Tea Party and OWS Protest Side-By-Side Against Obama in San Francisco
Media pundits have often tried to point out the similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy movement, in a futile attempt to get the two groups to merge. Unfortunately, the differences were too great, and we have yet to see the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street protesting against the same thing side-by-side at the same protest.
That is, until now.
The unthinkable finally happened last night in San Francisco: the Tea Party shared a protest with the Occupiers, both groups angry with the same person.
And who was this unifier, the only man who can bridge the divide and bring together all sides of the political spectrum? Why, President Obama, of course.
He ping-ponged across San Francisco on Thursday, February 16, hosting a series of high-end fundraisers that netted him somewhere near $4 million, by some estimates. I tailed him all day, and will present photos from each of his stops. But we'll start with what was in fact the final event, on Nob Hill at the Masonic Auditorium, because that's where all the protesters congregated. Photos from the day's earlier events are found in the second half of the report, below.
Protest Outside the Obama Fundraiser, Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco
Here it is: proof! All three kinds of protesters, together at last. On the left (appropriately), an Occupier angry at Obama for not being sufficiently left-wing, and promising not to vote for Obama unless he stops enforcing federal drug laws. And on the right, a Tea Partier who thinks Obama is too left-wing. And in the middle, a rare find at such events, an Obama supporter who thinks he's "just right."
Now everybody link arms and sing along with me: "Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya...."
Sadly, however, it was not to be. For although the Tea Party and the Occupiers were both at the same event protesting against Obama, this was no lovefest. Mutual distrust and disdain still divided the two camps, who also for the most part kept to opposite ends of the police-designated protest zone. Here we can see the Occupy end of the zone, with a wall of police keeping them away from the long line of Obama donors filing into the Masonic Auditorium across the street.
Everybody lived up to expectations. The Occupiers were, well, Occupiers, as you can see from this sign.
And the local Tea Party was also out in force for the first time in at least a year.
(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
I had arrived at the protest after dark, having spent the earlier part of the day following Obama around to other fundraisers. But fellow citizen photojournalist "Larry in SF" was there when the protest first started in the afternoon, and snapped several photos that captured the extent and enthusiasm of the Tea Party crowd. (Unofficial estimates from various people I talked to: About 200 Tea Partiers, and 150 Occupiers.)
(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
Many of the Tea Partiers wore giant foam "Nobama" fingers, which they waved in unison for a particularly photogenic effect.
(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
Local Tea Party doyenne Sally Zelikovsky led the finger-wagging cheers. The idea came from this article in the SFWeekly, which said that after Jan Brewer wagged her finger in Obama's face last month, "Obama Coming to San Francisco, Where Nobody Will Wag Their Fingers in His Face."
(Hungry for more? "Larry in SF" has plenty more photos from the daytime protest posted on his blog.)
The Occupiers had their own chants as well. This video from later in the evening records two of them. The first one:
"The system has got to die, hella hella Occupy!"
The second Occupy chant reveals that there was no love lost between the two protest groups:
"Hey Tea Party, you can't hide, we can see your greedy side."
The Occupiers this time around seemed unified around a single theme, one of the few policy areas where Obama hasn't even tried to mollify his base: legalizing marijuana. Most of the Occupy protesters had pot-themed signs. As for the Occupier in the middle with the "Teach" sign: That's what I'm worried about!
And they weren't just carrying signs. Seemingly half the Occupiers were openly smoking marijuana at the protest, like this guy who kept bogarting his joint. But since they most likely all had their fraudulently obtained "medical marijuana" cards, the cops just let them get away with it.
One of the people on the Tea Party side emailed me after the protest with this first-hand account:
"Many of us actually got sick from the dope smoke...yeah, wimpy TPers...but I'm serious, they were blowing it over at us on purpose. At one point I mentioned to the young smokers, "Hey, I thought you guys were all about clean air? Your killing my carbon footprint." BTW, w/ all of the medical cannabis signs, I didn't see too many people who looked sickly. Mostly young and healthy OWS types.
