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Notes from a Protest

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Notes from a Protest

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San Francisco’s peace march draws a varied and colorful crowd

by Cassandra Brown
01/23/03

The cold, foggy breeze blowing at San Francisco’s Justin Herman
Plaza along the Embarcadero chilled the faces of the hopeful.
The plaza served as the meeting place for thousands of people
converging to march against the Bush Administration’s call for war
in Iraq. I came here to march almost out of a feeling of
obligation. Like most here, I’m committed to ecological and social
justice. So it’s natural to oppose an impending war that many feel
has more to do with petroleum than
weapons, and that is destined to rob innocent people of their lives.
The protest was organized by the group A.N.S.W.E.R, which stands
for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. The same group
organized the peace rally in Washington D.C., which was held the
same day. The marches, held last Saturday in honor of Martin Luther
King Day, gathered together a diverse crowd of protesters. The San
Francisco crowd was a mixed bag of young and old, rich and poor,
people of color and the lily white.
From amidst the crowd, it was impossible to guess how many people
were there. Later, I learned that protest organizers estimated a
turnout of 200,000, while independent media sources reported that
125,000 marched in the streets. The San Francisco cops put the
crowd at 40,000. Despite the dense crowds, the police presence
seemed sparse for a large group of people, and, unlike the last march
here in October, none were dressed in riot gear.
The personal convictions that lured these people to the streets of San
Francisco are as varied as the people themselves. One speaker from
the stage insists, “This is not about the ‘Axis of Evil,’ this is about
access to oil.” Two young women with makeshift signs touting
“World Peace” attended because one had a boyfriend who had
recently joined the army, and she didn’t want him to go to war. A
Latino woman bemoaned the social injustice of the disproportionate
number of minorities in the U.S. military. Others cited more ethereal
motives. Sabrina Parker, 36, of Santa Cruz, who was dressed in a
silver jester costume and walking on stilts, says, “We’re trying to
manifest change with beauty.”
The dense crowd of marchers seethed with color and sound.
Marches must have changed since the days of MLKthis had the
appearance of a street carnival rather than a protest, except perhaps
for the surveillance helicopter hovering above.
Drum circle after drum circle punctuated the sea of people. All kinds
of musicians tooted or honked or strummed. Dancing to Samba
beats on Market Street made me feel like I was at a dance party
rather than a protest. On a street corner, a bluegrass band
accompanied a group of ragtag singers as they belted out a rendition
of “I Ain’t Going to Study War No More.” A group of witches,
complete with brooms, chanted, “North, south, east, west; a
peaceful world is always best.”
Colorful displays of creativity met the eye everywhereoutfits,
costumes, and signs with clever slogans such as “Make Soup Not
War,” and “Hey Bush, Who Would Jesus Bomb?” Market Street
was packed from Justin Herman Plaza to the Civic Center with
periodic rolling yells. “I feel hopeful and excited,” says LaVerne
Coleman, 51, of Santa Cruz. “It’s a loud and clear message that
there is an incredible, diverse opposition to this war.”
At the Civic Center, some were ready to escalate to more civil
disobedient acts. A group of about 20 organized a sit-in and vowed
to stay there until they could speak with the president. Meanwhile a
river of black-clad people, the Black Bloc, snaked through the
crowd.
The Black Bloc, a group of anarchists, who have been present at
many anti-globalization protests, left the Civic Center to break away
from the crowd and march independently. I followed them, and so
did the police. Leaving the party atmosphere behind, they began to
walk with vibrant purpose on what seemed a random path. Santa
Cruz resident Emily Christenson, 29, of Santa Cruz joined in their
march as they passed by, saying that she admired and related to
anarchism because “it steps aside from the structure of mainstream
culture and creates and claims something new.”
The group decreased from 1,000 to 200 as they committed acts of
what they called “property damage” on specific targets, including the
Citicorp building, the Immigration and Naturalization Services
building, Victoria’s Secret (which has brick proof windows), and
Starbucks. One black-clad anarchist, “Zantos,” 20, says through his
mask that he is categorically against all states, and that war affects
the people, not the state. “I try to be a revolutionary; some days are
better than others.”
The INS building suffered the most damage. Demonstrators threw
newspaper racks into the windows and spray-painted “Release the
Detainees,” referring to the thousands detained after 9/11. Even
though I am a non-violent activist, I was strangely undistrubed by the
destruction, which took on the aura of the Boston Tea Party.
This protest goes beyond stopping one war. What became clear to
me Saturday me is that a diverse force of clever, creative people are
committed to creating change. We have more power than we know.
King would be proud.
As I walked back to my ride exhausted, I remembered what an
elderly black woman said during the Montgomery bus boycott
organized by MLK: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”

A.N.S.W.E.R. has organized another protest march for Feb. 15.

Want to voice your opinion about war? Send a short e-mail to GT at
letterstoeditor (at) gdtimes.com and we may publish your
response/tidbit in our “Push for Peace” box.

 
 


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