Thousands rally at SF Civic Center against travel ban, border wall

Thousands rally at SF Civic Center against travel ban, border wall

Thousands of protesters gathered Saturday afternoon in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza, many gripping signs and cheering over more than three hours as they lambasted President Trump and his immigration policies.

The goal, according to organizers, was to rally in support of all cultures while opposing two of Trump’s executive orders: one banning travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries and another initiating construction of a wall at the Mexican border.

The turnout was diverse with families, people of all ages and large groups from Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries mingled on the plaza, taking selfies with strangers and complimenting each other’s protest signs.

Photo: Paul Kuroda, Special To The Chronicle

Image 1 of 10

Crowd gather on the Civic Center Plaza to protest Trump’s plan for a wall on the Mexican border and ban on immigrants from a number of mainly Muslim counties on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017 in San Francisco, CA

After three hours of speakers, chants and cheers, the protest ended peacefully, with organizers urging participants to pick up their trash and be safe as they headed home.

The diverse crowd coming from BART trains started filling the plaza before the 3 p.m. start time, carrying a variety of signs ranging from “No Ban, No Wall” and “Don’t Piss on My Melting Pot” to “Never Again, United We Stand.”

A large sign for “Landscape Architects Against the Wall” was among several carrying messages combining humor and politics. The rally, however, sought to send a serious message to federal officials and Trump, with organizers urging participants to continue their efforts even after they went home.

“Call elected officials,” Kayla Razavi, one of the organizers, said to the cheering crowd. “That’s what they’re there for.”

During the rally, demonstrators got word that the Department of Justice plans to challenge the ruling of a federal judge in Seattle who overturned, at least temporarily, the travel ban. But they were nonetheless optimistic about the initial court ruling.

Among the demonstrators was Salah Albakri, an immigrant from Jordan who is a U.S. citizen. He said peaceful democratic protest “is what I signed up for” when he moved to the country.

“Whatever has been happening does not reflect what we are,” Albakri said. “I love this nation that has, inherent in its DNA, the value of social justice. Nobody can take that away.”

Also in the crowd was Oakland resident Mohamad Abdul, a U.S. citizen who was born in Yemen. He said America is great, but the current policy proposals are not.

“I’m here to say no to building the wall,” Abdul said. “This is the United States of America, the greatest country in the world.”

As he finished speaking, the crowd erupted into chants of, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”

Former Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, was among the speakers, sharing his family’s story of the Japanese internment during World War II, an example of historical policies based on ethnicity or country of origin. He urged those present to speak out against injustice.

“If you were there then, we would never have gone to camp,” he told the protesters to loud applause. “Asian Americans, Japanese Americans have not forgotten what happened to us. It should not happen again.”

The protest, billed as a “peaceful, inclusive” event, was expected to draw at least 6,000, with more than 9,000 posting their plans to attend on Facebook, according to organizers. Several thousand turned out.

The event was the latest in a series of protests and marches across the Bay Area against Trump, starting with his inauguration. The efforts have focused on the president’s nominees for Cabinet posts as well as policy pronouncements on immigration, health care and the environment.

Saturday saw nationwide protests from Washington, D.C., to West Palm Beach, Fla., where marchers were bound for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort while the president visited there for the weekend.

A rally Wednesday night in Berkeley, protesting the speaking engagement of right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos as well as Trump’s policies, turned violent, causing an estimated $100,000 in damage and resulting in one arrest.

But organizers say peace was on the agenda for Saturday in San Francisco.

Rather than marching, the protest remained in Civic Center Plaza and was limited to a three-hour window. That was on purpose, organizers said, to ensure that the kinds of violent incidents experienced in Berkeley days earlier would not happen in San Francisco.

“I’m speechless. I can’t believe how many people came,” Razavi said as she sat on the stage watching the crowd disperse as City Hall lit up in pink and aqua behind her. “They listened to everyone’s stories.

“This is everything we wanted.”

Jill Tucker and Jenna Lyons are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:, Twitter: @jilltucker, @JennaJourno

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.