Caravan for Justice Was Unlike Any Protest I’ve Ever Been To
Guest post and all photos by Jason Boyce
Caravan for Justice, an all-vehicle caravan protest on Thursday, June 4th, couldn’t possibly top the historic Mission District protest for George Floyd the day before. But it could promise an entirely new experience, and on that it delivered.
I’ve been to a number of protests, and they’ve all had their own flavor. I was with Occupy Oakland when they shut down the Port of Oakland in 2011, a march with a mission, powered by the kind of frenetic energy that came from needing to get things done. And I was there on the streets of Ferguson after Mike Brown was shot, marching with a community howling in pain, furious at the disbelief the nation gave to eyewitnesses and protestors.
Nine days after George Floyd was killed by a police officer who looked so deep into the cameras that you could see his soul, protests across the country were filled with rage. Toss in the police brutality, flash bang grenades, pepper spray, tear gas, and a president touting “law and order” while ordering federal troops to attack their fellow citizens, and you had all the makings for a long, hot, angry summer.
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Then Keith Ellison made his move. Early Wednesday afternoon, he had the remaining three officers charged (Derek Chauvin, the cop who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, had already been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter), and things changed.
I was waffling on the Mission protest until the arrests happened, and a friend asked me, “Is there even a point to having a protest now?” Suddenly, it felt worthwhile. With somewhere around 10,000 to 20,000 people, it was probably the most well-attended protest I’d ever been to. Upbeat. Positive. There were so many people you couldn’t move, and there was chant after chant. “Black Lives Matter!” “No Justice! No Peace!” And “Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor!” Along with many others.
But there were many properties to this protest that made it unique, and kept it different and separate from the Caravan for Justice that would follow the next day.
The Caravan, based out of 850 La Playa (aka the Safeway down at Ocean Beach), was an all-vehicle protest. Instead of trying to cram 16,000 people into 10 city blocks (and the social distancing nightmare that entails), families brought their own car, decorated it, and prepared for the ride.
I arrived at the parking lot at 4pm, and I was worried to see there were only about 12 cars, vehicles with a few pieces of posterboard strapped to the side. An NBC News van was there, so it seemed like a big deal, but where were the cars?
I talked to one of the organizers, who gave me a map. The actual start point of the caravan was inside the park, at about 30th Ave and John F Kennedy Drive, just east of the Bison paddock. I took the map and hurried.
As soon as I got into Golden Gate Park, I was overwhelmed. There were far more than a dozen cars. There were hundreds. Entering the park around 47th Ave, there was already a line of cars along JFK Drive, reaching Ocean Beach. But on the other side of the street, there was ANOTHER row of cars, waiting to turn around.
I rushed up, following JFK drive, past the Bison paddock, to 36th Ave, across from the SFPD horse stables. During the lead up to the start of the caravan, there were families sitting outside their vehicles, working on their signs and sitting in the sun. It felt like sitting behind the scenes at a stage show, watching the performers work in their last-minute practices before the event began.
By the time I got to 36th Ave, I must have passed 200 or 300 cars. Maybe even 400. Maybe more.
The route was to leave the park on 30th Ave, then turn on Anza, pass the police station on 6th, head towards Fillmore, then take that up to the Marina and around, heading back down on Webster, through Divisadero and Castro, onwards to Clipper and Portola, then follow Sloat to 35th, following with Vicente, back to 46th, and finishing on Lincoln Way.
I posted up on the concrete island that splits JFK Drive at the Boathouse right as the caravan started. That was right before 5.
For about half an hour, car after car after car after car after car drove by me, waving, honking, flashing peace signs, or pumping their fists in the air, with all the energy of a people starting an exciting new journey.
That’s when it hit me. The thing that made this protest different. Unlike the Mission protest, where people crammed into a tiny area, here were families in their own vehicles. Their own fortresses. And suddenly, the children were involved.
At the Mission protest, I saw children sitting on the stoops of some Victorians, largely separated from what was happening. Interested, but indifferent. Here, the children were involved. They were the ones making the signs. If the signs weren’t taped to the side of the car, the children were holding them up in the backseat, displaying them out the window, proud of their handiwork.
In the age of COVID-19, this felt like a FAMILY protest, where people were shut into their vehicles, but still together. The energy was inviting. Smiles everywhere. And hundreds upon hundreds of cars passed by.
It was almost an hour of cars passing me before I started moving. There were still another hundred cars or more to go, but I wanted to move while the moving was good. I headed down JFK towards Chain of Lakes Drive so I could get to the north side of the park and Lincoln Way.
There were yet more cars feeding into the caravan from Chains of Lakes and, as I got to the north side, more cars feeding into the caravan from MLK Drive and Lincoln Way. I’m not kidding when I say I think there may have been over two thousand cars. I’m talking about a caravan that could have snaked its way through the Richmond District out to Presidio Heights while still having cars in Golden Gate Park.
I moved towards 46th and Lincoln to wait for the end of the caravan, while people sent me messages from all over the City. They could see the caravan in the Marina, sending me videos of themselves pulled over while dozens of cars drove by, honking like crazy.
I got messages from friends on Divisadero, who saw the caravan a few minutes later, heading towards Castro. And shortly after, they were deep in Noe Valley, headed towards Clipper.
I sat at 46th and Kirkham for a while, waiting, until I heard the honking in the distance.
The lead car was a van with a Black Lives Matter flag, and a skater hanging off the side, the driver and the skater both with fists pumped in the air.
I raised my fist in return as they drove by, screaming. They’d done it. This was the final leg. A couple more blocks, and they would reach Lincoln, and the end of the caravan.
This was different than a march in the Mission, especially in the sense that a car caravan needs the police to block off lanes so that the cars can move. There were dozens, if not a hundred motorcycle cops assigned to this, setting off moving traffic blocks throughout the City, like a giant funeral procession, but with the energy of life.
There wasn’t this antagonization, like with protests that work against the police. But on the other hand, with the four officers who killed George Floyd now in jail, this felt like a better time to celebrate the fact that the wheels of justice had started to move. Justice wasn’t served, but it had damn sure picked up the phone.
People turned up along 46th ave to wave and cheer them on, and the drivers themselves, along their families, were smiling and cheering.
With so many protests, the main thing above all else is to show up. It’s less what you do, and more the fact that you’re there, giving weight, giving credence to the message, and adding your voice to theirs.
But when people talk about passing the baton, passing social messages onto the youth, I could see the overwhelming importance of being able to bring your kids to a protest, and to be able to do it safely from your car. These kids got a chance to participate in something bigger than themselves at an early age. They proudly held the signs they made themselves, and shook their fists and screamed out “Black Lives Matter,” and They. Add. Weight. They can feel that. And it matters.
The cars finished their route at 46th and Lincoln, turning right and heading back towards the City, and whatever direction they’re going to head in after that. But for these families, wherever they came from, they participated in something that mattered, and the parents got to show their children something important.
As I walked back to the N Judah, I passed a family heading away from the caravan’s finale. It was two white parents with a young black girl riding a RAZR scooter. As she furiously sped ahead of them, she kept yelling, “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” Even she, who had shown up to watch these families cross the finish line, was taking away something from the caravan. That she mattered. And she knew it.