Caravan For Justice: Cars Offer Socially Distanced Protesting During Pandemic

Jun 5, 2020
Originally published on June 8, 2020 9:13 am

Hundreds and hundreds of cars wound through the streets of San Francisco. Drivers honked. Children chanted. Signs read "Black Lives Matter "and "No Justice, No Peace" as for hours protesters — socially distanced inside their own vehicles — added their voices to a national chorus of outrage.

Caravan protests like the one on Thursday afternoon, and an earlier demonstration in Oakland, have taken on new significance with a deadly pandemic and widespread street protests happening simultaneously.

Hundreds of vehicles — by some estimates well more than a thousand — participated in the socially distanced protest. Honking, chanting and shouts filled the streets for hours.
Chloe Jackman Photography

"We're sick and tired of seeing our black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets and it being OK," says Elena Fong. "It's being broadcast across the nation and no one's doing anything about it."

Fong has two children, including a 3-year-old daughter with Down syndrome who is immunocompromised. A caravan protest felt safer than a march, given the risks of the coronavirus.

Fran Culp says that, as someone with major medical issues, she was "thrilled" to have the option to join a protest with her husband and her dog.

Surya Kishi Grover was fine going to protests herself — she had taken her 6-year-old son to an outdoor demonstration already. But her 2 1/2-year-old and 18-month-old were another story. The caravan offered a way to protest as an entire family, with Grover, her husband and all three kids in the minivan. They made a sign that read "Asians for Black Lives" and practiced chanting.

A protester holds a sign up in San Francisco as a caravan of cars drives by, in a socially distanced demonstration denouncing police brutality against black Americans. Bikers, pedestrians and residents along the caravan route participated in the protest.
Chloe Jackman Photography

Erin Feher planned this protest as a safe option for people like Fong, Grover and Culp, who didn't want to gather in crowds during this pandemic — but also to bring the energy and passion of the ongoing protests into more parts of San Francisco.

Her family has attended anti-police brutality protests downtown, and coming back to Outer Richmond, the quiet residential neighborhood where they live, was jarring.

"To be so close yet live this very peaceful kind of unbothered existence was bothering me," she says.

Feher had never organized a protest before. She was scrolling Instagram this past weekend when she saw a post about a Zoom call offering ideas on how to turn outrage into action. On that call she learned about caravan protests, and picked up tips for how to organize.

"One of the things they said that always sticks out to me was, 'You know, even if five people come, even if 10 people come, you did a good job.' " she says. "And I was like, 'OK, I can do that.' "

It wasn't five or 10 people. According to Chloe Jackman, a photographer who witnessed the caravan, it took nearly 3 hours for all the vehicles to pass her studio; she estimates well over 1,000 vehicles participated.

Similar protests have been held in cities across America, from the large caravan in Oakland to ones planned in Wisconsin, Connecticut and the suburbs of Detroit on Sunday.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, some people want to join the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. But the risks of the coronavirus pandemic keep them from marching. One solution - caravans.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

GREENE: From Salt Lake City and Tallahassee to Kentucky and Wisconsin, people are demonstrating in cars, trucks and minivans. NPR's Camila Domonoske heard from protesters during a recent caravan of cars.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Surya Kishi Grover has taken her 6-year-old to street protests in San Francisco. They maintained social distance. But her toddlers...

SURYA KISHI GROVER: With an 18-month-old and a 2-year-old, they're not following directions that well.

DOMONOSKE: In this caravan, the whole family could pile into the minivan with signs like Asians for Black Lives.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No justice...

SURYA KISHI GROVER AND UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: ...No peace. Abolish the police. No justice, no peace. Abolish the police.

DOMONOSKE: Elsewhere in that caravan, also recording her protest for NPR, was Fran Culp, who has medical issues. Elena Fong was driving and cheering, too. Her daughter is immunocompromised.

Editor and local business owner Erin Feher organized his caravan. She'd never done that before. But she had just followed an activist group on Instagram who posted about a Zoom call with tips on how to plan a protest. She wanted to offer a safer option during this pandemic. And after attending protests in downtown San Francisco, she also wanted to bring that energy into quieter neighborhoods like hers.

ERIN FEHER: To be so close yet live this very peaceful, kind of unbothered existence was bothering me.

DOMONOSKE: Feher planned a 17-mile loop through San Francisco. And inspired by the activist on that Zoom call, she told herself that five or 10 cars would be a success. A lot more showed up.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS HONKING)

DOMONOSKE: Chloe Jackman's photography studio is along the caravan route. She watched for two hours and could still hear the honking when she went inside.

CHLOE JACKMAN: This was probably 1,800 cars. I mean, it was unreal.

DOMONOSKE: Camila Domonoske, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAY FOR SOUND'S "THEY GAVE UP LOOKING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.