The Olympic torch arrived in San Francisco at 3:40 a.m. Tuesday on a flight from Paris, in silence that is not expected to last for its relay on Wednesday.
This is the only city in North America the torch will touch and it also has the highest number of Tibetans outside New York. And it is China's policies towards Tibet that are the subject of numerous protests across the city.
San Francisco, with its Mediterranean climate and activist social climate, is on alert for turbulence, after protests in London and Paris turned violent.
"We have more protests than any other city in America, but we are also better prepared for it," a police spokesman said on Monday night.
Tibetans flew in from Europe, Canada, Mexico and many parts of America to protest China's brutality against their country, including the killings and violence since March 10. They gathered by the hundreds in UN Plaza opposite City Hall, joined by supporters to peacefully affirm human rights worldwide.
On an unusually cold gray day with high winds gusting through the plaza, they all carried Tibetan flags of bright red, yellow and marine blue, and banners stating "Olympics in China -- Torture in Tibet", "Free Tibet", "Share the Dream -- Freedom and Justice for Tibet", "Beijing 2008 -- Game's over -- Free Tibet".
After blessings chanted by six Tibetan monks, a performance in vivid costumes of the Tibetan Dance and Opera Company, the release of crates of white doves of peace, and strong speeches, the protesters marched over to City Hall, with its gold filigreed dome and elegant gold balconies, then on to the Chinese Consulate.
Chris Daly of the city's board of supervisors noted that attention should be paid to China's human rights record, as they "support genocide in Darfur, propping up dictators in Burma, silencing and demonizing activists, limiting freedom and persecuting those who practice something different form the top ruling officials of the PRC."
The marchers picked up velocity and volume as they headed towards the Chinese Consulate. They sat on the ground in the parking lot and listened to speeches while many cars driving by "honked in support" and an airplane circled overhead with a banner "STOP THE CULTURAL GENOCIDE IN TIBET" in lipstick red letters.
Tibetan monks in crimson robes with orange, red, and ochre shawls ( called "zen") expressed the views of most demonstrators when they said they hoped president Bush would not attend the opening ceremonies.
Three Tibetan young women, all 29, friends from childhood in Dharamsala where they were born in exile and schooled at The Tibetan Children's village, spoke of their wrenching longing to one day see their country.
Kalsang, who just graduated nursing school in Missouri, wants to move to San Francisco and get a job. She flew from Missouri for the torch protests. "I wanted to be part of this. We hope China will change. That's the point of all this today.
"Nuns and monks are dying, not getting food or medicine, locked in the monasteries. We were all born in India. I have never seen my country! I long to see it before I die."
All three women still have relatives in Tibet they never see. "Uncles, aunts, many relatives."