Let's take a look at two protesters who fulfilled everyone's assumptions:
The typical Occupier.
The typical Tea Partier.
Now let's look at two signs that fulfilled everyone's assumptions:
Typical Occupy sign with way too many words. ("California could generate thousands of jobs and trillions of dollars through a multitude of green industrie!!!")
(Photo courtesy of Larry in SF.)
Typical Tea Party sign with way too many words.("Take your Marxism and shove it!!!")
Over at the Tea Party end of the protest zone, the cops chilled and relaxed. At one point, the Tea Partiers actually started chanting, "We love the cops!", to counteract the Occupiers' overt hostility toward the police.
But pot and the budget weren't the only two issues on the table. A substantial contingent of religious pro-life protesters showed up as well, angry about Obama's recent assaults on religious freedom as regards to abortions and birth control.
I was particularly amused by this riff on the old feminist pro-abortion slogan, "Keep your hands off my body" (or alternately "Keep your morals off my body"). Two can play at that game!
Meanwhile, at the end of the block, the Presidential Tent awaited the late arrival of His Highness. We'll see more about how these tents work later in the report. This one in particular reminded me of a Pasha's tent from the old Ottoman Empire, with an imperious guard crossing his arms to intimidate potential intruders.
The protest rolled on for hours. Sally kept the media entertained with some pithy Tea Party quips.
Meanwhile the Occupiers pleaded with Obama to "stop raping the Earth for profit."
And the pro-lifers reminded him that "Pregnancy is not a disease."
But this was just the final scene of a long Obama day. He first arrived in San Francisco many hours earlier, and went straight from the airport to the Intercontinental Hotel where he held an ultra-exclusive $38,500-per-person meeting with twenty 1%ers and granted them a "roundtable" to hear and (presumably) implement their demands orders tit-for-tats concerns.
I was of course there as well. Outside, at least.
Obama's First San Francisco Fundraiser: Intercontinental Hotel, Howard Street
The police had the entire district around the Intercontinental Hotel blocked off, to keep away the hoi polloi. That's the hotel in the distance, the bluish skyscraper. There were no protesters here at all, just 25 or so random passersby who stumbled by chance into the President's path.
Of all the people there, only one had an overtly political message: the event's lone Obama supporter.
Suddenly, the air was filled with tension as the cops abruptly stopped all traffic on intersecting streets.
No one knew from which direction Obama would arrive, but luck was with me and with almost no warning Obama's motorcade thundered down Howard right past where I was standing. This video records the glorious moment.
I couldn't take photos and video at the same time, so the only "snapshot" I got of Obama this time around was this freezeframe from the video, which (if you squint) shows him in the back of his passing limo.
By far the most thrilling part of any Obama visit is the roar of the engines from his escort of police motorcycles. I refer to this phenomenon as "Democratic NASCAR."
And Obama slipped unseen into the Intercontinental, to do the bidding of his .0001% masters.
I won't even say anything more about the breathtaking hypocrisy of Obama hobnobbing and having intimate conversatios with the ultra-rich, who finance his campaign so as to have access to him, while at the same time he pretends to be a "man of the people." I've said enough about this in the past (as have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle), and what I said then still stands.
Second Fundraiser, on Billionaires Row.
After this hush-hush meeting, Obama checked into the hotel, made a very brief unscheduled and unannounced visit to Chinatown restaurant (that sells illegal shark's fin soup) that I managed to miss (drat!), returned to the hotel for a snooze, and then made his way to the second San Francisco fundraiser of the day, an equally expensive ($38,500 per person) no-riff-raff dinner at the home of billionairess Nicola Miner (who inherited a breathtaking fortune from her father Robert Miner, the guy who co-founded Oracle with Larry Ellison); she's married to middling novelist Robert Mailer Anderson, who is frequently identified as the "owner" of their home where Obama's fundraiser took place; but in truth, Nicola is the souce of the couple's wealth. Larry Ellison, in what is likely not a coincidence, lives right across the street on this most exclusive of blocks, known to locals as "Billionaires Row." Obama has by now attended three fundraisers on this same block, and I've managed to be there every time (for my report on his earlier visits to this block, see Obama Visits Billionaires Row and The Stench of Elitism Hung Heavy in the Air. Also see Obama Visits the S(lush) F(und) Bay Area, for an Obama fundraiser just a few blocks away from Billionaires Row.)
