SAN DIEGO, CA. Sunday March 21: Protest was in the air in Hillcrest. It was the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War. Hundreds of San Diegans marched down University Avenue – then down Park Avenue to a rally on the lawn at the front of the War Memorial Building in Balboa Park for a protest of the wars in War and Afghanistan – and a myriad of other issues.
Patty and I arrived at the starting point of the march, the intersection of Fifth and University in Hillcrest a tad on the late side. We had – very smartly – parked one of our cars near the rally point and then had trouble finding a parking space in the middle of Hillcrest. By time we walked up to the boisterous crowd, waving flags and holding signs, I could tell the numbers were off.
Just about one year ago exactly, at the anti-war demonstration in City Heights, there had been over twice the number of protesters. On that day a year ago, I had positioned myself strategically along the march route, and did a head count as the marchers walked by. I counted over 650.
Today, I counted 270 marchers as the protest headed down University Avenue. Later and once at the rally site, I counted another 100, and by the time the speakers started, the crowd had swelled to at least 400.
But protesting the wars and the wars’ effects on our economy, our health care system, and all the other issues of the day – the occupation of Iraq, US support for Israel against Palestine – is more than just a numbers game. Times have changed. Barack Obama is now President. The candidate who opposed the Iraq war now sits in the White House. I asked people about that in short interviews.
With me asking questions, and Patty snapping pics, we tried to capture the spirit of the day. Why were they here at the protest, and if and how the election of Barack Obama changed their views of the anti-war movement, I would ask. We talked to a few people briefly before the march took off. But as it began, and with people moving swiftly down the U, it was a real challenge to keep up interviewing people and taking their photos.
Even though the numbers were off, we met all kinds of young people at their very first anti-war demonstration. This means people are still coming to the anti-war movement for a place to express themselves – and this is very important.
Sponsored by the Coalition for Peace and Justice, and numerous other peace, activist and veteran groups, the event represented a sign that people feel it is very important to keep pressure on the Obama administration, and to keep educating others about the nature of the wars and the Empire we live in.
Colleen Dietzel, a veteran peace activist who also runs the Green Store in OB, just happened to be our first interviewee. She said that “we need to let Obama know we’re still out here. We still have to be a voice for peace.” Colleen’s theme was echoed by the majority of people we spoke to.
Kelly Barrett, 20, told me she was at her very first anti-war demonstration. She said she’d never supported the war but usually just didn’t come out to protest it. She was standing with a small group of friends – all of whom were at their first protest against the Iraq war. Standing next to Kelly was Emily Upson, 21, who told me a mutual friend had urged her and this group to attend. Their friend Mark Bell, 20, agreed. He “didn’t believe in killing,” and that was why he was there. Just then, the march started, and we all stepped off the curb into the street to join the procession.
Next we ran into Linda Newsum, who I remember from the anti-Vietnam war days. “I’m here,” she nearly yelled out to get over the chants, “because the war has dropped off from the front page of the news.” She added: “I don’t want people who are affected by the war to think we’ve forgotten.” That gave me pause for thought, but as the march was moving at a fairly fast pace, I really could not hesitate.
A young African-American, Angelo Hayes, 20, said one of the main reasons he attended the protest was to check out the Puppet Insurgency – anti-war activists who work with puppets. It was also his first anti-war event. I later saw him at the very front of the march. He wanted me to interview his friend, but the march pulled us back into the mix of people moving down the street.
At the front of one group of organized chanters, we found Karla Gonzalez, 26, with her little girl, Zowie, 6. Karla told us that the reason Zowie was there was because her teacher just got a pink slip. “I’m a pacifist,” Karla said, but she “understands why we’re still in Iraq,” – she has friends over there. Karla has also been involved with Si Se Peude Immigrant Rights group.
Dale Rostamo, 50, announced to me that he was a medical cannabis POW, that despite being someone with a medical marijuana card, he had been arrested by the SDPD. He was against the war, he said, and he was a victim of another war, the War on Drugs. Actually, he proudly added, he had been against the Vietnam War in 1967, while serving in the Army in Germany. He had even printed an underground newspaper for GI’s. That was music to my ears – given the history of the OB Rag. When he was discharged from the Army – honorably he emphatically said – he went to the airport under armed guard. “Obama is slow on the uptake,” Dale said, on the war issues, and he was somewhat critical of the new President. “I did vote for him,” he replied to my question.
The crowd chanted: “No – blood – for – oil, U -S – off -I-raq-i soil!”
Once the marchers had made the turn onto Park Avenue, I moved closer to the front of the crowd. I ran into Ernie McCray – a retired teacher – but a tireless peace and civil rights activist for decades here in town. “I’m disappointed that Obama continues the war,” he said, but added, “I didn’t expect him to do anything different.”
Just as the crowd poured onto the greens near the Memorial Building, I stopped Derrick Hess, 21, who had refused to serve in Iraq when he was in the Army. He was very energetic and passionate about ending the war, and he told me he is the vice-president of the San Diego chapter of Iraqi Vets Against the War. He said Barack Obama was not the first peace president elected to the White House who continued a war.
Later, while the crowd assembled in front of the stage, and the MC was introducing herself, Patty and I wandered over to the parking lot. Just coincidentally, we ran into Bree Walker, the former local TV personality – turned-anti-war personality, who had bought Camp Casey in Texas from Cindy Sheehan. Bree had worked for Channel 10 and for Channel 7, and had left “establishment media in 2000”. She now does online radio – breewalker.com. She said, Obama’s election has given strength and legitimacy to the anti-war movement. “Now is not the time to let down,” she emphatically said. She thinks we would have had more protesters if San Diego had a progressive radio station on the air.
We returned to the rally, running into all kinds of friends. When Cindy Sheehan – the keynote speaker – got on stage to speak, we moved closer and sat down with some OB veterans of peace to listen.
“These wars,” Sheehan enunciated, “were not okay when Bush was president, and they’re not okay while Barack Obama is president!” Applause. SHe told the crowd how George Bush never was able to tell her for what “noble cause” her son died. “Whatever it is,” she said, “the ‘noble cause’ is affecting everything in our lives today.”
“If we don’t stop the US empire, we’re not going to have education, we’re not going to have health care!” Cindy unhooked the mic from its stand so she could stand more naturally. “Education should be free! Health care should be free!” she yelled.
Then she started talking about the “Robber Class” – the power elite, the ruling class – “The Robber Class doesn’t exist to help the robbed.” Cindy described her theory to those assembled – that the Robber Class backed both George Bush and Barack Obama, that “Barack Obama was the candidate of the Robber Class.” I think it’s much more complicated than that, but she did get part of the crowd to clap enthusiastically. She said, “I’m promoting my new book: ‘Myth America: The Ten Great Myths of the Robber Class and the Case for Revolution.'”
Real change, Cindy said, “takes organization, it takes organizing in your community.” Hearty applause followed.
Moments later, it was time for us to leave. We bid a few quiet good-byes, found our cars and re-entered the everyday world of the system.
Looking back, the event was indeed a testament to the strength and vitality of the anti-war movement in San Diego. It was a show that this far down the road since George Bush’s invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003, this many San Diegans would give up an afternoon in Paradise and come out on such a pleasant spring day to protest with their signs, banners, chants – and yes, simply with their presence – against the wars. Perhaps they understood that our country continues to wage these wars and wages them in our names.
To see our Gallery post of more photos taken during this event, GO HERE!