Monday October 30
SAN FRANCISCO–“We Need Jobs, Healthcare, Education Not More War & Occupation” read the banner leading a march of 1,000 anti-war protesters here on Saturday. The event began with a rally at the U.N. Plaza at noon and was part of a North American call to action organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). There were simultaneous rallies in cities across the United States and Canada, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Protesters came out to show their resistance to the Iraq War, but those that joined the events on this beautiful sunny day in San Francisco were not all there solely to protest that conflict.
Nor were their numbers very strong. Previous anti-war protests combined ANSWER with a broader, more mainstream coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ). But on Saturday, the absence of larger organizations could be felt.
The chants and slogans bellowed throughout the march were a clear indication of the myriad reasons why people attended. ANSWER’s cries of “No justice, no peace, U.S. out of the Middle East” competed with pro-choice slogans and pro-immigration shouts. Even ANSWER itself had other numerous messages that diluted its own anti-war calls. As the crowd passed by Westfield Shopping Center, a new downtown mall, ANSWER organizers shouted words of support for the pro-union workers of the mall’s food market. There were pro-Israel counter-demonstrators responding to those protesting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And slogans such as “Si Se Puede” (Yes we can!) from the immigrant marches this past spring were heard as well.
Ben Rozen, an organizer with World Can’t Wait, a group that works to “drive out the Bush regime,” expressed concern over the divergent messages and splintered factions at the rally. “It is unfortunate that there are separations within the peace movement,” Rozen said. “It keeps us back from going as far as we could go.” But when I asked Natalie Hrizy, national coordinator for Youth and Student ANSWER, whether the rally’s varied groups and agendas would temper the strength of its anti-war focus, she emphasized that the different groups serve to enhance it. “For instance, the lack of resources in the city is directly connected to the resources that are going to Iraq, so we feel that it is necessary to have those discussions,” Hrizy said.
Some agreed with Hrizy and found the mélange inspiring. “Most people come here because they are anti-imperialist, not just anti-war,” said Joyce, a member of Code Pink who preferred to be identified only by her first name. Others found the fractured message distracting. After the march, Tobias Sugar of Santa Cruz, Calif. lamented the lack of a united chant during the march and hoped there would be speakers to tie everything together.