Spirit of Katrina Fuels Anti-War Demonstration By JUDITH SCHERR Special to the Planet

Tuesday September 27, 2005

The spirit of Katrina—accompanied by anger that government foresight and dollars could have blunted much of the hurricane’s damage—blew into San Francisco Saturday, stirring passions at the anti-war march and rally. 

“From Iraq to New Orleans/Fund people’s needs not the war machine,” read one of two banners that kicked off the march as it started down Dolores Street. The crowd of an estimated 20,000 people that followed that banner and a second one calling for an end to U.S. occupation of Iraq, Palestine and Haiti, eventually poured into Jefferson Square Park, where people browsed activist literature and paraphenalia, visited with old friends and listened to speeches. 

“It’s really important to construct the infrastructure rather than killing—it makes a lot of sense,” said Kate Giles of Santa Cruz, as she made her way along the march route. Giles carried a homemade sign, proclaiming: “Levees not Bombs.” 

The Gray Panthers of San Francisco targeted government militarization manifest both in Iraq and New Orleans. “Our troops are in Iraq and people (in New Orleans) feel like they’re being occupied,” said Patricia Jackson of San Francisco. “They’ve brought that war home to our streets.”  

Tim Paulson, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, marched with U.S. Labor Against the war. “All the money that is being wasted in Iraq, killing and endangering our people, should be used for infrastructure, for jobs, for fixing the residents’ problems in New Orleans, for taking care of hospitals and education,” he said. “The priorities are absolutely and completely skewed with this administration.”  

Calling for “College Not Combat/Relief Not War,” the nationwide College Anti-War Network brought a large contingent to the march. The network links inadequate education funding to the high cost of war and also calls for removing military recruiters from centers of learning. “Military recruiters have no place in high schools or colleges. They can’t look to poor or low-income students to be their cannon fodder for this war," said Justine Prado of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.  

Longtime peace activists Terry and Lenore Doran of Berkeley marched to protest the war and condemn the cost of war that take funds from schools. “We spend our tax money in incorrect places,” said Terry Doran, a retired Berkeley High School teacher and vice president of the Berkeley school board.  

The Massachusetts-based National Priorities Project estimates that the war has cost $196 billion. At that price, 3,410,424 teachers could have been hired for one year or 26,068,054 children could have attended Head Start for a year, NPP says.  

Nancy Townsend of El Cerrito had a personal reason to march. Her son, whom she preferred not to name, has been in Iraq for three weeks. 

“I don’t think the war is justified. I don’t think we should be in Iraq,” she said. “My son signed up right out of high school. We weren’t at war with Iraq then. He wanted to do something good for the country. And as a young man, he wants to do something that’s ‘manly.’”  

Townsend went to Crawford, Texas to support Cindy Sheehan, the outspoken anti-war mother of 24-year-old Casey, killed in combat. In Crawford, she met a number of mothers whose sons had died in Iraq. She said they inspired her to speak out. 

“When you’re talking to someone whose son is in Iraq or who has died in Iraq, it really brings it quite in your face about what is happening over there and makes you ask, ‘Is it worth it?’ My personal opinion is it’s not,” she said. 

In addition to death and the cost of war, the conflict has imposed new limits on the ability to seek information from the federal government, according to Rick Knee, acting chair of the journalism division of the Bay Area National Writers’ Union. 

“One of the more worrying aspects is not just of the war, but of the entire way the Bush government is conducting things is secrecy,” Knee said. “After 9/11, John Ashcroft sent around a memo urging agencies to resist Freedom of Information requests as much and as long as they could and the justice department would back them. To my way of thinking, secret government is one of the biggest dangers to this country or any country.”  

George Bush and Dick Cheney, called liars, profiteers and more, were the obvious targets of the anti-war protesters. But the local politico who drew the ire of many, most notably San Francisco’s Code Pink, was Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, the Democratic House leader. Code Pink’s Janet Rosen condemned Pelosi. 

“She’s not representing her direct constituents,” Rosen said, pointing to San Francisco’s November 2004 Proposition N, which called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and passed by about 63 percent of the vote.  

She further argued that Pelosi “has a record of saying the war was a mistake—‘we were lied to about why we went into the war’—but on that very same day she goes into the House of Representatives and votes funding for the war, she votes in favor of measures for U.S. bases [in Iraq] and a number of other things which keeps us engaged there. When people like Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) step up with legislation, with proposals, Nancy Pelosi’s response is, as the House leader of the Democrats, she can’t take a stand on them.”  

On the international front, Adrianne Aron of Berkeley said that in addition to marching for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, she came to the march to call for troops to leave Afghanistan and for the U.N. to leave Haiti. “U.N. troops have occupied and massacred the people of Haiti—and it’s gotten very little attention,” she said. 

Faisal Kahn of Berkeley was among those carrying black-shrouded caskets “to represent the death and all the ideals that have been sacrificed,” he said, adding that his casket “also represents the war on Palestine that goes on every day and the innocents that die every day in Palestine.” 

Dan Kliman of San Francisco Voice for Israel, some of whose members support the war in Iraq while others oppose it, stood with Israeli flags to protest the stand some organizations within the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition have taken to support the right of return for Palestinians to their homeland. A.N.S.W.E.R. organized the coalition that came together to put on the march and rally. 

“We are standing up for Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state,” Kliman said. “What (the right of return) refers to is a right unique to Palestinians that does not apply to any other ethnic group involved in any other conflict, when the great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren are supposed to be given the right to flood into Israel to demographically overwhelm the Jewish state.”  

As always in San Francisco, spirited music and good humor were not lacking. Placards such as “Mend your fuelish ways,” “Dyslexic Democrats Untie!” and “I never thought I’d miss Nixon” drew laughs, as did the group Insane Reagan, which brought likenesses of Bush, Chaney and Condoleezza Rice to dance to the tune of “going on a summer holiday.”