SAN FRANCISCO – “Give inspections a chance to work” was the refrain heard from speakers and marchers as they poured into Civic Center Plaza here, Feb. 16, in the biggest demonstration in memory – 300,000 strong.

“We are the vocal majority!” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) shouted as the crowd roared back approvingly. “We say no to pre-emptive strike. Yes to disarmament and to inspections.”

Lee called on the participants to press their elected officials to join her and other congressional representatives in repealing the authorization previously granted the president to use force in Iraq.

“This is a political struggle,” Lee said, including the 2004 elections must result in “electing those who stand for peace and defeating those who stand for war.”

Earlier Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) similarly declared in a statement read to the crowd, “Inspections should be given a chance to work.”

Defying earlier predictions of heavy rain that never materialized, a sea of people of every ethnic origin imaginable turned out, including whole families, many with children in strollers.

“We wanted to join our voices to the rest of the world,” Paul DeBemedictis, told the World. His family attended a demonstration for the first time two weeks earlier in Palo Alto. “I’m very happy with the French,” he added, applauding the nation that is leading global opposition to the war in the United Nations Security Council. His wife Amy and daughter Anna were both sporting bandanas of the American flag.

Ed Dick, who came to the demonstration with his wife as part of a delegation of two bus loads from far north in Mendocino county, told the World, “This weekend is the first time in history when the people of the world stood up as clearly with a single voice.”

Spiritual leaders representing the full gamut of religious beliefs participated in an interfaith service held in the morning and then later spoke on the rally program itself.

Rabbi Pamela Frydman Baugh of the Or Shalom Jewish Community led a prayer on behalf of “the ordinary people of Iraq” and the world. “May they be free of violence. May they be free of war,” she implored.

Labor unions held a rally early as the marchers were gathering and also participated in the main program later. Walter Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council, called for immediately building on the success of the weekend peace actions “to bring the people together to have our march on Washington, DC,” and let the Bush administration know “we are the people of the USA, and we will stop the war.” San Francisco Labor Council is one of seven labor councils in Northern California on record opposing war in Iraq,

Baptist Minister Amos Brown, national board member and president of the San Francisco NAACP, said the national leadership of the civil rights organization unanimously voted last week to oppose the war and prevent the Bush administration from going into Iraq “to destroy lives that are just as precious as ours.”

“We can stop this war!” said actor Danny Glover, rally co-emcee, who was joined by other artists, including writers Alice Walker, and singers Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt. Dolores Huerta, legendary leader of the Farmworkers union, blasted the “colonization policies” of the corporations that “our president works for – the U.S. oil companies that are going to get that oil” in Iraq. While spending generously on the military to protect their interests, Huerta said the domestic policies of the Bush administration amount to “economic sanctions” against our children and workers who need jobs, health care and education in the current economic and budget crisis.

On Feb. 15, demonstrations took place in cities and towns across northern California, including 10,000 in Sacramento, the state’s capital, some 5,000 in the San Jose, home base to the Silicon Valley, and 7,000 in Santa Cruz. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) could have been speaking of actions most anywhere when she said, “I think this is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen in San Jose.”

As with the San Francisco demonstration, other actions represented a wide cross section of the community, including labor unions, religious leaders, civil rights and civil liberties groups, immigrant organizations, peace and environmental justice groups, and national, state and local public officials.

The San Francisco demonstration was co-sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, Bay Area United Against War, Not in Our Name, A.N.S.W.E.R., and the Vanguard Public Foundation.

The author can be reached at ncalview@igc.org

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