Some cars drove down El Camino Real, their drivers honking in solidarity.
Others drove by with their passengers screaming obscenities at the protesters who held signs in front of the Thursday afternoon.
“Communists!” yelled a man with a shaved head, as he leaned out of the window of a beige truck with a Big Gulp in his right hand.
An activist group called Peninsula Direct Action coordinated a protest that drew more than 30 people who are members of , , Occupy Palo Alto, and members of the San Mateo County green party. The protesters held up signs on the side of the road that urged people to “Free Bradley Manning.” The protest was timed to coordinate with rush-hour.
“They’re stuck in traffic,” said a protester named Eve. “Now they have to read our signs,” she said with a smile.
One man pumped his fist in the air while holding a sign that said “whistleblowing=truth” on the top half and “not a crime, a service” on the bottom half.
Bradley Manning is the Army soldier who is charged with sharing a classified video of a helicopter flight to the Wikileaks organization. In the video you can hear soldiers pleading with their commanding officers to let them kill people on the ground. At least 11 Iraqi civilians and two Reuters reporters were killed in this attack. Manning is suspected to have leaked thousands of military reports that detail slaughter of civilians and the subsequent cover-ups. Since he was arrested in 2012, he has reportedly been humiliated, tortured, and held in military detention.
"The way he's been treated is horrible," said Gail Sredanovic, who lives in unincorporated Menlo Park. "In any case he should be considered innocent until proven guilty," she said. Sredanovic said she was protesting to guide politicians to "do the right thing. If they do the right thing, we'll have their back," she said.
James Lee, organizer of Thursday's event, said one of the reasons that he organized this event was to increase awareness in the gay community about Manning’s plight.
“The mainstream is working so hard to get gays into the military, and here Bradley Manning is being persecuted and the gay rights activists aren’t saying anything about it,” Lee said, noting that Manning is also a young gay man like himself. The event was held at the same time that Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland members were protesting in San Francisco.
Lee spoke with me just before kneeling onto the sidewalk to make a sign with a black sharpie and a piece of cardboard. At about 4:30, Menlo Park Police arrived and asked people who were standing in between the cars parked along side El Camino Real to move onto the sidewalk. They made people move off of the sidewalk in front of the Democratic Volunteer Center.
“We need to make sure that there’s a path available for regular pedestrians to go by,” said Officer L. Tommei. “We don’t need two chairs back to back blocking the whole sidewalk,” Tommei said.
This did not sit well with some of the protesters.
“The cops get mad at us when we start chanting,” said Barbara Goodwin, as she watched the police remove protesters from the median. One of the protesters said that she was told the police said they were obstructing traffic.
The protesters gave a petition to people who run the Democratic Volunteer Center at about 5 p.m. At 6 p.m. they were still chanting through a megaphone on the side of the road.