Revolutionary Worker #1193, March 30, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org
As U.S. forces invaded the nation of Iraq and U.S. bombs rained down on Baghdad, the people of the U.S. faced a serious challenge. Will we allow the U.S. government to carry out this immoral and illegitimate war of imperial conquest in our name ?
Across the country, people responded--WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS ATROCITY! And they stood together with people in many, many countries in planet-wide resistance to the unjust war.
In the past weeks and months, millions in this country--together with many millions around the world--have made clear through massive marches, school walkouts, statements, and other ways that they did NOT want this war. To the very eve of the U.S. assault on Iraq, people were out on the streets to voice their opposition.
Bush and his war council ignored the will of the people--and launched their preemptive war on Iraq.
But the people are refusing to be steamrolled into silence. As the war began, tens of thousands in San Francisco stopped "business as usual" and shut down the city. Thousands took over Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. In New York City, protesters broke through police barricades and tied up traffic at Times Square and hundreds of thousands marched in the streets. Portland, Oregon had the largest demonstration ever in that city, with 40,000 people who blocked two commuter bridges.
In city after city from coast to coast, people spoke out in outrage and put their bodies on the line to oppose the U.S.'s criminal war. Everyone's thoughts were with the people of Iraq--half of them youth--now being subjected to the terror of U.S. bombs and invaders.
High school and college students were in the forefront--but others also stepped forward. "This is one of the most worthwhile things I've ever done in my life," said a 54-year-old teacher as he was handcuffed by the San Francisco police.
The Not In Our Name Project issued a statement that said in part: "The people answered the U.S. government's attack on Iraq with a huge wave of protest around the world that continues today. From every continent the people have spoken! We will not fall in line with this outrage against the Iraqi people and all of humanity, and we are determined to stop it!...
"The people learned together how to `cross the line' and step up resistance. And now that massive bombing of Baghdad has begun, we must take those lessons, spread them throughout society, and take our resistance to still greater heights of breadth, daring, creativity, and determination. In the days ahead we must show the would-be emperors--now standing naked in all their viciousness and illegitimacy-- that the people will not stop until we have stopped this war and their entire war on the world." (See www.notinourname.net for the complete statement.)
The following are reports from RW correspondents in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Anti-war protesters in San Francisco pledged to SHUT THE CITY DOWN if the U.S. launched war on Iraq. And on March 20 people made good on this promise! All over the city, from early morning till late at night, in all kinds of decentralized actions that sent cops scrambling--protesters shut down buildings, blockaded streets, and outmaneuvered police.
Wednesday, March 19. Over 2,000 protesters gathered in downtown San Francisco. A day of actions had been organized by Direct Action to Stop the War. People sat down in front of the corporate headquarters of the Bechtel Corporation, shutting it down all day. (Bechtel is one of the companies bidding to "rebuild" Iraq after the U.S. destroys it). All of the entrances to the Federal Building were also shut down. Police forced a wedge in the line of protesters, violently beating and arresting people, in order to get government employees into the building.
On Market St., literally every intersection was blocked by protesters. People sat down in the streets with their arms locked inside steel pipes and police came in with chain saws to cut them apart. People blocking intersections were surrounded by cops, who in turn were surrounded by more protesters.
At other intersections protesters used more fluid tactics. They blocked intersections until the police arrived, out-maneuvered the cops to avoid arrest, then moved on to other intersections. People went down the street--moving newspaper racks and tables and chairs from outdoor restaurants into the street.
Throughout the day, many, many thousands were involved in different decentralized actions, keeping the police running around. For several hours, at any one time there were 50 actions going on simultaneously--each action involving from hundreds to thousands of protesters.
Dozens of marches snaked through the city. One, with about 300 people, made its way toward the Bay Bridge and some got onto the bridge before being forced off by the Highway Patrol. One young woman, when asked why she and others tried to take over the bridge, replied with a quote from Shakespeare: "For let the gods so speed me as I love the name of honor more than I fear death."
In the evening people regrouped for a march that grew to between 5,000 and 10,000 people. The police formed a line and tried to split the demonstration in two to prevent people from marching but the people broke out and kept going. Protesters made several more attempts to get onto the Bay Bridge. They were pushed back by cops but some protesters made it up one off-ramp onto the freeway. The march continued for miles, going to different areas of the city until 1:30 a.m.
The police were completely overwhelmed. The city mobilized over 1,500 San Francisco cops and 200 Sheriffs and Highway Patrol. But the cops couldn't focus on more than a few centers of resistance at a time. "This is the largest number of arrests we've made in one day and the largest demonstration in terms of disruption that I've seen," said the acting police chief, Alex Fagan. "We saw a ratcheting-up from legal protest to absolute anarchy." Police complained to the press how the demonstrations were tiring them out.
