SAN FRANCISCO − President Joe Biden‘s problems with his party’s left flank will be on display in San Francisco this week as progressives use a summit with world leaders to put a spotlight on disagreements with his trade agenda and the administration’s approach to the Israel-Hamas war.
As Biden and other leaders attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, pro-Palestinian groups, along with the many anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal demonstrators, are taking to the streets. Organizers with the group No To APEC have vowed to shut down the conference down and block access to the summit that as many as 20,000 people will be attending in various capacities.
At a rally and march of several thousand people in downtown San Francisco on Sunday, Violette Mansour with the Palestinian Youth Movement said she was there to call out the political leaders and CEOs “that prioritize plunder and profit and exploitation over protecting our people and land and environment.”
She especially called out Biden for not listening to those calling for a cease-fire in Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip.
“Our elected officials really need to grapple with the fact that the majority of their base is made up of people and voters who do not support what they’re doing right now,” she said. “This is going to affect them” in next year’s elections.
The march began with a two-hour rally of dozens of speakers, singers and poets speaking in English, Spanish and Tagalog. There were drummers, chants, rappers and at least one group dressed in giant Pikachu costumes from Pokémon, and dozens upon dozens of Palestinian flags. But while the crowd was lively, the topics were serious.
That issue brought Mike Edwards, 36, to the march. He and his wife met in elementary school. He’s Jewish, she’s Palestinian and they brought their young children on Sunday to call for change.
“It’s such a disappointment,” he said of the Biden administration’s response to deaths in Gaza. “I grew up in a Democratic household,” he said. “It’s insane and infuriating to see them turn a blind eye to the suffering.”
The largest demonstration is expected to take place on Wednesday, when Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet in the Bay Area.
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The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most liberal areas of the country, and the city has a long tradition and proud culture of protest. Just 6.9% of San Francisco’s voters were Republican as of September. California itself is heavily Democratic and has not voted for a Republican for president for more than 30 years.
Yet even in California, 52% of voters say they are unhappy with Biden’s performance as president, with more disapproving of the way he has handled relations with China and the fighting between Israel and Hamas than those who were supportive.
The survey that was was produced by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies showed Biden experiencing a seven percent drop in support among Democrats in the state since May. His support has also dropped nine percent since then among voters who cast a ballot for him in California in the last election.
Many at Sunday’s protest were focused much more broadly than just American politics. “It’s never been about Biden,” said Nancy Hollander, 84, who was there with an environmental group called 1,000 Grandmothers. “We’re opposing a pact which brings together governments and corporations that set the rules and regulations that transcend the legitimacy of national and state regulations,” she said. The deals coming out of APEC give too much power to corporations.
“The message is ‘We don’t trust you will take care of us – we don’t trust you to look out for the interests of regular people,” said her friend Bonnie Richmond, 72, said.
The planned week of protests is very much in the grand San Francisco tradition of vocal and public dissent, said San Francisco resident Jane Natoli, 42, an activist with the pro-housing group YIMBY and a “proud trans woman.” They’re about seizing the moment to bring attention to the issues people care about in a global forum.
“There’s always going to be a fringe in San Francisco that’s further to the left than most places and is not happy. Even if this were President Bernie Sanders coming, they wouldn’t be happy,” she said.
The planned, organized protests center on opposition to neoliberal capitalism, colonialism and military imperialism. The No2APEC organizing principles specifically say they oppose the group “as an exclusive and elitist Country club of the rich representing the interests of big business,” free-trade that exploits workers and puts “the benefits of corporations over the rights of nations and peoples” and ends with “We support all oppressed & exploited peoples as they confront corporate greed!
That’s what brought Joopy Nicholas, 25, out on Sunday. “You don’t have to be an anti-imperialist. You don’t have to be an activist or an organizer to know that what’s happening at APEC is wrong,” he said.
Not enough has changed for working Americans, Nicholas said. “It’s so easy to blame the other party, to blame Republicans. But [the Democrats] are also part of the US government. They also have the responsibility to make sure that people are cared for.”
Much of the downtown area where the conference will be held was blocked off by tall black metal fencing and the police presence was noticeable, including a large police mobile command unit parked outside the Apple store at Union Square. By Friday homeless people had largely been pushed out of the downtown area, sidewalks cleaned, new planters with real plants and fake flowers hung from light posts and signage welcoming attendees.
On Saturday as many as 1,000 people gathered at San Francisco State University in the city’s southwest corner for a day-long teach in that included talks and workshops on workers’ rights, unions, climate, analysis of neoliberal economic policies and panels on the Israel-Hamas war and Palestinian rights.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 11,000 Palestinians have died since the fighting began. The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants launched a vicious coordinated attack on Israel, killed an estimated 1,200 people, according to the Israeli government.
Democrats are split on Biden’s handling of the issue. In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey, 44% of Democrats felt Biden was too supportive of Israel and 44% percent thought he was too support of the Palestinians.
Far-left protesters demanding a cease-fire in Gaza repeatedly interrupted testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Biden’s emergency national security request to a Senate committee in late October. That same week Biden was heckled at a private fundraiser by a rabbi calling for a cessation in the fighting who pushed him to explain the difference between a cease-fire and a humanitarian pause.
A protest in support of Palestine came to the White House’s doorstep several days later while Biden was away for the weekend in Delaware. Protesters splashed red paint on the complex’s northern gate and stained its concrete pillars with red hand prints.
A pro-Israel protest is expected in Washington on Tuesday, when Biden is scheduled to leave for San Francisco.
Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal has been warning Biden has to be careful about the way he expresses his support for Israel.
She said that polling that shows him losing to former President Donald Trump in next year’s general election is concerning. “This is the first time…that I have felt like the 2024 election is in great trouble for the president and for our Democratic control,” she said in an NBC interview.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, told Biden the American people “are not with you on this one” in a video on social media this month in which she pledged: “We will remember in 2024.”
“Support cease-fire now or don’t count on us in 2024,” Tlaib said.
In another sign of division within the party, the House later voted to censure Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, over comments that were critical of Israel and characterized by some as antisemitic in nature. The resolution passed in the GOP-led House with the support of 22 Democrats.
Jason McDaniel, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University who specializes in urban politics and voting behavior, said polls show a softness in support of key parts of Biden’s Democratic coalition, especially among younger voters, and the divisions over Israel are part of it.
“There’s a sense of some discontent,” he said.
“That’s different from saying this is going to affect voting next year. Biden will get 75 to 80% of votes in San Francisco in 2024,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the kind of discontent that’s going to keep people from voting for Biden next year.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: At APEC in San Francisco, progressives greet Biden with protests