Twelve Years Ago Today OB Held Its Largest Peace Rally This Century

by on October 27, 2014 · 1 comment

in American Empire, Civil Rights, History, Media, Military, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Peace Movement, Politics, Veterans, War and Peace, World News

Peace Rally at the seawall

OBceans gathering for Peace Rally at the seawall – Oct. 27, 2002. (Most photos by Marc Snelling.)

By Marc Snelling

Last month Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama, who was elected to end two wars, addressed the nation to announce an open-ended bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria.  As the Afghanistan War (now the longest in American history) and the conflict in Iraq continue  it is clear Obama has failed to live up to his election promises.

Not only has his administration failed to live up to it’s word to end two wars and close Guantanamo prison, he has even changed his tune about the initial invasion.  The US “sought to work within the international system” he said earlier in March of this year at a speech in Brussels. Obama further declared the the US had “left Iraq to it’s people in a fully sovereign Iraqi state that can make decisions about it’s own future.”

Abbott & Newport

Rally at Abbott & Newport

While the official line is that the war ended in 2011, American involvement in the Iraq conflict continues as the US finances, arms and trains the Iraqi military.  As this conflict drags on with no end in sight it is worth looking back.

Twelve years ago today Ocean Beach demonstrators were gathering for what would prove to be OB’s largest peace demonstration since the Vietnam War.   On October 27th 2002 an aircraft carrier task force prepared to deploy from San Diego Bay to the Persian Gulf.  Nearby OB was one of a web of communities across the world taking  part in coordinated peace rallies on that day.

Earlier that month on October 2nd 2002, Bush had  signed into law Congress’ joint resolution authorizing the new Iraq war.  That same day a protest was held in Chicago, where then-senator Obama stated “I am not opposed to all wars.  I’m opposed to dumb wars”.  Five days later in Cincinnati, Bush delivered a major speech justifying the invasion of Iraq.  He was unable to leave the Cincinnati Museum following his speech as hundreds of activists blocked exits and were dispersed by mounted police with protesters arrested.

Opposition to the call for war was growing rapidly. Locally the Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization (OBGO) was active in organizing peace demonstrations.  The rally on October 27th 2002 was one of many called for by protest organizers across the US.  Other simultaneous rallies included 100,000 people in San Francisco, and close to 200,000 in Washington DC.

Protest leader Rio Mezta

At the foot of Newport protest leader Rio Mezta opened the rally with a song. “There is something wrong with the system in the land of the free” she sang to cheers from the assembled crowd that continued to grow.  The crowd occupied both sides of Newport and Abbott without blocking traffic.

March up Abbott St

March leaving the beach March leaving the beach

Next to address the crowd was Patrick Randall.  In his speech he addressed the fact that US companies including Halliburton had been doing business with Iraq and Saddam Hussein only a few years previously.   He lamented the fact that US troops were again going up against a regime funded by US tax dollars. “Ain’t it a shame when puppets go bad?” he said to loud cheers.  Addressing Dick Cheney’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons, ‘When you say Saddam Hussein is going to get a nuclear weapon, that’s just a hunch right?  I mean you didn’t sell him one of the damn things did you?” he said to much applause.


March at Cable and Cape May

March at Cable and Cape May

As it turned out Iraq had no such weapons.  In fact the weapons of mass destruction that were found in Iraq had been there since the 1980s.  Chemical weapons including mustard gas and sarin designed and largely supplied by the United States.  The government made an effort to keep this discovery secret, especially after American Soldiers were injured by the removal of these chemical agents.




March through OB

March through OB

As the speeches of the day finished the assembled demonstrators began to leave the beach to march.  The march continued to grow as it snaked through the streets of OB.  The crowd swelled to as many as four hundred people as drummers and chanters lead the march.  This day proved to be the largest demonstration that OB would see against the war in Iraq and was among the largest coordinated demonstrations.   However the size of this day’s rally would be exceeded by the massive demonstrations of February 15th 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq.

On February 15th coordinated protest occurred across over 600 cities with estimates ranging from 8 to 30 million people involved.   Ocean Beach activists formed a large contingent in downtown San Diego on that day.   The protests of that day were the largest many countries had seen in decades and were listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest anti-war rally in history.


March returning to Newport Ave

March returning to Newport Ave

The October 27th march returned to Newport Avenue at sunset.  The vocal crowd took to the street as the San Diego Police looked on.  Candles were lit and a peace vigil was held.

While the demonstrations were not successful in stopping the war they were a key factor in the decisions of government of many countries.   Canada were among the countries who refused to send troops to Iraq.  Counter to Bush administration officials who asserted the Iraq War would be over quickly, then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien asserted that this would be a long war that Canadians did not to be a part of.   Threats of retaliation for this positions came from several in the US and Canada.  However, that retaliation never materialized and his position to proved to be a popular one at that time and even more so with the benefit of hind-sight.  In contrast the American decision to invade Iraq has been called by State Department officials “the single worst foreign policy decision in American history.”

It is worth revisiting this history today as both the US and Canada have advanced plans to bomb Iraq anew.  Canada’s current Prime Minister Stephen Harper authorized the use of Canadian Forces for combat missions earlier this month.   Barack Obama has not only failed to stop the conflict in Iraq but is now expanding it to Syria.  Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were started eight thousand two hundred and eighty two service members have been lost. The end is still not in sight and the calls of the protesters on October 27th that the US was starting an endless war seem truer than ever.

Newport Avenue

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Frank Gormlie October 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I still am very proud of OB for that day. This was 5 months before the “shock and awe” of Bush’s invasion campaign of Iraq. OB has been the center of 2 anti-war movements: Iraq in 2002-03 and during the Vietnam war 1970-72.


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