Hundreds of East Bay folk gathered Wednesday in candlelight vigils, organized by Berkeley’s MoveOn.org, to oppose the Iraq war and offer support to the Vacaville woman who has managed to give a sympathetic face to the war’s opposition .
These and similar MoveOn.org rallies held in all 50 states Wednesday were at the request of Cindy Sheehan, the Vacaville mother whose vigil outside George W. Bush’s Texas ranch has captured the imaginations of the news media.
Sheehan’s son, Casey, was 24 years old and serving as an Army Humvee mechanic stationed in Sadr City, Iraq, when he was killed on April 4, 2004.
Earlier this month Sheehan headed to Crawford, Texas, to demand a meeting with the president. Her ongoing vigil there has drawn the attention of the world’s media and personalized opposition to the war in a new and powerful manner, attracting massive support from anti-war groups.
“It’s such a thrill to be able to support Cindy in what she’s doing,” said Carrie Olson, Berkeley resident and chief operating officer of MoveOn.org.
“Based on the sign-ups and their guests, we think over 100,000 attended 1,627 rallies nationwide Wednesday,” Olson said “We also know that there was at least one rally in Paris.” When the final numbers are in, she said, Wednesday night’s gatherings may have generated a record turnout for events organized by the group’s volunteers.
More than 10,000 signed up to attend vigils in the Bay Area, she said, adding that the actual turnout was probably closer to 20,000. The only locale with a larger turnout was New York City.
The crowded street vigils around Berkeley reminded one observer of similar protests staged back in the days when President Nixon was blasting Cambodia. Those rallies were attended by many of the same people who gathered in front of the French Hotel on Shattuck Avenue and on Solano Avenue Wednesday.
East Bay protesters
Tina Estes, one of those gathered by the French Hotel, had protested during the Vietnam War. “I was very young then,” she said, smiling. One of her protesting stints—this one against the nuclear power plant in Seabrook, N.H.—even earned her an arrest.
Estes said she and her friend have been following the machinations of the Bush regime since the 2000 election. “We drove out to Colorado to get out the vote, and we were in a debriefing with the MoveOn.org folk when we realized the election had been stolen. We’ve been in a tirade ever since.”
Val Hammell said she came out “because the war is totally disgusting, a move by the Saudi/Bush clan to keep their profits up when sanctions were about to be lifted so that Iraq could sell their oil in Europe for Euros, which would have brought the price down.”
Brazilian-born Berkeley resident Oswaldo Rosa, a business development manager for Magnussen’s Lexus of Fremont, said he came in part because he was raised in a peace-loving culture.
“I really like Berkeley politics. People always listen to people from Berkeley, and I like that,” he said.
Noah Biglin said he came because “I’ve always been against the war from the start.” He said he was very impressed by Sheehan’s efforts. “It seems to be working. She’s getting national attention and it’s sympathetic.”
“I’m usually known as Noah’s dad,” said Ed Biglin. “I’m here because it’s important for everyone in this country to see that apathy isn’t cool. I’m worried about the fact that a lot of people still don’t realize that they pulled off this war without finding any weapons of mass destruction and without finding any involvement by Al Qaeda. It’s important that people are aware that there’s another side to this.”
MoveOn.org volunteer Alyss Dorese said that while 274 people had signed up to attend the Berkeley rallies, at least double that number had turned out. “When I signed up as an organizer last Friday, I was number 18. Now it’s close to 2,000 rallies.”
Olson, who attended the rally at the French Hotel, said that she estimated the turnout there at close to 600. Turnout at the Solano Avenue protest may have topped 1,000.
Berkeley police spokesperson Officer Joe Okies offered lower estimates, which he said were “very loose,” of 400 to 500 on Solano and 300 to 400 in front of the hotel.
Okies said two other rallies were held along Shattuck, one at Derby Street and a second in front of the Starry Plough at Shattuck and Prince Street.
Other Berkeley vigils were held on Ashby Avenue, at the intersection of Adeline Street and another at the College Avenue intersection, and at the Marin Avenue circle.
Focus for activism
“Cindy’s story has been remarkable,” said Olson. “Had you asked me a month ago, I would’ve been cynical. But she’s such a sincere person that it’s hard not to stand by her.”
The next stage depends on the man behind the barbed wire in Crawford, she said.
“The best thing for him to do would be to come out and meet with her,” Olson said. “Because he has not met her so far, he has galvanized not only the anti-war protesters but people with family members serving in Iraq right now.
“If you are going to take these brave young men and women and send them off to war, you’d better have a pretty good reason,” Olson said.
Particularly impressive for Olson and her colleagues at MoveOn.org was the turnout in the Red states that Bush carried so handily in the 2000 elections.
“We had 389 sign up for Omaha, the turnout was probably twice that,” she said.
Locally, at least 50 people turned out for a vigil in El Cerrito, and in Walnut Creek, 150 or so protesters lingered after a San Francisco Mime Troupe performance to stage their own vigil.
For those interested in learning more about the rallies, see www.moveon.org.
The Daily Kos, a Berkeley-based blog, is offering a comprehensive online “diary” with scores of entries about the rallies from all over the country along with numerous photos at http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/8/17/214516/840.$