You will notice in those earlier reports that the security around Obama has increased significantly. During his first visit here, during the 2008 presidential campaign, I was able to just walk right up to Obama and shake his hand. During his second and third visits in 2010-11, security was much tighter, but a rubbernecker could at least view the action from a distance.
But this time around — whooooeeee, security was harsh. No only was walking up to Obama and shaking his hand out of the question, but even seeing the building where the fundraiser was to be held was totally forbidden.
I at first tried one access point to Billionaires Row, and met a blockade.
Then I tried another — and encountered another blockade.
In fact, every single street around the neighborhood was blocked off, and the public was not even allowed within a block of any intersection which may have had a vantage point from which Nicola Miner's house could be glimpsed.
But did that stop me? Nah. Nothing can stop me.
I knew from previous visits here that there is a super-secret location, not even on city property, from which the homes on Billionaires Row can be seen. To make sure everything was kosher, I even walked over to the nearest police contingent and had the following conversation:
"Hi, I —"
"You can't stay here. Move along. No one is allowed to hang around this area."
"I know that. I just wanted to ask: Would it be OK if I was way over there?"
"Way, way back over there" [pointing in the exact opposite direction from the cordoned-off area].
"Sure, if you want. Just don't approach this area."
"I won't. Thanks."
This was all in the pitch dark, at night. Little did the cops (or anyone, apparently) know, but from the spot I was indicating, one could "see" the Obama fundraiser, just so long as you had a camera with an extremely powerful zoom lens.
Unfortunately for me, I don't have such a camera, but my pocket camera wasn't half bad, so I was able to capture the following series of images, showing Obama's motorcade arriving, a limousine pulling up next to the tent, and someone getting out. Was it Obama? I couldn't say for sure. But it was the best I could do considering the circumstances:
Incredibly, I was the only person of any kind to capture this scene. No media was able to, no protesters, no rubberneckers, no Obama fans; no one but me. A very strange feeling!
Al Green sang the correct version of "Let's Stay Together" at the bash, but you'll never get to hear that because you're not rich.
After this, I zipped over to the Masonic Auditorium for the protest outside the last fundraiser, which we saw at the beginning of this report. I left that final event before Obama arrived that last time.
And so we chalk up another Obama visit to the "West Coast ATM," better known as San Francisco.
How Do I Do It?
People often ask me how I manage to find out about these types of events ahead of time. In this case, for example, not only was the address of the second (Nicola Miner) fundraiser never revealed to the public, but the media had wildly conflicting reports about Obama's purported schedule that day.
For example, just to give you a taste of how confusing it all was:
The San Jose Mercury News, ABC News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and KCRA all erroneously reported that Obama's first fundraiser was going to be at the the Mark Hopkins, a completely different hotel owned by the Intercontinental chain. Ooops.
Meanwhile, music site Loudwire, SFGate's "Spin Cycle" blog, and SFStation all falsely claimed that the last fundraiser, which featured rock musician Chris Cornell of Soundgarden (one of the reasons it was such a well-attended event) was to be held at the Regency Center Ballroom, over a mile away from its actual eventual location at the Masonic Auditorium.
Many media outlets didn't get it "wrong" per se, but rather left out any and all detail. For example, CNN's "1600 Report" just says the second fundraiser would be in "a private residence," while no location for the first one is given at all. The Boston Globe was similarly vague, as was the White House official schedule.
Not a single media outlet revealed the address of the Billionaires Row fundraiser.
With all this confusion and error-filled reporting, which can only be sorted out in retrospect, how did I know where to go?
Well, that would be telling, wouldn't it? I'll just have to fall back on the reliable, "I have my sources."