Occupy Chess: Players to Protest City’s New Ban Sidewalk Chess
By Rachel Swan
Thu., Oct. 3 2013 at 2:44 PM
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.
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