Report on the March 21 Protest in San Francisco

[by Jeff Mackler]

In the first Obama-era antiwar march and rally some 3,500 antiwar activists gathered in San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza and proceeded up Market Street for a one-mile march to the Civic Center for a 1:00 pm mass rally.

The spirited and significantly youthful march and rally included modest but impressive contingents of Palestinian youth, a veterans contingent organized by Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War as well as a US Labor Against the War contingent of Bay Area trade unionists. The march was endorsed by the Alameda and San Francisco Central Labor Councils. Busses came from Sacramento, San Jose and surrounding areas.

The event was formally sponsored by the ad hoc March 21 Coalition, which included some 30-35 area antiwar, social justice, labor and socialist organizations. Leading the march, and by prior agreement, were two side-by-side contingents, one led by the ANSWER Coalition, the other by the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations. Both carried large banners raised high above the crowd.

The most prominent and numerous of the march placards were produced by the National Assembly and featured the NA’s main demands:

Bring the Troops Home Now!
Stop U.S. Wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Palestine!
Occupation is a Crime: Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine!, and,
Funds Jobs and Human Needs Not Wars, Banks and Billionaires!

The rally was co-chaired by Jeff Mackler representing the National Assembly, Natali Hrizi of the ANSWER Coalition and a representative of the Free Palestine Alliance. It was broadcast live by Pacifica Radio Station’s KPFA.

Featured speakers included Eric Mar, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Tim Paulson, Executive Director, SF Labor Council, Clarence Thomas, ILWU Local 10, Mike Eisenscher, US Labor Against the War, Malik Rahim, founder, Common Ground Relief, New Orleans, Arturo Garcia, National Coordinator, Justice for Filipino American Veterans, Dr. Hatem Bazian, Muslim community leader and Dr. Jess Ghannam, National Council of Arab Americans.

A number of groups affiliated with the National Assembly were also represented on the speakers podium. Paul George, Director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, spoke as the National Assembly representative. Other speakers associated with the National Assembly were Marsha Feinland of the Peace and Freedom Party, Carol Seligman representing Bay Area United Against the War, Millie Philips, Socialist Organizer; Jeremy Tully, ISO and Mark Ostapiak, Socialist Action.

An ugly incident involving a police provocation marred the rally, fortunately for a relatively brief period of time. It began when the police arrested a 12-year old Palestinian youth who they claimed held a bag of stones. This unwarranted arrest justifiably angered a number of Palestinians and several others, who were all essentially serving in a long line of official monitors. The arrested youth’s mother vehemently protested the taking of her son and demanded his release.

The San Francisco Police Department used this incident as an excuse to rapidly deploy several dozen additional police, who were not at all appreciated by the monitors and other rally participants. The monitors had been deployed to defend the rally since the it began. They were assembled along the street at the rear of the rally where a group of taunting Zionists carrying Israeli flags had gathered on the other side of the wide street, replete with racist signs and bullhorns.

The police made it a point to line up in force just a few feet in front of these rally monitors, a major provocation to say the least. The police proceeded to break into the line of monitors to eventually arrest some five protestors further angering those in the immediate area. In a few minutes a cordon of club-wielding police who has entered the rally ‘s grass lawn terrain found themselves surrounded by hundreds of protestors. All of these police provocations were out of sight of the vast number of rally participants – who were assembled on the other side of the large stage – listening to the speakers.

The rally co-chairs and organizers, seeing the growing encroachments of the police on the periphery of the rally site led several chants demanding that the police leave the rally premises. It was made absolutely clear that the police were interfering with a legal, permitted rally, were violating our right to assembly and were acting to provoke and disrupt our assembly. The entire audience joined in the
chants demanding that the police leave. “SF PD Out Now” the participants chanted. In short order the police did leave, taking with them some five arrested rally participants. The rally then resumed without interruption although later, at a local BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station five additional Palestinians were arrested. All have been falsely charged with serious felony offenses with bail set at $53,000 each. At least one was seriously injured and required hospitalization. National Lawyers Guild representatives are presently involved in the defense effort.

At every moment rally organizers and participants acted with restraint and calm in the face of a police intervention designed to provoke a major confrontation.

The rally was modest in size but enthusiastic in spirit, dedication and unity of purpose. It was an essential political response to a vicious and murderous wars conducted with impunity by the U.S. government.

The day’s event saw the main organizers, including ANSWER, who played a critical part in many organizational aspects of the day, and the National Assembly, closely and effectively collaborating. All pre-march agreements were adhered to and solid and respectful working relations prevailed from the beginning to the end of the process of building and carrying out the protest.

Virtually everyone present understood that we were in the first stages of a long struggle against U.S. wars of intervention and occupation, that there is a dire need to integrate the fight against U.S. war with the inseparable fight against the broad attacks on working people on every front, and that we needed to reach out to the broad forces necessary to build a movement that can force the U.S. to withdraw.

However modest, March 21, marking the six years of the U.S. slaughter in Iraq, was a day that was absolutely necessary to establish the foundations for the new movement that will undoubtedly arrive in the period ahead.

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