The message delivered by thousands of sign-bearing, chanting people at Saturday’s San Francisco march and rally was clear: U.S. out of Iraq.
“We’ve just got to end the occupation of Iraq. We’ve got to end the war. I came today to show the large numbers of people who are for peace,” author Maxine Hong Kingston told the Daily Planet as she marched among the throngs down Market Street. “These demonstrations hearten all of us, so we know we are not isolated and alone thinking these thoughts.”
The protesters’ message was often aimed less at the devolving presidency than at the Democrats now in power.
“Go tell your congressmen to get a spine,” sang the Raging Grannies to the tune of “God Bless America,” performing on the makeshift truck-bed stage.
Todd Chretien, who ran as a Green against Dianne Feinstein in the November elections, disparaged the Democrats as he addressed the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd at Powell and Market streets: “Did you count the number of times Nancy Pelosi stood behind Bush and gave him a standing ovation [at the State of the Union address]?”
On the Bush plan to add 21,000 troops to the forces in Iraq, Chretien said: “Of course we blame George Bush, but it is not just George Bush’s surge plan … There’s all too many in the Democratic Party that support it … The two leading candidates for president are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They stood with Nancy Pelosi and cheered on George Bush.”
Throughout the crowd, people hoisted signs calling for the refusal of the “illegal war,” bearing a photo of Lt. Ehren Watada, the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. Watada’s military trial begins next week in Ft. Lewis, Washington.
His mother, Carolyn Ho was among the speakers:
“In the past, the world has been wondering and watching and asking why have you been so silent,” said Ho. “But the consciousness of the American people has grown. We will not allow this war to go on.”
She explained why her son joined the military: “He went in believing he was really trying to do his duty to his country in trying to preserve our freedoms. He said to me at one point, 9/11 happened and I will never be the same again … But then my son, after doing the research and finding the facts realized that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that we entered a preemptive war on a lie. That has to stop.”
Watatda is charged not only with refusing to go to Iraq, but for speaking out against the war, which Ho called his “constitutional right.”
“Compare that to the kinds of crimes the Bush administration has committed,” she said.
Other speakers linked the occupation in Iraq to the occupation in Palestine. A lone heckler protested bringing in the issue of Palestine, but was ignored by the peaceful assembly.
Links were also made to the struggle of union workers—the march went down to the dock where Hornblower Cruises, under new ownership, has laid off International Longshore Workers Union members and hired non-union employees.
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi spoke, noting that when San Francisco came out against the war, the city was maligned for being on the fringe. “Once again we are a city that is leading the pack,” he said.
An Iranian-American, Mirkarimi said he feared escalation in Iraq might be “a prelude to an attack on Iran itself.”
Mirkarimi addressed the erosion of civil liberties in the U.S. stemming from the “war on terror,” and pointed to the impact of the war at home: “How dare you siphon millions of dollars to an illegal war abroad while we have unmet needs here at home.”
And he added:” It is unfathomable that Bush and Cheney have not both been brought for impeachment hearings.”
Placards calling for impeachment could be seen throughout the crowd.
Library Board Trustee Ying Lee, longtime anti-war activist, stood on the stage during the rally behind the speakers holding a banner calling for the troops to come home and for support of Lt. Watada.
Lee said she was energized by the spirited San Francisco crowd and reports of the half-million people in Washington. “My spirits soared as soon as I got into the BART [in Berkeley] and saw all the people there with placards and drums,” she said.
The demonstrations “will tell congress we knew what we were doing when we voted—the Democrats were elected for a reason,” Lee said.
March organizer Snehal Shingavi, a UC Berkeley graduate student, said he isn’t disappointed that more students on campus have not become active in the anti-war effort.
“The anti-Vietnam war took five or six years,” he said. “We have to commit ourselves.”