SF Prides Meeting on Manning Goes Awry-Media & Community Turned Away

Pentagon Papers whistle blower, Daniel Ellsberg, speaks with a reporter from Fox Channel 2
Pentagon Papers whistle-blower, Daniel Ellsberg, speaks with a reporter from Fox Channel 2

The public meeting called by SF Pride Committee on Tues, May 7th to address community concerns and questions regarding the de-selection of whistle-blower Bradley Manning as Honorary Grand Marshall of the Pride Parade ended with media and protestors locked out.

The meeting, set for 7PM at the Pride Office on Pearl St., saw a crowd of about seventy-five arrive early to line up at the doors of Pride's office building in anticipation of getting to address the issue with the Board directly.

Photo: Marke Bieschke
Photo: Marke Bieschke

The crowd was comprised of the news media, Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg representing Mr. Manning, pro-Manning activists from  Code PInk, Gray Panthers, Bradley Manning Support Network, ACT UP/SF as well as members of the community who'd come to show support for Pride's decision to oust Manning.

Who wasn't there was anyone from Pride's Board. No one to greet the throng and calm the situation, explain the process that would take place, or act as a public liaison between themselves and the media.

Crowded into Pride's office foyer
Crowded into Pride's office foyer

15 minutes after the appointed meeting start-time, building doors finally opened and the crowd moved into a very small and narrow lobby queueing to ride the elevator up to Pride's offices. Their access to the elevator was immediately blocked by an unidentified member of the Board and security who stated that no cameras would be allowed into the event.

The crowd began to chant, "Let the press in!" while those in front jockeyed for space on the elevator. In the end approximately 15 people were allowed upstairs to attend the meeting-a few members of the press including a reporter from the B.A.R., Daniel Ellsberg, former Grand Marshall Gary Virgninia and blogger/activist, Michael Petrelis. Once that initial group entered the elevator to Pride's office, the conveyance was turned off keeping anyone else from going up.

According to those who were allowed in after basic Pride Committee formalities were accomplished, members of the public were reminded of the no-cameras rule and told they'd be given one minute each to comment on the subject.

Downstairs on the street the crowd continued to grow. They were very angry about the lack of cooperation that was showed and started chanting in front of the building on Market St from the MUNI F lines elevated stop, "They say court-martial, we say Grand Marshall!"

SFPD showed up informing the community via Pride spokespeople that Pride would let in only 15 people at a time to comment. When one group was done, they'd exit, and another would enter for their turn. SFPD also set officers in stairwells and on the perimeters of the event to, in their words, 'maintain order'.

SFPD speaks to crowd on behalf of Pride Committee
SFPD speaks to crowd on behalf of Pride Committee Photo: Liz Highleyman

Forty five minutes into Pride's scheduled one hour meeting no other members of the community beyond the original handful had been let in.

By 8:15, Pride informed those remaining who'd wish to comment that the meeting was canceled and would be rescheduled at a larger venue on a date to be announced. People were, to say the least, not amused and for a brief time a sit in occurred in the building's lobby.

From my perspective, as one of the media kept on the outside-along with other notable journalists like SF Bay Guardian's Marke Bieschke, Pride's idea of a 'community' meeting, to be blunt, was a shit-show and a public relations debacle of epic proportions.

What could've been a productive meeting turned into a power-struggle where a few people's voices were heard while a resolution for many in the community remained unattained.

The Board must have anticipated that a large crowd would show up, but instead of moving the meeting to a larger venue like the LGBT Center across the street from Pride's office, they chose to keep it in-house in a small, inadequate space.

Photo: Liz Highleyman
Photo: Liz Highleyman

The Board has issued several long explanations about why Manning doesn't qualify for the Hon. Grand Marshall distinction (not local so therefore void), how those who nominated and voted for him were wrong (as past members they knew the rules and chose to ignore them), and have also released rambling explanations for all their actions of the past week that have neither calmed nor sated anyone. Their lack of transparency and refusal to allow media/cameras-even those from mainstream outlets like Fox Channel 2-into their own forum is suspect and unnecessary.

If the Pride Committee wants to quell the uprising, they'd better act soon, and in good faith, to resolve the situation or the 2013 Pride event will be tainted with the controversy and in all likelihood see more drama play out in demonstrations by outraged activists during the parade itself.