San Francisco: Thousands march against war, racism and poverty

SAN FRANCISCO – In the largest peace demonstration the Bay Area has seen in many years, more than 35,000 people from all nationalities and political persuasions rallied and marched April 20 for an end to the real “axis of evil – war, racism and poverty.” The demand for an end to the slaughter and destruction in the Palestinian homeland, and to the occupation by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with complicity by the Bush administration, was a dominant demand.

Thousands rallied at Dolores Park in the traditionally Latino Mission District and then marched through several neighborhoods to a second rally at Civic Center Plaza. Signs, banners and graphic puppets of Bush and Sharon proclaimed the need to “End the Occupation” and “Stop the Killings,” and for the Bush administration to stop military aid to Israel as well as ending the “war at home and abroad.”

Representatives of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace organization, carried a huge balloon in the shape of a missile, showing that the bloated military budget is shortchanging monies to meet human needs.

Marie Harrison, columnist and managing editor of The S.F. Bay View in Hunters Point and a community organizer with Greenaction, reminded the audience that April 20 is also Earth Day, and that the people in her predominantly African-American neighborhood are being killed by pollution from two power plants. “The war is not just abroad,” Harrison said, “but it is being played out here as well.”

A large delegation marched behind the banner of Jewish Voice For Peace, a Bay Area group that has grown rapidly and initiated militant protests at the Israeli Consulate. One marcher with the group, Osha Neumann, said, “Twenty years ago I was with a group of Jews protesting at the Jewish Consulate and it was lonely. I am happy that Jews, especially, and other progressives are no longer blind to oppression” by the Israeli government.

Riad Morrar, a U.S. citizen born and raised in Palestine, who marched with his family, said, “There is nothing else I can do but tell President Bush: ‘You’re wrong. Stop killing my people.’”

Kate Raphael, who recently returned from a visit to a refugee camp near Bethlehem, told of seeing holes ripped in the walls of houses and children not being able to go to school for two months and having to do without food, water, electricity, and yet maintaining their spirits and pride as Palestinians.

The rally protesters, who included longtime activists from many progressive causes and newly mobilized people, including whole families, came from around California and other Western states. Palestinians and Arab Americans were a large part of the crowd. Demonstrators denounced corporations like Enron, the World Bank and capitalist globalization. Environmentalists had a prominent presence. Signs called for an end to the embargo on Cuba, and for an end to U.S. military involvement in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Colombia. A large union contingent participated as well.

Richard Mead, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 in the Bay Area, sharply criticized initiatives by the Bush administration to promote open-ended war abroad and squelch dissent at home in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 tragedy. He warned that, in the wake of Sept. 11, the shipping companies and the Bush administration may be trying to take away the union hiring hall, in the name of “national security,” in current contract negotiations that expire July 1. In case of a possible lockout by the employers or being forced to strike, Mead said, “I hope you will all come down to the docks in that event and help us win our fight.”

Jeff Patterson, of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, told the crowd that Gulf War veterans are now dealing with the effects of various toxins and diseases they brought home from that war, and that one third of the homeless today are veterans of many wars that successive administrations have undertaken.

Mario Santos, speaking for the Filipino community, noted that the U.S. government is putting 2,000 more troops in the Philippines, making the second largest military deployment in a war situation after Afghanistan. He criticized the more than 100 years of domination by successive U.S. governments and transnational corporations. “All it will do is perpetuate the poverty, misery, and lack of development of the Philippines.”

The authors can be reached at ncalview@igc.org