There were many incidents of police brutality and 1,600 protesters were arrested on Thursday alone. According to news reports, this is the largest mass arrest in San Francisco history. Most were booked on minor charges, but at least 18 face serious felonies. There were so many arrests the police had to set up a special processing center on a pier to book and hold the demonstrators.
One of those arrested told the RW : "People were screaming in support whenever a new busload came in. It was awesome. The spirit was great. Going to jail didn't bring us down at all. Everyone got stronger once they were in the jail."
In the East Bay over 1,000 Oakland high school students walked out of class and rallied downtown. Two RCYB members who helped lead the walkouts told the RW: "The youth were very determined to overcome all obstacles to get to the convergence in downtown Oakland. The Skyline students shut down the Fruitvale BART for a while... About 2,000 students made it to the Plaza. In addition to the youth there were people supporting them--teachers, city council people, and the superintendent of schools also came down."
At UC Berkeley 5,000 students rallied, and hundreds took over the administration building demanding that the school administration name the University of Baghdad a sister school, that tuition and fees not be raised to make up for the costs of war and that the University not comply with federal agencies seeking data on international students. 119 protesters were arrested.
Friday March 20, San Francisco resembled a police state. The police shut down Market Street for most of the day as hundreds of cops in riot gear armed with tear gas and rifles lined Market St. for blocks and prevented people from walking from one block to the next. Cops commandeered city buses, ordering them to take them from one hotspot to the next.
One group of 200 protesters tried to march toward the Bechtel building. Police threw up a police line, ordered people onto the sidewalk, surrounded everyone, declared an illegal assembly and arrested those who couldn't escape.
All day demonstrators struggled to march and demonstrate. Groups of people spontaneously gathered to protest and tried to march on the sidewalks or go into the streets. But police would immediately surround them and arrest people. People would disperse and the word would get out for people to regroup at a different place.
On Saturday, March 22. 75,000 demonstrated again.
Direct Action to Stop the War, who organized many of the actions, issued a statement saying, "We feel strongly that any inconvenience on this day is dwarfed by the horror of death that will be experienced around the world during this time and beyond. We feel a moral imperative to demonstrate to the Bush administration and to the world that Americans are willing to risk their own freedom and their own comfort to confront the atrocities being committed in our names."
For several days, many thousands of people protested, taking over major New York City streets--groups converging, splitting off, and gathering for rallies. The youth were especially courageous--standing up against vicious cops who tried to chase, encircle, hem-in, and intimate. High school students walked out, people left their jobs, people demonstrated late into the night and got up the next morning to go out again, to stand with people all over the world who oppose the U.S. war on Iraq.
On March 20, a youth march met up at Columbus Circle and marched to Times Square, taking the streets and blocking traffic in a roving march. Then at 5 p.m. at least 5,000 people converged in Times Square.
An RW correspondent reported: "People--rather than converging in the penned-in rally site--were clustered on blocks throughout Times Square. The effect was to transform all of Times Square into THE demonstration site. As I stood on Broadway trying to cross over I noticed one man, with a ratchet-type noise-maker shouting out `be worried, there's a war' -- calling out any `business as usual' thinking. As I crossed the street I saw police clinched up against a cluster of demonstrators. They moved in and arrested a couple people, and as they were wrapping up those arrests, I turned and saw a contingent of youth--behind a banner saying "Books Not Bombs"--coming down the sidewalk headed south. They were striking in their determination, and proceeded to march right into 44th Street, where they chanted against the war as they spiritedly jumped up and down--all against the driving rain."
Youth Bloc (a coalition of NY City high school students) had gathered north of Times Square to march to the rally--they wanted to be louder and rowdier and crazier. As they made their way to Times Square they intermittently took to the streets. They were a few hundred strong and took over Broadway, stopping traffic. As police tried to corner them they ran back onto the sidewalk and started chanting and pushing back. The cops pepper-sprayed the crowd and the youth started pointing at the cops and chanting, "They've got chemical weapons." The youth started running again and many garbage cans ended up in the street. They were trying to join the main rally in Times Square. The cops started grabbing people and went after one well-known youth leader. People tried to stop them. Then the cops started picking people off, beating them up, throwing them to the ground, shoving their face into the pavement and into potholes. One RCYB member was thrown into a pile of garbage bags and then into the sewer--he was eventually rescued by others. People watching on the street were stunned by the brutality of the cops and the defiance of the youth. The youth finally made their way to the main rally.
On March 22, hundreds of thousands took to the street. It was a thrilling and powerful sight -- the streets filled from 42nd Street all the way down to Washington Square Park for almost two miles, constantly for over two hours.
