Activists Target San Francisco's Olympic Torch Visit San Francisco is bracing for big protests from pro-Tibet activists as the Olympic torch arrives in the city next month. San Francisco officials have been reluctant to share details about the torch route in hopes of minimizing the protesters' ability to plan. Now the ACLU is intervening on behalf of the protesters.

Activists Target San Francisco's Olympic Torch Visit

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


As the Olympic torch is carried across the map to Beijing for this summer's Olympics, only one American city will play host to it. That city, San Francisco, calls it a great honor, but some officials also wonder if it's worth the trouble because thousands of anti-China protestors are preparing to converge on the city. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

Unidentified Woman (Protestor): (Shouting) Reject China's bloody torch.

Unidentified People (Protestors): (Chanting) Reject China's bloody torch.

Unidentified Woman: No torch through San Francisco.

RICHARD GONZALES: Every day at noon, pro-Tibet protestors gather in front of San Francisco City Hall to urge the mayor and other officials not to put out the welcome mat for the symbol of the Beijing games.

Ms. SULKE CHURRA(ph) (Students for Free Tibet, San Francisco): China is using the Olympic torch as a propaganda machine.

GONZALES: That's Sulke Churra of Students for Free Tibet, one of the groups protesting China's hosting of the summer Olympics.

Ms. CHURRA: And we need to let the world know that this is what China's doing. They're killing our people in Tibet, and we cannot just ignore that and be quiet in San Francisco.

GONZALES: It's just a taste of what's to come when the Olympic torch arrives in San Francisco on April 9th. Multiple groups are planning to converge on the city to demonstrate against China's human-rights record, and not just in Tibet. Some are also opposing Beijing's support for what they call the Sudanese government's genocidal campaign in Darfur.

But it's still unclear what path the torch will take and how close protestors will be able to get. The city has yet to reveal the route, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union to intervene on behalf of protestors. This week, Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a letter saying the city won't restrict protests to so-called free-speech zones far from the torch procession. Michael Risher is an attorney for the ACLU.

Mr. MICHAEL RISHER (Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union): Specifically they are now making it clear that they understand people have the right to come, stand along the route and protest, holding signs, wearing T-shirts, chanting, as long as they do not violently interfere with the torch or cause any sort of violence.

GONZALES: But the city isn't saying much else. Earlier this week, Mayor Gavin Newsom insisted that the torch route was still being negotiated.

Mayor GAVIN NEWSOM (Democrat, San Francisco): It's a simple route. It will be on the larger boulevards of our city, tend to be around the waterfront, but the details have yet to be worked out.

GONZALES: Newsom promised the route will be made public but not until after April 1st, and he added that the plans could change right up to game day. The mayor has indicated that the final route probably will not include San Francisco's Chinatown.

This dense quarter with its narrow streets and picturesque shops and restaurants is the oldest Chinese-American community in the country. David Lee of the Chinese-American Voter Education Committee says there is a wide diversity of views here, with some supporting China and others who are critical of the government's human-rights record.

Mr. DAVID LEE (Chinese-American Voter Education Committee): While the protests are going on, I think the larger picture is that China is emerging as a first world power in the world, and Chinese-Americans are looking at the Olympics with generally a great sense of pride that China has come a long way.

GONZALES: Lee says many in Chinatown are disappointed that the Olympic torch route won't include their neighborhood, but it could also be a blessing as thousands of protestors arrive to demonstrate along whatever route the torch finally takes.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.