van Ness, semi disrupting traffic en route as we passed through intersection. We would have been more disruptive but the RCP refused to march or lead people marching in the actual street, electing to stay on the sidewalk. At Van Ness, we began to hear scattered reports through mobile devices about the another contingent shutting down Powell. After some confused discussion, the RCP led everybody East on Market, the way from which we had came.

We stopped outside Powell St. station in front of a group of BART riot police. Nobody in that group really knew what was going on with the other group so we just congregated there. I watched as many hundreds of people were forced to de-board Bart and out onto the street. The amount disruption I saw was amazing, and I was only at one station.

The group slowly dispersed, leaving me and the RCP, who because of their loud nature and banners, got plenty of press. Then I met up with a group of anarchist comrades who had just returned from the Embarcadero, and I was able to get their report of the rest of the march.

The majority of people had headed East on Market, attempting to enter and then causing the preventative shutdown of the three other downtown BART stations. Stations were closed as the protest moved East to prevent the group from enter the station. From the reports I got, they almost got into the Embarcadero station, as one of the gates was half open but were prevented from doing so by BART cop swinging his billy club at people's legs, hands and genitals as they attempted to get the gate open/keep it from closing. A couple of people did get into the station, then had to avoid BART official and get on a train. That group also marched through the Ferry Building, twice.

That is a mostly complete account of what I saw and experienced. I felt it was important for me to write about this because of the world-wide attention focused on the events above and my "unique" position to report on them and analyze the event.

First I want to highlight the amount of disinformation that surrounded this action. Three instances that I saw come to mind; first the National Lawyers Guild hotline for arrests was initially reported through Twitter as 415 285 1001, although the real number is 415 285 1011; second I noticed a comment on the Indybay event notice, listed the wrong address for the protest, 10th and market where there is no BART Station, two blocks from where the protest actually was; third at the protest, somebody checked a Twitter feed, then reported to our group that there were shots fired, which was false. This was addition to many people receiving reports of mass arrests at Embarcadero station through their phone, which was false as well. None of this was too disruptive, but still worthy of note.

So who showed up to this protest? Honestly only about six people or so had Guy Fawkes masks on. Then you had the usual suspects of any SF protest, anarchists from various circles, PSL/ANSWER members who didn't appear to be attending as representative of their party, Justice for Oscar Grant, and the RCP-USA. There were also a lot of people new to me, Hacker types, LOTS of media, and of course scores and scores of cops from SFPD, BART police, DHS and no doubt the FBI.

What was amazing is how little effort this protest took. The initial protest that shutdown Civic Center was small and tame; there was more media than protesters on the platform. After that, despite having no plans or leadership or organization to speak of, we managed to shut down many three more stations, block traffic, and cause a tremendous amount of disruption to transportation infrastructure. BART closed the stations, the protesters barely had to do anything. As a result of the action, even more attention was brought to BART's censorship and BART Police's record of cold-blooded murder.

I was proud to have taken place in this action and to answer Anonymous's call to action. It was a huge propaganda victory and was definitely a historic protest. Anonymous has become increasingly political, and after Lulzsec's attacks on fascist law enforcement and in support of Orlando Food Not Bombs, I was only too happy to assist in their first, DDOS in the physical world.


The Red Son said...

This comment was left on reddit and helps fill in some gaps in my account:

"The ferry building group walked back to Embarcadero BART and had a standoff with SFPD and BART police, some in riot gear. After 20 minutes or so, about half walked back toward civic center. They caused additional disruptions at Montgomery and Powell, which had either stayed closed or were re-closed (at least the gates). I don't know whathappened after that point, but when I left the area, there were still folks in front of the Powell gates.

Some newspapers called the protest as over at 6:30, but the standoff at Embarcadero was going strong at 6:45, and Powell was closed as of 7:15. When I rode BART at 8:30pm, it was like rush hour had been delayed 3 hours, so I think the stations were closed awhile after that, but I'm just guessing about that.

Also of note, and I don't remember seeing it in your post, but the group headed to Embarcadero/the Ferry Building took to the streets around 7th and Market and held the street all the way to the Ferry Building."

Steamboat said...

