The Streets of San Francisco

On January 6, 2007, two days after Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, about 1,000 activists laid down on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach to spell out the word “IMPEACH!” in 100-foot letters. Photos of the clear message to Pelosi taken from a helicopter appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, and on websites around the world (for photos and footage, see

On April 28, five days after Representative Dennis Kucinich filed articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney, the second “Beach Impeach” event spelled out the words “IMPEACH NOW!” In the neighborhood of 1,500 people participated in that event, which also involved standing in formation to spell out “PEACE NOW!”

When by mid-summer Pelosi was still disinterested taking action against Cheney or Bush, Brad Newsham, the principal organizer of the first two events, was ready for a third. On September 15, he struck again on Crissy Field near San Francisco’s Marina district.

Newsham wrote in a September 7 email: “Today I managed to speak to the senior staff member in Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco office, and through him I invited Ms. Pelosi to occupy the fourth seat in our helicopter. After all, there is going to be a crowd of impeachment-impassioned folks right there in her constituency, and maybe this would be a perfect time for her to at least have a bird’s eye view of them. When he said that Rep. Pelosi was not available that day, I invited him, the senior staff member himself, but he quickly said he was not available either — in fact no one from Pelosi’s office would be available that day. ‘So is this a dead end?’ I asked. ‘Yes.’ End of curt, even icy, conversation.”

As with the first two beach mobilizations, at the September 15 protest volunteers circulated with postcards and pens to generate constituent messages to Pelosi, while a photographer circled in a helicopter overhead.

I spoke to San Francisco resident Valerie Coshnear at the event’s end, who told me, “The last two times I did the Impeach-on-the-beach-thing, I did it with “E”s. I did not have to become any other letter. Just get up and down and do the wave thing, touch the sea wall, do the boogey woogey.”

Warming to the topic, Ms. Coshnear went on, “This time I wanted more of a challenge. I decided to be in the “M” in IMPEACH, which required moving to make up the the “N” in ” REASON:” and “TREASON!” [the second two words spelled out]. It was a wonderful letter to be in because previously I could only say “I think therefore I “M”, but today I was lying with over a thousand people in the grass at Crissy Field, tendrils of fog stretching from the tip of the Golden Gate swirling overhead. In our 100 foot letter alone, several hundred people who don’t buy the lies of those unconscionable traitors and warmongers in the White House, could lay down their bodies and say as one mammoth letter “We think, and are willing to move, therefore we ‘M.'” Other participants seemed equally giddy with enthusiasm, and Brad Newsham, who directed the sitting-to-standing human wave activities from a step ladder, was jubilant afterward. (It was also the cabdriver/writer/activist’s birthday, and the assembled protestors serenaded him with “Happy Birthday to You” several times.)

Like many of those I spoke to at Crissy Field, Newsham was pleased that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan recently threw her hat into the ring to run against Pelosi. Sheehan committed to running against the veteran politician because of the Speaker’s refusal to push impeachment.

“Cindy is a Voice of the People ­ the freshest one I’ve heard recently,” he told me. “She strikes me as uniquely un-bought, and seems fueled not by ambition but by the pain of having her son ripped away from her by a band of criminals. Imagine a House of Representatives full of people like Cindy — like us — instead of the elite who have eternally toyed with us.”

Sheehan’s son Casey was killed in Iraq, which led her to camp out near President Bush’s vacation ranch in Crawford, Texas, to send an unwavering anti-war message to Bush and the entire world.

Sheehan’s statement upon launching her candidacy clearly showed she was out to rock the boat: “An electorate disgusted with the policies of the Bush regime put the Democrats in the majority in Congress in November ’06. We voted for change, however, Congress, under the Speakership of Ms. Pelosi has done nothing but protect the status quo of the corporate elite and, in fact, since she has been the Speaker, the situation in the Middle East has grown far worse, with Congress’ help, and recently more of our essential freedoms were given to BushCo by Congress. That is not what we elected them to do!”

In a commentary largely supportive of Sheehan’s initiative, Nation Magazine political corresponent John Nichols noted, “Pelosi has all the advantages of incumbency — and more. Closely tied for decades to the Democratic political establishment of San Francisco, Pelosi and her campaign team know just about everything there is to know about winning elections there. And, as the Speaker of the House, she has the ability to deliver both on the practical and egotistical needs of the city by the bay. Additionally, she has the ability to raise and spend more money than any opponent.”

But given that 58% of San Franciscans voting in November 2006 endorsed Proposition J, which called for impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, on one of the most important issues of the day Sheehan is clearly more in line with the majority of Pelosi’s constituents than the Speaker. It should be an interesting campaign.

BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He can be reached at


Ben Terrall is a writer living in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: