Antiwar movement turns four

Antiwar movement turns four

Protests are mostly peaceful for anniversary of Iraq invasion

By Amanda Witherell

The Iraq War turned four years old March 19, but so did the antiwar movement, and thousands of people marked the event with protests, rallies, and direct actions around the Bay Area.

The largest event was the March 18 march on Market Street, led by the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition, one of more than 1,000 rallies around the country. The protesters marched under a “No Blood for Oil” banner, “Impeach” signs donated by Working Assets, and Whole Earth flags that fluttered in the westerly wind funneling down San Francisco’s main drag. The Chronicle estimated the crowd at 3,000; ANSWER claimed it was 40,000. We estimated the march at 10,000 strong.

Education seemed to be the point protesters were driving home, as if the knowledge of the war’s injustices would reverberate like the chanting voices against the walls of the Financial District and into the minds of the children who wandered through the crowds of thousands.

“Will this stop the war May First?” Glenn Borchardt asked. “No, but it will stop it some day.”

Sandee Dickson, a retired teacher, was with about 50 other purple-shirted Democrats of Napa Valley and said she was protesting “to keep it on the front page.”

“There are all sorts of people here, from all walks of life, sending the message that American people say, ‘No more war.’ ”

More than 40 cops watched the chanting crowd from their post, leaning against the front of the Westfield shopping center, guarding the commerce. “A couple of years ago a couple windows got smashed,” one of the police officers said to the Guardian. “I guess they’re pretty expensive.”

The crowd was pretty tame, though, and there were no arrests. There seemed to be just as many baby strollers in the crowd as people marching alongside them. Balloons bounced from the wrists of children, and a Girl Scout was making a killing selling cookies off the back of her Radio Flyer wagon for $3.50 a box.

Captain Denis O’Leary from Southern Station said there were about 270 officers on patrol, plus additional platoons of traffic and tactical officers, prepared for violence he wasn’t really anticipating.

“They might get arrested,” he said, gesturing to some anarchists waving red and black flags at the edge of Larkin Street. A cop in this city for 25 years, O’Leary has responded to many demonstrations of all sizes and flavors and thinks they’ve changed a lot over the years. He mentioned the 1989 protest outside the Westin St. Francis against the first President George Bush. “That was an angry tone, it was massive, and there were arrests.”

When asked if he looks at the crowd and worries about the safety of all the children who could get caught up in a sudden action, he said, “Yes, because my daughter is out there.” He said she’s 15.

Sue Martin was marching with her son, Sean Martin-Hamburger. For his first protest, the eight-year-old had made a colorful cardboard sign that read, “Have some peace in your heart.” He was too shy to say much to us, but his mom was less reticent: “We’re demonstrating because we don’t want to see any more violence, anywhere actually.”

Though it was Sean’s first march on Market, his mother has been protesting for 35 years and agreed the age range was one of the big differences, as was the energy. “It feels more creative and less angry, like we’re starting to embody the peace and not respond to the violence with violence. It doesn’t feel vengeful, but maybe I’m just getting older.”

On March 19, there were some people willing to face off with the police at a die-in. Hundreds of protesters lay down on the sidewalks and in the streets of downtown San Francisco, representing the 3,200 American soldiers and the estimated 160,000 Iraqi civilians who have died in the past four years. A helicopter whirring overhead and the corpses under blood-spattered sheets gave the direct action an eerie Vietnam feel, but there seemed to be more cops than corpses. They got something to do when 57 protesters became the walking dead, rising up from the sidewalk and dying again in Market Street traffic, disrupting the flow of daily life and garnering some misdemeanor charges.

Across the bay, 14 people also prepared for arrests, locking themselves into a human chain across the entrance to Chevron’s corporate headquarters in San Ramon. For the third time in four years, more than 100 representatives from Bay Rising, US Labor Against War, Amazon Watch, and Students for a Democratic Society gathered to speak against the other axis of evil: oil, profits, and war.

“Under the new Iraqi Oil Law, Chevron is standing to directly benefit from a law that comes from Bush. Two-thirds of [Iraq] oil will be owned by foreign companies,” Sam Edmondson of Bay Rising said. “The fear is that US troops will be used to secure that oil.”

Back in San Francisco, in front of the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, “Stop Funding the War” called on the woman who controls the purse strings to tighten them.

A few hundred people gathered outside the Federal Building to hear veterans, mothers of soldiers, local progressives, and city officials, such as Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who’s authored local resolutions against the war.

“I think [Pelosi] should be lining up votes to cut off funding for the war,” former supervisor and 2003 mayoral candidate Matt Gonzales said. “If they cut off money, there’d be an interesting crisis.”

Former congressional candidate Krissy Keefer was there as well. When asked where she’d be if she’d been voted into Pelosi’s seat, she said, “I would be here to provide leadership to San Francisco. San Francisco is really, really important, and we need to constantly reinforce the position that we play. The middle-of-the-road position that Pelosi takes squashes the best intentions of the Democratic Party.”

Originally published March 21, 2007 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian