In SF, One Year of Occupying Iraq
Is Too Much, Protesters Say

by Seth Sandronsky
March 22, 2004

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Thousands of people rallied in San Francisco on a warm Saturday to oppose the U.S. assault on Iraq that began one year ago. The protesters were part of a global day of action against American military occupation of that Middle East nation.

“My daughter, Sierra, was born when the U.S. attacked Iraq,” said Alyssa Cardenas, age 27, a third grade teacher from Santa Cruz. “We have promised to be activists for peace, to experience unity and to make hope possible, peacefully.”

The mother and daughter joined many others who gathered during the late morning in the city’s Dolores Park to hear speakers criticize U.S. policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and Haiti.

Willie Ratcliff, publisher of the S.F. Bay View newspaper, linked U.S. militarism in the Middle East to racism at home. African American soldiers are dying disproportionately in Iraq as 50 percent of S.F.’s poor black males are unable to find a job, he said.

Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate for president on the California ballot, assailed Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic Party’s pick to defeat President Bush, for voting to back the U.S. war against Iraq. Rally organizers also played a new commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal, the black author and journalist on death row in Pennsylvania, urging people to pressure politicians to “invest in caring, not killing.”

Subsequently, protesters marched on a two-mile route to the Civic Center across from City Hall for a mass rally. They banged drums, blew whistles and chanted anti-war slogans while ambling through the city’s Mission District, where the support of most onlookers was clear.

Dozens of S.F.’s finest watched and walked with the demonstrators.

Meanwhile, police helicopters circled overhead.

The main organizer of the day’s action to protest the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and aggression against other sovereign nations was the International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) coalition. Other groups involved were the Raging Grannies of Sonoma County, Black Bloc, Code Pink, Not In Our Name, Jewish Voice for Peace, Free Palestine Alliance-USA and the International Socialist Organization.

At one point, police officers stood between some Bush-Cheney supporters and anti-war protesters as they verbally sparred in front of City Hall. The GOP group held signs that called the U.S. occupation of Iraq a policy of liberation, echoing the White House.

One of the speakers at the Civic Center was Manal Elkarra, age 25, a native of S.F. who attends medical school at Ross University in the West Indies. Her family is from Palestine, and she addressed official U.S. justifications for military solutions in Iraq and the nearby region.

“The most important thing is for people to seek the truth in what is happening in the Middle East,” Elkarra said, “and not to just listen to what the U.S. government is saying about the reasons it went to war in Iraq.”

Last year President Bush was able to mislead the American public that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was the greatest threat to humanity, she noted. What difference does the year since then make as his alleged weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found?

“Now it has become more clear that U.S. interests in the Middle East are oil and destabilizing the region to destroy unity from West Africa to Iraq and Iran,” Elkarra added.

The anti-war rally in S.F. had a big youth element. Young folks, U.S. veterans and their families made their presence known musically and rhetorically in this protest for a world without U.S.-led invasions and occupations.

“The war in Iraq is morally wrong,” said Robert Gonzalez, age 47, a budget analyst from Sacramento who retired from the Coast Guard after a 20-year stint. The March 20 rally was the first peace demonstration that he had participated in since the early 1990s.

“It’s important to support the troops but not the policies of the current political leaders,” Gonzalez said.

To that end, protesters in S.F. called for Bush to bring the U.S. troops home from Iraq now.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com

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