On Wednesday March 19, the fifth anniversary of Bush’s attack on Iraq, people again went to the streets of San Franciso to protest and take direct action against continuing US occupation and atrocities. Shortly before 10 this morning, hundreds of people were parading up lower Market Street, a wailing band at the front of the procession, banners reading “Was It Worth It?” and “An Unprovoked War Is Mass Murder” displayed under a dull gray sky.
On this day, the fifth commemoration of Bush’s attack on Iraq, it was one of many actions on the same downtown streets that anti-war protesters turned into a parking lot, shutting down the city’s financial district, on March 19, 2003.
Five years later, on the 500 block of Market, as the lively procession passed, the American Friends Service Committee was holding an Unhappy Birthday Party. A mock red, white and black cake was covered in burnt out matches, each representing 1-10 US troops wasted in Iraq, or 1-100 Iraqis murdered in their homeland since the US invasion.
Banners flying in the disturbed air featured statistics related to how much money is spent for “One Day of the Iraq War”: 6482 families could have used it for homes; 12,478 elementary teachers could have been funded 423,529 children could have had healthcare.
Suddenly, across the street adjacent to the E Trade Financial Building, people dressed in white with black hoods over their faces appeared, striking various poses. Some were on the sidewalk, others atop a low wall next to it. This apparently was provocative enough to raise the ire of a police officer who was parked curbside, as he climbed out his vehicle brandishing a billy club.
As if on cue, the provocative ones broke into a high pitched, single toned one syllable chant, somewhat like an alarmed OM, then ended it as quickly as it had begun, broke their poses, and ambled up the street. The cop got back in his van.
About 15 minutes later, another group came up the sidewalk, dressed in orange jumpsuits, the ever unpopular black hoods, chains around their waists, hands grasped behind them as if cuffed.
Accompanying them were other, more plainly attired figures, each featuring a sign reading, “Bush,” “Rice” and so forth. One of these figures, identified as “Cheney,” banged mournfully on an empty five gallon water container, as if beating out a death march tatoo.
Sometime later I visited an info table in front of the E Trade Financial hotspot, near where bike messengers like to break. There I found info about the day’s activities, compliments of Direct Action To Stop the War. Local targeted war makers, profiteers and cheerleaders included Federal buildings, the Army Recruiting Office, Bechtel and Chevron, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, as well as my personal favorite, Fox News.
There I also learned that about 50 people had been arrested earlier at some of these places for committing non-violent civil disobedience. And that people were converging at Market and Montgomery up the street.
Die-In For Peace
At that intersection a large crowd had gathered at One Post Plaza. Towering over it was a building where Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has consistently voted to fund the US war in Iraq, has her local office. The assembled were virtually surrounded by an equal or greater number of SFPD, many dressed for success in riot gear.
Not long after noon a small band broke out of the protest crowd, carrying a mock cardboard coffin draped in a US flag and covered with flowers. The pallbearers crossed Market, feigned a move up the street, then doubled back into the middle of Market.
There they carefully laid the coffin in the intersection, then themselves around it, thus resurrecting that venerable SF pose, the Die-In. In so doing they effectively blocked off Market, as well as entrance from its intersecting streets, New Montgomery, Post and Montgomery.
Supporters quickly gathered around them in the street, as those prone on the macadam grew from about a dozen to over 50. More people, on foot and bikes, appeared in the street with them, blocking the intersection completely.
The sun broke through, the gloomy clouds vanished, and Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame sprawled, enlisting in the Die-In brigade.
Non-bicycle vehicular traffic came to a complete halt. Later I counted 26 MUNI buses on Market standed between Third and Fifth.
Police commanders huddled on an unoccupied part of Market. Die-Iners passed flowers amongst themselves.
At 12:20 an amplified police voice gave an order to clear the street or risk arrest. No one budged.
Riot squads fell in on Market on both sides of the intersection. At 12:30 they turned into flying squads, and simultaneously ran at people standing in the street, thrusting their clubs, and violently pushed them back onto the sidewalk.
On that sidewalk the formerly parading band broke into fast paced Eastern European tinged tunes, reflecting the rising tensions. The riot squads surrounded the Die-In. A white SF sheriff’s bus, and a number of police vans, awaited its cargo around the corner on New Montgomery. Except for the prone protesters, the entire intersection was clogged with cops.
One by one, the police yanked the street occupying demonstrators to their feet. Except for one person in a wheelchair who they couldn’t get on the bus and so released, and another who went limp and had to be carried. The rest were plastic handcuffed and brought over to New Montgomery for police processing, then put on the white bus or in a van, in a tedious display of authority.
At one o’clock, just when everyone thought it was almost over, especially the police, the orange jumpsuited, black hooded group arrived, as if from nowhere, (or just out of Gitmo). Twenty strong, they promptly set themselves down on Market Street, stretching across its entire width, right in front of a police line that, until then, had formed the outermost perimeter of the cops’ theater of operations.
Clearly caught by surprise, cops’ faces fell, protesters spirits rose, and more people came out into the street to support the Orangies, who turned out to be an all-woman group who called themselves Act Against Torture. The street began to fill behind them, where there was nothing else in it but MUNI buses that weren’t going anywhere anyway.
The police were still taking the Die-Iners away, and now their thankless task would have to be prolonged. They even had to send for another white bus. It took until almost three to deal with their mess.
Meanwhile, the Orangies chanted, “Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are. We are the people, mighty might people, fighting for justice, and to end the war!”
Also, at their backs were people holding that banner again, the one that read, “Was It Worth It?”