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Thousands protest Iraq war in S.F.

Liz Highleyman

Almost 100,000 Bay Area residents of all walks of life showed up for San Francisco’s Anti-War march Saturday, which began with a rally in Dolores Park and culminated in nearby Jefferson Park. The march, organized by coalition group Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, was part of a nationwide anti-war effort spanning all major metropolitan areas, including a highly publicized protest in Washington, D.C.

Attendees ranged from infants on their mothers’ backs to Grandmothers for Peace and Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. The diversity of the protest’s participants speaks to the level of frustration felt by many Americans regarding President George W. Bush and his administration’s costly war in Iraq. “Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam,” said one protester from Veterans for Peace. “Same old story.”

The ANSWER theme, “From Iraq to New Orleans: Fund People’s Needs Not the War Machine,” drew parallels between the Bush administration’s War on Terror and the federal government’s delayed response to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina, which critics say carried twinges of racism and classism. Placards reflected ANSWER’s theme, a number of which shared variations of “Hurricane Bush: America’s Worst Natural Disaster.”

Despite California Highway Patrol helicopters swarming overhead and the AC Transit buses converted for police use, the protest was considered by most to be peaceful, although an NBC 11 News van was badly vandalized. Dan Spalding, a legal support volunteer for the Midnight Special Law Collective in Oakland, said there were 24 arrests. Most arrests were for disrupting traffic, but one was for having a concealed weapon and another was for assaulting a police officer.

In their promotional materials, ANSWER cited many reasons for their demonstration, including the deaths of approximately 100,000 Iraqis and 2,000 U.S. soldiers, the administration’s ‘misrepresentation’ of facts in justifying the war, the expansive military budget, corporate profiteering and the United States’ history of aggression with countries such as Korea and Vietnam.

ANSWER organizers have met with criticism from the left and right alike because of the radical scope of their demands, from an immediate abandonment of the U.S. occupation of Iraq to “Free Palestine.” While leftist movements have long used historical parallels and varying causes to demonstrate how issues are interrelated, some analysts argue that more moderate liberals – who oppose the war on Iraq but may not wish to weigh in on other matters – are feeling alienated from the movement.

Mills junior Elizabeth Kendrick, who has been involved in the movement since the war began, dismissed the criticism that the left has lost touch with “the people,” saying that it is Americans who are having trouble “seeing past their own bubbles of existence.” Kendrick has been working with The World Can’t Wait, an organization dedicated to driving the Bush administration out of office. Considering a World Can’t Wait group on campus, Kendrick said that Mills is an ideal backdrop for anti-war and anti-racist organizing – if only students identified more closely with the various interrelated struggles.

“For many of us,” Kendrick said, it is often a matter of “collectively getting past our willful ignorance and acknowledging that our actions have consequences.” She said these consequences result from not only the actions of the Bush administration, but also the daily effects of Americans’ hedonistic consumerism.

Freshwoman Hannah Peragine, who organized “Mills Women for Peace,” a group of 20 who protested with ANSWER under a Mills banner, expressed similar sentiments about the standard of “complacence” set by many Americans. “Resistance and values are not only shown by protests, but also by your personal choices,” Peragine said. “If you do not choose to show your resistance to the injustice perpetrated by our nation you show [your] acceptance.”

The ANSWER demonstration in Washington, D.C., brought 300,000 protestors to the White House and was the largest U.S. demonstration since the Bush administration declared war on Iraq. Speakers included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, lawyer and consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, activist Dolores Huerta and activist Cindy Sheehan.

A number of U.S. cities spanning the blue and red divide held demonstrations Saturday as well, including Reno, Birmingham, Los Angeles, Anchorage, Denver, St. Louis, Baton Rouge, Omaha, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Nashville and Seattle. International protests took place in South Korea, Italy, England, France and Iraq.