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Activists to protest against world leaders at APEC

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Activists protesting corporate profits, environmental abuses, poor working conditions and the Israel-Hamas war are among those planning to march in downtown San Francisco on Sunday, united in their opposition to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ conference that will bring leaders from nearly two dozen countries, including US President Joe Biden.

Protests are expected throughout this week’s global trade summit, which could draw more than 20,000 attendees, including hundreds of international journalists. The No to APEC coalition, made up of more than 100 grassroots groups, says trade deals struck at summits such as APEC exploit workers and their families.

It’s unlikely world leaders will even glimpse the protests given the strict security zones accessible only to attendees at the Moscone Centre conference hall and other summit sites. But Suzanne Ali, an organiser for the Palestinian Youth Movement, says the US government needs to be held to account for supplying weapons to Israel in its war against Hamas.

“Even if they cannot see us, as we’re mobilising and marching together, they will know that we’re out there,” she said.

San Francisco has a long tradition of loud and vigorous protests, as do trade talks. In 1999, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Seattle during a World Trade Organisation conference. Protesters succeeded in delaying the start of the conference and captured global attention as overwhelmed police fired tear gas and plastic bullets, and arrested hundreds of people.

Chile withdrew as APEC host in 2019 due to mass protests. Last year, when Thailand hosted the summit in Bangkok, pro-democracy protesters challenged the legitimacy of the Thai prime minister, prompting police to fire at the crowd with rubber bullets that injured several protesters and a Reuters journalist.

San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott said he expects several protests a day, although it’s uncertain how many will materialise. He warned against criminal behaviour.

“People are welcome to exercise their constitutional rights in San Francisco, but we will not tolerate people committing acts of violence, or property destruction or any other crime,” Scott said. “We will make arrests when necessary.”

APEC, a regional economic forum, was established in 1989 and has 21 member countries, including the world’s two largest economic superpowers China and US. An accompanying CEO summit is scheduled for this week, which critics also plan to protest Wednesday.

Headlining the summit is a highly anticipated meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who rarely — if at all — encounters protesters on home soil.

China has heavy security ahead of any events within its borders to ensure no protests occur. It also steps up border checks at city limits and at transit points such as railway stations and airports. Human rights activists based in China will often receive visits or phone calls from police ahead of important events as reminders to not demonstrate.

Rory McVeigh, sociology professor and director of the Centre for the Study of Social Movements at University of Notre Dame, says politicians use protests to gauge public opinion, and media attention helps.

“Probably a lot of protests just don’t make much difference, but occasionally they do and occasionally they can make a huge difference,” he said.

The United Vietnamese American Community of Northern California plans to protest Xi and Vietnam President Vo Van Thuong. The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines will be rallying for the rights of indigenous Filipinos and protesting the presence of President Bongbong Marcos, the son of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Protesters are disappointed that San Francisco, with its rich history of standing up for the working class, would host CEOs of companies and leaders of countries that they say do great harm.

“It’s silly, from the mayor to the governor to the president, they want to say this is a great idea to have all these people who have been profiting off the intersecting crises of our time,” said Nik Evasco, a climate activist. “It’s just sickening.”

A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation APEC summit venue on November 18, 2022, in Bangkok, Thailand. PHOTO: AP
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