I'm still grasping to understand why you're proud to have taken part in what you admit was a disorganized, disruptive protest with low turnout. While it is funny that it was disorganized, irritating that it was disruptive, it is most meaningful that it had a low turnout. This means that the people do not agree with you--the population does not agree with your tactics. And more importantly, it's unnecessary. The BART police is already under fire, many people are already asking questions about canceling mobile service--this protest did not advance any of these causes--it just pissed people off and made you feel special.

The Red Son said...

1) Economic disruption and targeting of transportation infrastructure are both proven effective methods attacking both economies and the governments they support.

2) This action must be viewed in the context of local struggles. Going back to the Oscar Granting Shooting, there has been a growing movement, that has recently flared up with a handful of protest in reaction to two police murders, Charles Hill and Kenneth Harding.

3) This protest inspired a lot of people, local activists and people around the world. It built momentum. It's importance cannot yet be judged but definitely extends beyond struggles against BART, beyond the Bay Area.

Thanks for the thoughtful and civil comment, I enjoy engaging in such a manner.

Steamboat said...

1) Economic disruption and targeting of transportation infrastructure are both proven effective methods attacking both economies and the governments they support.
Well, it does attack our economy in that we'll have to pay a bunch of overtime (ironically) to BART and SF cops. But I don't think (nor do I wish that) these protests will criple our economy so much that they change policy. Essentially, I think that this is only bad, and in no way a good thing.

2) This action must be viewed in the context of local struggles. Going back to the Oscar Granting Shooting, there has been a growing movement, that has recently flared up with a handful of protest in reaction to two police murders, Charles Hill and Kenneth Harding.

I live in Oakland and work about 300 yards from Montgomery BART. My local context is that these actions did not advance the discussions and official investigations and trials that our society has to deal with the noted incidents. In short, Oscar Grant should not have been shot--that Officer was tried and convicted. My personal belief, is that the officer fucked up (big time). I think he was going for his taser, which would have itself, been heavy handed.
Kenneth Harding, had a gun, shot at cops and shot himself to death. End. Of. Story. Evidence is so conclusive here, that frankly, it hurts your argument to mention it. Charles Hill threw a knife at a cop. Now he probably could have been arrested without lethal force, but the fact remains DON'T THROW KNIVES AT COPS. This is not rocket science. I do not have a job where people throw knives at me, but if I did, and I had an 'end knife throwing sequence' button on my belt, I'd likely use it.

3) This protest inspired a lot of people, local activists and people around the world. It built momentum. It's importance cannot yet be judged but definitely extends beyond struggles against BART, beyond the Bay Area.
I genuinely believe that while some internet folk got caught up in the protest, locally, it was a bust. 'Wired' mocked the number of people involved and even you noted that it didn't include many people. I do think that the number of people in a protest is very significant, and I'm happy to extend you a friendly wager--if another protest occurs this coming monday, it will involve less people. Generally, the public is not behind these disruptive efforts--we believe in our system, that justice will be carried out.

The Red Son said...

We seem to be two ships passing in the night. Again I appreciate any polite disagreement, but this blog isn't called "The Slow, Ineffectual Reformation Script."

I am an anti-capitalist and I am trying to bring this system down. Are actions like #opBART going to do it alone? No, but it is certainly a start and about time Americans take to the street.

Kenneth Harding was killed in the course of the enforcement of a two dollar bus fare. Why are armed cops enforcing fares? Why is anybody for that matter? Here are some local comrades' demands, which were made recently and pertain to this discussion.

BART cops have batons, pepper spray, and Tasers, in addition to their pistol. Do you honestly believe the official story? Shooting him was their best option? Why didn't BART release video that showed what Charles Hill was doing? All that is shown in the currently available video is a knife moving along the ground, at least six feet from the officer. I would not consider this to constitute an immediate, potentially lethal threat.

Locally, activists seem to consider it a success. It brought the issue to the forefront of international media, it was just being talking about on the Maclaughlin group this morning. Also, we shut the motherfucker down.

"we believe in our system, that justice will be carried out."- I can tell by this and you entire comment that you are likely white and rich. People of color and other disenfranchised people do not share this view.