Occupy Chess: Players to Protest City's New Ban Sidewalk Chess

Categories: Law & Order

Walter Kalata/Flickr
Days after the chess crackdown on Mid-Market, one man waged a lone protest with a vinyl board that could easily fold into a backpack -- which he did, furtively, at first sight of a beat cop strolling by.

Marvin Boykins, 57, told SF Weekly he'd been playing chess in downtown San Francisco since the '80s. After SFPD Capt. Michael Redmond ordered a Dragnet-style sweep on Market Street, Boykins was the last player left standing.

"Police decided there was too much 'surrounding activity,'" Boykins explained. To Redmond, "surrounding activity" meant drug peddling, loitering, and harassment of pedestrians. He said in subsequent interviews that SFPD received 100 service calls on the blocks between Fifth and Seventh streets in August alone. Until recently, those blocks housed 26 chess tables. Now they're largely desolate.

However, on Sunday a group of chess enthusiasts have pledged to fill that space again, turning mid-Market back into a public commons in protest of the new rules.

Their largely ad-hoc "Occupy Chess" protest has no definitive leader; de-facto organizer Harry Pariser urged participants to consider themselves "equal co-organizers of this event, and act accordingly."

The strategy, he says via e-mail, is to reclaim the public commons as a place for Chess players. "Because it is not a crime to play chess in public or private space," Pariser continues. "Because the commons and the spirit of the city we love are both diminishing; because we can't let people with money and power stop us from having a good time on the sidewalks and streets we own."

He encourages participants to commandeer mid-Market between noon and 3 p.m. with chess sets or other board games in tow. They're also invited to dress as "human chess pieces" and draw their boards on the sidewalk, in chalk.

Needless to say, the match isn't over just yet.

My Voice Nation Help

Personally, I was appalled by the police crack down and seizure of their chess boards, tables and chairs. I view it as another unfortunate example of a gentrifying neighborhood clean up action driven by adjacent property developers - especially the new high end vertical mall being built across the street.

In some ways, this is a class conflict - a conflict between rich and poor. Chess on Market Street is one of the few constructive and affordable recreational activities that low income residents can participate in. Chess also enriches the mind. It is healthy and positive in so many ways. It also enjoys a 30 year plus history.

Still, I want to see the expressed needs of the chess players themselves being met. They want and need a safe but accessible place to play, a challenge in a neighborhood with precious little open space.

Ideally, I would love to see a permanent installation of concrete chess tables and benches, all shaded by an overhead canopy.

I have a proposal. Maybe some of the open space surrounding the nearby 5th and Market Street BART station Hallidie Plaza could be repurposed. In specific, there is a tier near the Forever 21 store, positioned below street level but above the station level that is currently occupied by pigeons. I propose displacing the birds and putting a row of tables right there. This could work. There are several other open spaces in and around Hallidie Plaza that could also be used. I propose that this is investigated. Meanwhile, I hope you will attend this Sunday's Chess-In protest, October 6th, 2013, noon to 3pm, Market Street between 5th and 6th streets.

John Regnary
John Regnary

Chess losers please find something else better to fill your day, maybe a job? Maybe a shower? Maybe not getting drunk or stoned?

Dee Dee Russell
Dee Dee Russell

Oh brother march of the Cali Phonies... its not about chess its about the crime that comes from the scum who buddy with the chess players! I walk down that street on the daily and it has been refreshingly safe without all those creepy men loitering and being misogynist!!!

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