Arnie Under Siege
Arnold was in town, holding a fundraising dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Wealthy donors were paying $1,000 a plate to dine with the governor and finance his proposed ballot measures--more of those so called "reforms," including one to privatize the state's public pension system.
A protest was called by a coalition of unions. A leaflet from the nurses read, "Rally against Arnold's Corporate Corruption." Along with a couple of friends, Mark and Pat, I set out to attend in support of the nurses, and at the same time join them in expressing displeasure over the way Schwarzenegger is running California into the ground.
The San Francisco Ritz-Carlton Hotel is up on the slopes of Nob Hill, above Chinatown. There was already a large gathering when we arrived, enough people so that the huge, fortress-like building, which covers more than half a block, was fairly surrounded. There were several thousand people there, and more were arriving. Picket signs read, "Arnold can't be bought--the corporations already own him," "California is not for sale!" and "One Austrian Führer was enough!"
We managed to squeeze our way through the crowd on Stockton street to where we could see a speaker's stand mounted on a flatbed truck in front of the hotel’s main entrance. A public-address system boomed out the voices of the protest speakers, and the crowd cheered and applauded; the noise was loud and I believe it might have been audible even inside the hotel banquet hall.
The demonstration also blocked traffic on California and Pine streets, where the side entrances to the Ritz-Carlton were located. People chanted "Whose street?" -- "Our street!"
"Whose street?" -- "Our street!"
"Whose street?" -- "Our street!"
As police cleared a narrow lane on Pine, a few cars squeezed through. Some of the drivers, despite having been inconvenienced, waved the two-fingered peace sign or gave us a thumbs up.
It was a spirited, cheerful event, heartwarming for us participants, but I can imagine that it might've given a touch of under-siege mentality to Arnold and the Republicans holed up inside the hotel.
On their shirts, jackets or signs, many of the protesters wore insignias of their union, professional affiliation or organization. A huge number of demonstrators were teachers and nurses. There were also firefighters, as well as people from antiwar groups. There were a group of women from Code Pink, and some teenagers with a banner reading "Not In Our Name." And of course our threesome was from LMNOP (Lake Merritt Neighbors Organized for Peace), though we hadn't brought any signs or banners to indicate that. At one point, when we were up on Stockton, looking down California street, I found myself next to group of protesters who wore T-shirts with a star emblem and the words "Santa Rosa Police Department." I was amazed to discover that, in addition to nurses', teachers' and firefighters' unions, some police unions were also part of this protest.
I came to this demonstration expecting to catch a glimpse of Schwarzenegger and his corporate entourage entering and leaving the hotel, but that didn't happen. Someone told me that Arnold and his bunch had arrived at 3 p.m., presumably in order to avoid our demonstration. I wondered how long fundraising dinners normally lasted; probably not much more than two hours at the most. Since it seemed likely that they were going to spend a long time holed up in that hotel, we left for home around 8 p.m. So did most others. Some, as they left, chanted, "We'll be back! We'll be back! We'll be back!"
Even then, a good many protesters remained at the hotel entrances, waiting for Arnold, like cats patiently watching mouse-holes. After getting home we saw it on TV--the governor's car surrounded by protesters chanting "Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!"
Arnold's people did not take the protest well. They called it "a union-inspired event that didn't represent average Californians." The Oakland Tribune quoted Rob Stutzman, director of communications for Schwarzenegger, as saying, "Of course union protesters get paid to show up." Do the Republicans really believe they can get away with their constant lies about who their opposition really is?
On April 8th , three days after the San Francisco protest, headlines of the Oakland Tribune announced: Embattled governor suffers first major defeat
The Tribune article begins: Facing protests and a failing approval rating, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- in a dramatic turnaround -- backed off his plan Thursday to revamp the state public employee pension system and did not rule out developments that would scrap a fall special election this year.
Follow-up, November 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger presented his "reforms" to California voters on November 8, 2005. All four of his ballot proposals were defeated. The Los Angeles Times (11/9/05) called it "an election that shattered his image as an agent of the popular will."