15,00 people gather at Dolores Park to protest U.S. presence in Afghanistan
On a bright sunny Saturday, a day after newspaper headlines announced the first presence of American units in Afghanistan, 15,000 people — mostly young, but including older people and families with children — gathered at Dolores Park in San Francisco’s Mission District for the first mass anti-war protest to follow the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A colorful crowd filled the park from late morning until 4 p.m. People sang, played instruments and carried thousands of anti-war and anti-racism signs saying, “Act now to stop the war and end racism,” “Take back the flags,” “Send food to Afghanistan not bombs” and “Justice, not vengeance.”
It was impossible to move more than five feet without being handed colorful fliers from organizations including the Communist Party, California Prison Focus, Share International, East Bay Coalition Against War and the Youth and Student Network.
“What do you want?” Miguel Molina from KPFA shouted into the microphone. “Peace,” the crowd cried back. “When?” continued Molina. “Now,” the crowd answered.
“We are going to show [to] this country that we are united,” Molina said.
Peace and anti-hate messages dominated the many speeches during the two hour protest that ended with a mile-long march through the Mission that again wound up at Dolores Park.
“We don’t want more innocent people to be killed,” Gloria La Riva of the International Action Center, said later to the crowd. La Riva’s center was one of dozens of groups organizing the protest.
“War against the people of Afghanistan is not the answer, neither are racist attacks against Arab Americans and Muslims. This is our answer to Bush. It might not be in the CNN but we have our own opinions and we say not to war and racism.”
Eman Desouky of the Arab American Anti –Discrimination Committee shared her fears with the audience.
“I’m frightened for my people; I’m frightened to walk in the street to see another window broken, to see another little girl afraid of walking to school. I’m frightened from what had happened to my people. Over 10 years of starvation of the Iraqi’s mothers and children, I am afraid for my brothers and sisters in Palestine. “
Desouky called the people to unite and say no to racism and to not scapegoat Arab, Muslims, Middle Eastern people and those who look alike them.
Bianca Bonilla, a Berkeley High School senior who was the youngest speaker, described “Youth Together’s” teach-ins at Berkeley High and how they were initiated after several Arab, Muslim, Sikh and south east Asian students were harassed by other students.
“Our president, which isn’t even cool, wants to spend so much money on war instead of education,” Bonilla said to the cheering crowd.
Later on, still shaking from the excitement of addressing the crowd, Bonilla shared her thoughts.
“High schools shouldn’t be a place you can’t be you,” she said. “You need to be able to be yourself everywhere. People should be aware that the media is telling you one side of the story and you shouldn’t carry out your actions just according to what the media is saying.”
After dozens of interviews for national and international media, Bonilla sounded more confident.
“I‘m happy that people actually want to listen to what I have to say, that they listen to the youth,” she said.
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, an Indian youth activist dressed with a traditional sari inspired the audience with her singing.
“They took my heart and left me nothing instead,” sang the young activist who graduated UC Berkeley two years ago. “I was told several occasions to leave this country and I was born here.”
Soundararajan was describing her experience of the last few weeks. Afterwards, she encouraged the people for action.
“Sisters raise up, brothers raise up, we must raise up, raise up right now, take the streets, take our streets, persistent, consistent vision of peace,” she said.
The last speaker, and the only politician, was Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
“We remember today all those who died in the planes, at the World Trade Center, those who died in this country that day and those who died in many other countries in many other days because of the lack of peace and justice,” he said, rejecting the voices against anti-war protests. “In standing up for peace and justice today, you are a true heroes and patriots of America.”
“I’m very happy to see so many young people along with people who were part of the anti-war movement in the ’60s,” said Nancy Carleton from Berkeley. Carleton joined her parents protest in the ’60s as a junior high school student. “I ‘m proud of Berkeley and the Bay Area for not being swept with into the war fever.”
A group of almost 300 UC Berkeley students, wearing green arm bands to pledge solidarity with Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern people and for speaking out against scapegoating was one of the most vocal groups on the March.
“Books not bombs, teachers not troops,” they shouted.
“I think its unjust war,” said Ronald Cruz of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action and Integration and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. Cruz is also a graduate student from the education department at UC Berkeley. “Disproportional numbers of people that the U.S. actively recruit and will send to kill and die in the Middle East are black, Latino and poor people, while this country segregates them into inferior schools.” said Cruz.
Christina Hioureas, from the national organization for woman in UC Berkeley was satisfied.
“I think it’s great that we are all united,” she said. “Today we set our differences aside and fighting for equality and justice.”
The UC Berkeley “stop the war” coalition used the opportunity to gather a multi-campus conference a few hours after the rally. Representatives from 25 different campuses in California participated in the conference — including UCLA, Stanford, UC Irvine and the University of South California. Together, they decided the next steps for building multi-campus base coalition.
The Berkeley student’s next action is a protest against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., which will be held on October 2 at Feinstein’s San Francisco office. Last week, Feinstein helped introduce a bill that would ban all new visas for international students for six months.