Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fifth Anniversary of Iraq War - mid-morning

By mid-morning on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war protesters were bringing theatrical displays to the streets plus traffic chaos. Police were out in force and film crews, journalists and cameramen were in the thick of it.

Dressed in costumes and sloganned tee-shirts, protesters were both audience and actors in a 'death scene' in the main street, Market Street, representing the bodies of war victims. Trams, buses, cars were halted. Police rushed up and stationed themselves in a cordon, allowing the protests to continue.

Two women in front of me watched. 'This is what democracy is about,' said one, approving the fact that people can express their views. Her friend agreed but suggested they beat a hasty retreat just in case and they departed at speed.

Talking to a man beside me, he was unimpressed by the protests. The causes of the war were complex, he thought, probably due in part to intelligence lies told by Iran to get America do the dirty work for them.

Was he more worried by the war or the economy? I asked.

'The economy, ' he said without hesitation. 'Mind you,' he added, 'I'm not necessarily for the war.'

An activist called Paul from Direct Action to Stop the War stood nearby. His view was that America was out for world dominion, which is what he objected to, whether by force or political manipulation.

As we stood there the police 'called time' and then gradually arrested one by one those 'dying' protesters who didn't wish to retire to the sidewalk.

Back at the plaza further down Market Street a programme of events was starting. There were speeches, poetry readings and songs...'till the soldiers all come home...we shall not be moved...' and another on behalf of 'all mothers with broken hearts from 9/11 onwards'.

The names of people who had died on both sides of the conflict were read out and Bishop Marc Handley Andrus, Episcopal Bishop of California, spoke for peace. 'Now is the time for peace in Iraq, peace in our cities, peace in the world,' he said.

He was due to lead a peace vigil that evening with other church leaders at Grace Cathedral where boots and shoes signifying all Californians who had died in Iraq had been placed on the Great Steps and inside on the labyrinth. He ended with a prayer that the troops would not have died in vain (KTVU-TV news have on-line video of vigil)

Suddenly at midday there was a hustle behind us and a group of cyclists in costume and with slogans circled in the street. As the traffic ground to a halt for a second time, it was announced it was time for people 'to die.'

A coffin covered in flowers and the American flag was carried into the middle of the street, a spot also opposite a State Senator's office, and protesters duly arranged themselves around it. They were joined by other protesters dressed in the bright orange Guantanamo Bay garb who had earlier demonstrated in Union Square.

Once again the police were there almost instantly. As trams were trapped, passengers disembarked and were redirected. With a helicopter hovering overhead, the police waited patiently. They allowed plenty of time for the protest and for the many cameramen and bystanders to film and take photos.

Then they gave warnings through a loudspeaker that it was time to clear the street and that those who didn't would be arrested. There was another long gap before they slowly, and with just a few scuffles, methodically arrested those who wanted to be arrested.

Protesters banged drums, clanged cymbals, jangled bicycle bells and booed the police as each person was led away to the Sheriff's van. As the protesters were removed, others sat down to take their places.

Finally at 2.25 pm the rattle of an orange street car was heard and Market Street began to rumble back into life. The remaining protesters took a break and a police officer pulled bottles of water from a van and handed them out to her colleagues.

Walking away from the protest site, life was continuing as normal. As I waited at traffic lights near Union Square a Chinese lad turned to me and asked: 'Where is the Disney store?'

Click for pics. Click to enlarge.

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