Topless Protest by Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink at Hillary Clinton Campaign Launch Party
San Francisco, July 23, 2007
The Hillary Clinton for President Campaign celebrated the opening of its new San Francisco headquarters with a launch party that coincided with the Democratic presidential debate on July 23, 2007. The radical activist groups Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink heard about the event and decided it would be a good opportunity to stage a surprise topless protest to publicize their anti-war message.
I heard about the planned party-crashing and made sure I was on hand to record what happened.
Hillary enthusiasts were arriving by the hundreds and filling up at the buffet table as the debate began.
Everyone crowded around several large TVs to watch the Democratic candidates. The biggest cheers and most spontaneous applause were, surprisingly, for Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, while applause for Hillary seemed merely peremptory and forced. And this was in a room full of Hillary supporters. People looked around sheepishly every time an opposing candidate generated unexpected buzz in the room. Not a good sign.
I spotted Breasts Not Bombs founder Sherry Glaser at the back of the room.
She hooked up with several other obvious Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink members and loitered near the restrooms as one by one they nonchalantly went inside and (I presumed) removed their undergarments and put back on an easily removable outer layer, in preparation for a coordinated surprise unveiling.
No one (except me) seemed to be paying the slightest attention to them, as everyone was focused on the debate. I wondered: could the Hillary campaign organizers really be unaware of what was about to happen?
The protest had not been widely publicized, but it was advertised on the Web, if you knew where to look. I had assumed that security would have been set up to keep the protesters out, or at least to monitor them carefully, but as far as I could tell the protesters had crashed the party undetected.
After nearly an hour of milling around and strategizing, Sherry Glaser and the crew felt the moment had come. They gathered in a cluster and started to unravel a banner.
Soon, the tops started coming off.
Instead of staying together in a group, the protesters began to spread out across the room. This turned out to be a strategic blunder, as the impact of the protest was rapidly diffused.
At first, people looked around in shock when they realized what was happening.
But almost immediately, members of the Hillary campaign team started crowding around Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink, telling people to pay them no attention.
Here's a video (also visible here) showing what happened next: campaign workers started chanting "Hillary!" to drown out the shouts of the protesters, while staffers tried to grab the protest banners and hustle the interlopers out the door.
Here are some screenshots from the video, for those of you who can't view it.
The woman who seemed to be in charge of security confronted Sherry Glaser, and the two got into a brief shouting match.
After a short fracas, party-goers were told to "just ignore them" by Hillary staffers and -- amazingly -- most of them did just that, turning their attention back to the debate while the protesters continued their antics.
Little by little the Hillary team maneuvered the protesters toward the exit as the protest semi-disintegrated.
The center could not hold: things fell apart.
A small Code Pink contingent made a final stand, but by that point the momentum had been lost.
Sherry Glaser had been hustled toward the exit, and stood there with a look of anger and frustration on her face.
Eventually all the remaining protesters had been rounded up and were all unceremoniously ushered out the door.
"C'mon, let's go!" said the security coordinator to the stragglers as she escorted them to the exit.
Once outside in the hallway, Sherry refused to budge any further, so she sat there for a while, monitored by a young staffer who had been assigned to guard her and make sure she didn't try to get back in.
Some time later they decided to retreat back all the way outside. On the way down the stairs, they continued handing out leaflets to latecomers.
Amazingly, after all that, back inside one Code Pink member had slipped through the dragnet and continued to proselytize the crowd all by herself.
Down on the sidewalk, the expelled protesters consulted on what their next move should be.
Sherry crossed the street to their rather large protest van.
She opened the back door and retrieved something from inside.
Then she came back to continue the "creative action," as the protest had been described.
Curious as to what kind of carbon footprint Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink were leaving, I went over to their van to see what model it was exactly.
Turns out it was a Freightliner Sprinter 2500 SHC, a massive mega-SUV behemoth. But remember: they need a huge car, unlike you, so it's OK!
Having been kicked out of the party, the protesters decided the best course of action was to set up camp on the sidewalk in front of the event.
It was all for the best in the long run, as they had more of a sympathetic audience amongst passersby anyway.
And so another San Francisco protest came to an ignominious end.
[UPDATE: Earlier in the day, the same Breasts Not Bombs crew staged another protest outside Nancy Pelosi's congressional office, and someone managed to capture part of it on video.]
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