Photos by Steven Wishnia
BONUS COVERAGE: 100,000 Protest War in Washington, D.C.
SAN FRANCISCO--While the Bush Administration galvanizes its justification for a "preemptive war" against Iraq, ostensibly in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S., a massive international antiwar protest on October 26 also supported a preemptive measure--stopping that war before it can begin.
The protests were organized by a coalition of antiwar groups dubbed International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism ), and cosponsored by an array of other groups, such as other antiwar organizations, labor groups, and the National Lawyers Guild.
The demonstrations drew hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, with the biggest in Washington, where an estimated 100,000 circled the White House. Others happened in cities from Augusta, Maine to San Francisco, as well as around the world in London, Berlin, Mexico City, Rome, and Tokyo. There were also demonstrations in Spain, South Korea, Belgium, Denmark, and Australia.
The protests also marked the first anniversary of Bush's signing of the "Patriot Act," passed by Congress in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington. The law greatly weakened limits on searches and surveillance, including wiretapping, and government infiltration of political groups.
In San Francisco, city police estimated over 42,000 attended, while CNN reported 80,000 were present. It featured signs that proclaimed "No Blood For Oil" and "Drop Bush, Not Bombs." Protesters came from all over the West. There was also a strong push for Palestinian liberation, which included some rather harsh anti-Zionist rhetoric from some speakers and demonstrators, conflicting with the demonstration's essential theme of peace.
The first speaker was city Supervisor Mark Leno, who announced that San Francisco was the first government in the nation to pass a resolution opposing this likely war in Iraq.
Actor Mike Farrell, star of the antiwar classic sitcom M*A*S*H, evoked the name of Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), possibly the most liberal member of Congress, who was killed in a plane crash in Minnesota on October 25, the day before the demonstrations.
"He (Sen. Wellstone) was a friend. He'd want to thank you for being here," Farrell said. He also expounded on one of the main slogans of the rally by chanting, "No war for oilâ€š no war for egoâ€š no war for empire."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) was greeted with the most enthusiastic cheers of any speaker. Lee, who represents Oakland and Berkeley, was the only member of Congress to vote against military action in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks. She declared that those attending the protest were the "true American patriots."
"We should be engaging in a war against militarism, not terrorism," noted Michael Franti of the music group Spearhead. He led the gathering in a sing-along: "We can bomb the world into pieces, but we can't bomb it into peace."
In Washington, protesters came from numerous states, including eight buses from Chicago.
"It's time for a change. It's time to vote on Nov. 5 for hope. We need a regime change in this country," the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the gathering on the lawns near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "If we launch a pre-emptive strike on Iraq we lose all moral authority."
Other speakers included actress Susan Sarandon, singer Patti Smith and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Clark noted that the US is already bombing Iraq; in late August 2002, the U.S. carried out five bombings in five days, killing 10 people in the city of Basra and wounding many more.
Approximately 100 counterprotesters gathered at 17th Street and Constitution Avenue. Along with activists from the ultraconservative group Free Republic, a number of Iraqi exiles chanted slogans against Saddam Hussein. In one of the few moments of hostility during the rally, police broke up a fray between peace activists and counterprotesters, arresting two of the peace activists in the process.
President Bush was out of the country during the demonstrations, attending an economic summit in Mexico. He announced that same day that the US will lead a coalition against Iraq if the United Nations does not pass a strong resolution insisting Saddam Hussein disarm. The White House said it would be "not very hard at all" to assemble an alliance without UN help.
"If the United Nations does not pass a resolution which holds him to account and that has consequences," Bush declared, "we will lead the coalition to disarm him."
Despite President Bush's labeling of Iraq as part of the "axis of evil" (along with North Korea and Iran), there has been no evidence provided that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks.
On September 20, the Bush Administration added fuel to the anti-war movement's fire when it released a comprehensive policy statement entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States." According to this document, the stated policy of the US is "dissuading military competition" and preventing any other world entity or union of states "from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."
Another issue raised by ANSWER is that the US would be violating international law and the UN charter that forbids a nation to attack another except in self-defense, and that nations should seek peaceful means to settle disputes. Conversely, a war on Iraq would also violate Article VI of the US Constitution, which establishes that ratified treaties, such as the UN Charter, are the "supreme law of the land."
They also challenge the Bush administration's claims that the precondition of an imminent threat of attack can be found in the fact that there is no evidence of an imminent threat, and thus the threat is even more dangerous because it is a "hidden threat."
Why is their no imminent threat? The US government itself claimed it destroyed 80 percent of Iraq's weapons capability in the 1991 Gulf War, and subsequently destroyed 90 percent of the remaining capacity during the weapons inspections process. There is no evidence that Iraq is capable of an attack on the US, let alone that they intend to initiate such an attack.
ANSWER plans a national march on the White House on January 18, 2003, the Martin Luther King's birthday holiday weekend. This will be followed by a "People's Peace Conference" to be attended by representatives of organizations that are backing the antiwar effort.
In addition, the group Vote No War plans to deliver an antiwar referendum with millions of signatures to Congress when it reconvenes in January 2003.