SAN FRANCISCO – — Protesters briefly clashed with San Francisco police several times today as officers tried to clear Market Street of hundreds of demonstrators marking the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. More than 100 people had been arrested by early afternoon in incidents at several downtown locations.
In the most recent scuffle, about 80 police in riot helmets and carrying billy clubs surrounded about two dozen demonstrators staging a die-in at Market and New Montgomery streets. The protesters laid in the street around 12:15 p.m., blocking traffic. At least two demonstrators were wrestled to the ground by police, and one officer was knocked onto the street. Fourteen people were arrested.
As the demonstrators began their die-in – the second of the day – Dan Ellsberg, of Whitewater fame, spoke to the crowd. Afterward, a demonstrator named Betsy Rose sang “We Shall Overcome” over a loudspeaker.
“The symbolism of people lying in death appears to symbolize the life and death seriousness as we enter the 6th year of this crime against the American people,” Ellsberge said.
Around the same time, about a dozen cyclists briefly blocked the intersection of 5th and Market streets by riding around in circles. The bicyclists were cleared quickly and no one arrested.
At noon, Market Street was closed between First and Fourth streets. Muni buses were lined up for two blocks.
The day began around 8 a.m., when a crowd of about 500 anti-war protesters began snaking its way through the Financial District, periodically prompting police to shut down intersections and city blocks. By 10:15 a.m. the demonstrators arrived at Market and Third streets. There, about 30 people staged a die-in in the middle of the street.
After 20 minutes, police demanded that the protesters move back to the sidewalk. Some complied, but at least 27 people were arrested.
As officers encircled the group staging the die-in, they briefly pushed other protesters onto the sidewalk and confiscated at least one bicycle and a sign.
Traffic in the area was blocked, and at least a dozen Muni buses and streetcars were lined up and unable to proceed.
Elsewhere, more than a dozen people were arrested in nonviolent actions at two buildings.
Seven people were arrested at 7:45 a.m. after they chained themselves to the security gate outside the Federal Reserve Bank’s building on Market Street to protest what they called the institution’s support for companies taking advantage of the war.
Another nine people in business suits and hats reading, “No blood for oil,” were arrested a short time later outside the Chevron building on California and Battery streets, where they had sat down to block the entrance.
The main group of protesters carried signs, shouted slogans and blasted music as they roamed the Financial District. Some threw play money in the air and waved pink flags.
“Was it worth it?” read one large sign carried by four people.
Many protesters wore costumes or face paint. Ashley Gregory, a San Francisco resident, used marker to paint blue tears on her face.
“It’s scary how normal the war has become,” Gregory said. “I think we’ve consented to the war, and this is my way to show my discontent.”
A man who would identify himself only as Mike said he had paid $100 for the gorilla suit he donned this morning.
“It’s a small price to pay,” he said. “Sometimes when things are blackest and really depressing, it’s important to have a little laughter.”
A group of about 20 performance artists, wearing white clothing and black hoods over their heads, was among the protesters. The group, “Still Dancing Action,” plans to move about the city all day, said organizer Keith Hennessey.
Organizers handed out maps showing buildings that demonstrators intend to target. They included the new Federal Building at Seventh and Mission streets, the Army recruiting office at 670 Davis St., the San Francisco Democratic Party office at 155 Sansome St. and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office at 1 Post St.
Several dozen people gathered outside the senator’s office, where they read the names of those who have died in Iraq, both Americans and Iraqis.
Protests are expected to continue throughout the day, culminating in a march from the Civic Center to the Mission District planned for 5 p.m.
Across the bay in Berkeley, about 100 demonstrators gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park at noon to head famed peace activist Cindy Sheehan speak. Earlier this morning, 20 protesters gathered outside the Marine Corps recruiting station on Shattuck Square. Seven police officers blocked the recruiting station, which has been the focus of a weeks-long protest mounted by the anti-war group Code Pink. The protesters held up pictures of civilians they said had been burned by white phosphorous chemical munitions used by U.S. forces in Iraq.
“It’s important to remember why we’re here,” said Don Spark, a videographer and Web designer who was protesting at the Shattuck Square recruiting station. “A million dead and 4 million displaced, murder, rape, torture and war.”
Anastasia Ustinova, Steve Rubenstein, Charles Burress,Marisa Lagos, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writers