As people massed into Washington Square Park, a police loudspeaker blared out, "The march is now over, please disperse, so other marchers can enter the park." To which people responded, "THE MARCH WILL BE OVER WHEN THE WAR IS OVER!!!"
A group of 100 youth tried to take the streets and were attacked and beaten. A group of more than 1,000 people set off from the park, and marched through the West Village neighborhood -- continuously confronted by lines of riot helmeted cops, horses, and police vans. Demonstrators began chanting, "Shut Down the War, Open Up the Street." The police called in reinforcements who ran into the crowd, pushing people down the street. But the West Village was still filled with thousands of angry people.
There were signs in many different languages, including Arabic: "War Is Poison," "You Can't Liberate Dead People," "Shocked and Awed by the Inhumanity." One group carried a huge picture of George Bush with the words "Privileged, Liar, Thief and Now Mass Murderer!"
It was clear people want to STOP this war. Many said they were outraged that the government launched this war despite the fact that so many people oppose it. Many said they felt betrayed by a government that doesn't listen to the people but claims to be invading Iraq to bring democracy.
One young woman told the RW : "I came because I can't tolerate what's happening. The war in Iraq makes no sense and I don't want the blood of Iraqis on my conscience....The protest made me feel very strong." She explained why she thought the U.S. was invading Iraq: "Before I would have said that it was just for oil, but now I see that it's much more about America trying to solidify its hegemony in the world. It's about empire really."
One youth had messages for the Iraqi people: "We are all Iraqis. We are suffering--in our hearts we are suffering for you. I'm ashamed to have to call myself an American right now or at least to have to call this government the government of my country because it's doing exactly the opposite of what I want. We support you and you're our brothers and sisters."
A member of the RCYB told the RW , "This type of situation calls for people to be out in the streets and disrupt the city and show our resistance so that people of the world know that people in the United States are opposed to this... Another world is possible."
The night after the U.S. war began, protesters--10,000 strong--made a statement that could not be ignored. At rush hour, people took over Lake Shore Drive--one of the city's major arteries. Traffic backed up for miles both ways as marchers weaved through the cars and buses.
"The whole world is watching!" The cry went up from the marchers. And it was true. The images of determined resistance in Chicago--known far and wide for the antiwar protest during the 1968 Democratic Convention--was beamed around the world.
This was not business as usual. This was not polite. This was protest filled with an urgency and determination to let the world know that millions here in the U.S. are against the crimes being carried out by the U.S. against Iraq.
At the late afternoon rally downtown, the final speaker was Aaron Patterson--who just recently got out of prison after spending 17 years on death row because of police torture and an unjust conviction. Aaron denounced Bush and his war--and told the crowd that the streets belonged to the people. Aaron's inspiring presence and words galvanized people's determination--there was a lot of spirit in the crowd as it took to the streets and headed to Lake Shore Drive.
High school and college students were at the forefront, but there were all kinds of people in the march. Workers from downtown businesses who had closed their offices to come to the rally as a group. People who felt they just had to make a stand. There was a contingent of 30 professors and staff from Columbia College which included young and old teachers in fields ranging from philosophy to film, from fiction writing to history. Professors from the Art and Design departments made a huge, beautiful banner reading "Columbia College Chicago Faculty and Staff Against the War." When the march moved to take over Lake Shore Drive, the contingent stuck together and marched onto the expressway. When they were leaving they had to climb a five-foot concrete barricade--which proved to be quite a challenge, especially for some of the older professors -- until a youth crouched down on all-fours to provide a step, and others helped them climb over.
The police tried to contain the marchers--but they simply couldn't stop the people. For over a mile, the drive that runs along Lake Michigan belonged to the resistance--and the message was undeniable. News helicopters hovering overhead caught the whole thing live. People tuning into the late evening news saw live coverage with overhead shots of thousands still blocking Lake Shore Drive and standing off with the police.
Drivers were stuck in the traffic for a couple of hours, but clearly most were supportive. Fists and peace signs flashed from car windows. Bus drivers honked in rhythm with the protest chants. One woman stepped outside her car, waving, cheering and saying, "somebody's got to do this!"
When marchers got to a main intersection in the upscale "Magnificent Mile" district, they were met by riot cops. The police sealed off the area, brought in reinforcements, and forced people out of the intersection. A large contingent that was heading back toward downtown was surrounded by cops. A small-minded local newscaster tried to justify the cops surrounding people, calling the protesters "law breakers." The reporter on the scene corrected him, saying that many protesters simply wanted to disperse but the police would not let them out of the encirclement. The police arrested over 850 by the night's end. TV news coverage carried footage of beefy Chicago cops wrestling protesters to the ground, beating demonstrators on the ground and dragging people away.
