By Monday after the Berkeley march against hate, the SF Chronicle website prominently featured three articles about violence. The lead article had 11 paragraphs about an “army” of a mysterious menace Antifa “violently routing” a right-wing rally. If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t know the right-wing rally consisted of no one. If you didn’t suffer 11 paragraphs about a dozen arrests, you wouldn’t know that 10,000 people enjoyed a peaceful march — less violent than any major sporting event. If you didn’t scroll to the bottom of the Chronicle page, you wouldn’t have seen coverage of any peaceful aspect of the rallies’ hate. The headline could have been, “Who Organized a Diverse Antiracist March of Thousands, and also a few people got punched.”
I was there. When Antifa arrived at the front of the march, I thought it was a BDSM contingent. I saw reporters idling, waiting for violence to photograph and ignoring everyone else. The videos that purport to show Antifa’s excesses as much show a scrum of photographers toting a small fortune in camera gear. Providing dozens of angles of a few fights and ignoring thousands of peaceful marchers tells a story.
It’s the wrong story.
The marches didn’t come from nowhere. The Bay Area has a lot of organizers who get the job done, who rarely get the benefit of puff pieces and personality profiles. Here’s my quick and woefully incomplete brainstorm of heroes behind the scenes who deserve more attention …
For years, San Francisco progressives bemoaned our failure to maintain an enduring labor/community coalition. Now, we have Jobs with Justice, SF Rising, and SF Tenants and Families. SF Rising is a 501c4 created by racial justice nonprofits to do political and electoral organizing in communities where they had a base. Since these three interlocking structures launched, there is a permanent coalition of progressive unions and community organizations, like the Chinese Progressive Association. This is the political apparatus behind all progressive organizing and policy in San Francisco of the last five years.
Those relationships provided an easy transition for a similar constellation of organizers to convene Bay Resistance to plan direct action responses to Trump and the right-wing agenda. Bay Resistance, the Democratic Socialists, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and others were among the range of groups responsible for the scale and sophistication of the rallies against white supremacy in the Bay. You would have missed it if you only watched the news, but they were doing large-scale direct-action trainings, around the clock logistical coordination, security preparations and interfacing with other coalitions, politicians and faith groups.
The media coverage focused entirely on politicians or the truly miniscule amount of actual violence that occurred or random people on the street and their signs. You wouldn’t know that long-standing organizations with deep roots in Bay Area communities and ties of solidarity built over years of common work made the marches so successful and positive. The only press that even noticed Bay Resistance was the Christian Science Monitor.
Reporters, like everyone, are always looking for ways to make their jobs easier. By not taking the time to understand the context of how organizations and movements rise and fall, our media tells the public a story of how change happens. It’s a story of sudden eruptions and politicians, which teaches readers that they are powerless.
If you tell the stories of the work in the trenches, mostly done by women and people of color, change is demystified. It doesn’t happen spontaneously. Political power comes out of the barrel of a to-do list. We need more stories about ACCE, Unitarians, Jewish social justice groups, AROC, the anti-gentrification groups, Center for Media Justice, Anti-Police Terror Project and EBASE.
Who else am I missing?
So if you’re a reporter, including for this newspaper, and your default is to give a platform yet again to white men, including me, you’re part of the problem.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and union organizer. See him live for Verdi Wild Things Are at the Verdi Club on Thursday, Sept. 14.