The San Francisco Bay Area had experienced a heat wave with record-setting temperatures all week and Saturday did not disappoint. It was a gloriously sunny day with bright blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. My expectations had been for a demonstration of 10-15,000–October 25 last year had been smaller than that with a full West Coast mobilization, and this time there were demonstrations in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and several other cities, as well as San Francisco. But in the event, my prediction was too low. The organizers claimed the crowd was over 50,000, certainly an overestimate, but 20-25,000 seemed like a reasonable guess.
The San Francisco Chronicle accurately described the mood as “upbeat and defiant”. The steady public unraveling of Bush’s case for war-no WMDs, no connection to 9/11-has reinvigorated the antiwar movement and led many to sense that, despite his massive campaign war chest, George W. is in serious trouble next November. In addition, demonstrators were boosted by the defeat of Bush’s close ally Jose Maria Aznar in the recent Spanish elections. Several handwritten signs expressed solidarity with the Spanish people–sympathy for the victims of the Madrid bombings, which showed that the “war on terror” has made us less safe, and appreciation that Aznar’s attempt to manipulate the attacks for his own purposes had spectacularly backfired.
The mood was also boosted by the decision of the ILWU to declare a day-long work stoppage in Oakland and San Francisco to support the demonstration. The march from Dolores Park in the Mission District to Civic Center was led by the Longshore union’s drill team, with the union’s huge banner declaring “An Injury to One is and Injury to All” held proudly aloft behind them.
Other banners at the front of the demonstration linked the occupation of Iraq to the occupation of Palestine and opposition to all forms of colonialism: “Bring the Troops Home Now! End Occupation from Iraq to Palestine”, “End Colonial Occupation Iraq, Palestine, Haiti and Everywhere!” and “Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, Korea, Philippines, Colombia, Cuba… US OUT! Free Palestine!” Another banner quoted the late great Edward Said: “Why Palestine? Because it is a just cause, a noble idea, a moral quest for equality and human rights.” There were many signs in Arabic and Spanish as well as English, and Palestinian flags were far more in evidence than the stars and stripes. When “Old Glory” did make an appearance, it was generally with a twist-“My fascist government kills for profit and all I get is this crappy flag.”
Two smartly dressed protesters in business suits and pig masks buried their snouts a trough full of money labeled “Corporate Pigs in Paradise–Iraq-war Reconstruction.” A handwritten sign declared “The Emperor has no Brains!” Another warned us to “Read between the lies.” A group in support of same-sex marriage carried the inevitable “Make Love not War!” Many placards urged the necessity of regime change in the US, but there was no great enthusiasm for John Kerry. One sign supporting the Massachusetts Senator said “your stomach should churn” at the thought of voting for him. Others were even more skeptical–“Kerry, listen up: No peace, no vote.”
I marched with the comrades of the International Socialist Organization who came equipped with their own Brazilian drum contingent and maintained noisy and spirited chanting all the way to Civic Center. “Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!” “No justice, no peace! US out of the Middle East!”
The question now facing the anti-war movement is what way forward. There were basically three strategies on display on Saturday. The black bloc led several hundred people downtown to blockade traffic and were met with brutal treatment by the SF police. Their courage and commitment is unquestionable, but rather than creating momentum for mass direct action, their tactics will tie them up in the courts for months and tend to encourage moralism and elitism.
The second strategy focuses on November and sees the key task as dumping Bush. But on Saturday, even many of those committed to removing W. from office, were deeply unhappy with the alternative that Kerry-who supported the war and wants to expand the occupation-offers. The case against supporting the Democrats was made most eloquently from the front by Peter Camejo–the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate in the last two elections–who received an enthusiastic response from some sections of the crowd for advocating indpendent political action and building the biggest possible activist movement, no matter who wins the presidential election.
The debate on strategy will continue, but no matter which view you hold, Saturday’s demonstration was an important step forward. The antiwar movement is back.
PHIL GASPER is professor of philosophy at Notre Dame de Namur University in California. He is a member of the National Writers Union and a frequent contributor to Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Review. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.