Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fifth Anniversary of Iraq War - Rally and March

The finale to the day's protests marking the fifth anniversary in Iraq was a rally and march starting at the Civic Center plaza.

A few thousand people gathered from 5 pm. But this had a very different tone to the theatrical demonstrations earlier in the day.

Organised by ANSWER - Act Now to Stop War and End Racism - this was hardline politics: an annexation of political groups from around the Bay Area.

With over an hour of speeches, the rally was not only about the war: it was about Afghanistan, Iran, Palestine, Cuba, Venezuela, the Philippines, Tibet, Haiti, North Korea, Colombia, the rights of immigrant workers, jobs, housing and healthcare.

Though it was primarily about the 'US imperialist war and the occupation in Iraq'. Tone and rhetoric conveyed anger about America.

'We do not want to colonize the world,' said one speaker.

'This war has nothing to do with the reasons given. It has everything to do with oil and power and domination,' thundered another.

A young Arab American woman speaking passionately first about Palestine, said of Iraq: 'The only way we can stop this war is to remember that they are faces...human faces.'

There were boos, predictably, for Bush but also disdain for Democratic candidates Obama and Hillary. A female Senator, running in the presidential race though not expecting to win, said she had no hope that the next president would end the war because whoever it was would need to assuage 'the rich, bankers, militarists...'

She went on to speak about the economic cost of the war and the needs for housing and healthcare. She was applauded as she called for free healthcare and the abolition of medical insurance companies.

Trying to galvanize action as the rally moved towards an end, yet another speaker said, 'The US will not leave Iraq, will not bring the troops home until the people force them to.'

It was announced that police had arrested 125 protesters during the day, though the San Fran Chronicle and TV news programmes later put the number at 150. Stalls advertising different political groups lined the plaza and plenty of leaflets were handed out.

As 6.30 pm approached and with speeches still continuing, protesters began to line up for the march. Those at the front had plenty of time to practice chants...'we want money for jobs and education...Not for war and occupation.' And, 'one, two, three, four...we must end this racist war.'

Eventually, with police in front, a long line of several thousand people, chanting and banging drums and cymbals, and waving banners and placards in a culmination of the day's activities, wound out of the plaza and towards the Mission District.

The rally had attracted people of all ages but many were young. Throughout the day the protests were mostly by political activists. Missing was a broader cross-section of San Franciscans: 'ordinary' people who are concerned about the war, families, relatives of troops, church groups.

Perhaps the fact that it was a working day had some bearing, but the impression was that most San Franciscans who have qualms about the war do not wish to be involved in street protests or link themselves to political groups.

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

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