The cops arrested a woman who was speaking out on a bullhorn about police using unnecessary force. A young woman who had her small child with her was arrested. A father who questioned police about his son's arrest was choked by the police and arrested himself. An organizer was grabbed by his hair and tossed into the van head first. Six cops pounced on one demonstrator, beating him with their batons and fists and breaking his elbow. One medic witnessed 15 beatings alone. By the evening's end, over 850 people were arrested.
If the police assault was meant to intimidate, it failed miserably. The following evening, on March 21, despite the presence of hundreds of riot cops, several thousand protesters again filled Federal Plaza and marched downtown.
Wednesday, March 19. A thousand people marched to the Army Reserve Center and then headed back down Wilshire. The cops were out in force but the people were determined. In the Westwood area next to UCLA, hundreds sat down in the street. When they were surrounded by police in riot gear, they recited the Pledge of Resistance. Thirty-eight protesters were arrested, including five high school students, two older people in their 60s and 70s. They were charged with "Failure to disperse" and "Resisting arrest." At Pacific Palisades High School about 100 students walked out. School officials and some students taunted them, calling them "communists." The students responded with the chant, "Better communists, than capitalists!"
People continued to gather at the Federal Building, declaring the intersection a "No War Zone." By the time people went home after 11 p.m., they had heard the bombing of Baghdad had begun and the word went out to gather at noon the next day.
Thursday, March 20. Throughout the L.A. area, people looked for ways to respond. At Pasadena City College students walked out to join the biggest protest march the city of Pasadena has ever seen. Latinos Against the War in Iraq demonstrated at historic Olvera Street in downtown L.A. Hundreds protested in Orange County. There were actions in La Habra, Cal States in Northridge and Long Beach. Five hundred people demonstrated in Santa Barbara, blocking downtown streets. Groups of students from at least 10 high schools walked out or skipped class to protest. Youth ran after and taped "This is a No War Bus" and "Not in Our Name" signs and posters on dozens of buses and a few police cars.
Thousands filled the sidewalks around Wilshire and Veteran, hundreds did die-ins, repeatedly bringing rush hour traffic to a complete stop. Running into the street people chanted, "Rise up with the people of the world!" The LAPD pushed demonstrators with their clubs--and the people pushed back. Several protesters were arrested.
Some people charged through police lines and retook the street. A 14-year-old from a nearby high school took the bullhorn and denounced the cops to their faces: "I am 14 years old and you hit me on my neck. You think you can intimidate me, but YOU CAN'T! I'm still here and I'm not leaving! I'm here to stop this war!"
Groups of hundreds surged off the sidewalks until thousands were again in the street. People danced and drummed, jumping higher with every chant. The cops threatened people with rubber bullets and clubs, but were forced to back down and people stayed in the streets until late at night.
Friday, March 21. Over 300 religious leaders, clergy, people of many faiths and others gathered in front of the downtown Federal Building to protest the war on Iraq. The action was sponsored by the Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). There were a dozen faiths represented, including Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. Two dozen people blocked the street and were arrested.
This day was also the deadline for immigrants from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to report for "special registration." The Blue Triangle Network held a press conference with a broad range of speakers, including immigration attorneys and teachers, to condemn the repressive and racist profiling of immigrants.
By evening, several hundred people, most of them youth, had gathered at the No War Zone in front of the Westwood Federal Building. Up to 100 people at a time filled the crosswalk then fell to the pavement in die-ins. Many drivers honked their horns, threw peace signs and fists out the window. When two LAPD cars pulled into the intersection, they were surrounded by chanting demonstrators. More cars honked in support. More police arrived, diverting traffic from the intersection and shutting down the street for several blocks in all directions. They forced the protesters back onto the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building.
The police wanted to contain everyone on this one isolated corner where no one could see them. But the youth decided to march into the street and to a nearby neighborhood.
The police scrambled to catch up--25 formed a line at the next cross street, trying to prevent the marchers from getting to the next big boulevard. They diverted the march right into a residential neighborhood full of immigrants, students and middle-class families who came out of their apartments and joined the march. A police helicopter lit up the street with its spotlight, and scores of police cars screeched to the scene, lights and sirens blazing. They caught up with the marchers and forced them out of the street, encircling them with their motorcycles and batons.
More cops arrived and pointed their rubber-bullet shotguns at the crowds of onlookers standing on the corners! By the end of the two-hour-long standoff, there were over 200 uniformed police in the intersection. Finally the cops had to let the protesters go but declared an "illegal assembly" and ordered everyone on the corners to leave or be arrested. When protesters headed back to the Federal Building they were stopped and surrounded by over 100 police cars and half as many motorcycles. Everyone got on their cell phones, calling everyone they knew, telling them they were being held hostage by the LAPD! Eventually, the cops had to back down and the march made it to the Federal Building.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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