March 19, 2006

Nearly 10,000 anti-war protesters gather for march through S.F.

More than 10,000 enthusiastic anti-war protesters filled the streets of San Francisco this afternoon as they trekked through the city to mark the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.

The colorful crowd of protesters was boisterous but well-behaved as they made their chanting, sign-waving way through the city. About 400 police officers turned out along the parade route, but most had little more to do than traffic control.

Organizers were both surprised and excited by the unexpectedly large turnout. By 1 p.m., the march stretched for blocks along Mission Street. It took nearly a half-hour for all the varied groups of protesters to pass through the intersection of Fifth and Mission streets.

The protest was one of hundreds being held throughout the country as anti-war activists worked to keep up the drumbeat against the U.S. military presence in Iraq.

"Because of the air attacks and because of people's growing dissatisfaction with where their tax dollars are being spent'' there's plenty of support for the anti-war effort, said Rachel Hereford, 22, one of the coordinators of today's march.

A stage was set up at San Francisco's Civic Center, festooned with a banner saying "Bring the Troops Home Now! End Colonial Occupation." The marchers walked through the Tenderloin, through the downtown shopping district near Union Square and then back through the South of Market before returning to the Civic Center for a rally with speakers, singers and street theater groups.

There were signs everywhere calling for the impeachment of President George Bush, but that isn't the answer to the country's problems, said Kelley Abraham, 31, of Oakland, a recent San Francisco State graduate who was part of a street theater group.

"People feel like we have to get Bush out,'' everything would improve, but that's not the case, she said. "We have to learn our history and take responsibility and begin to change it in deeper ways. This is the beginning of waking up. It's not like Bush is out of the office and we go back to everything is fine.''

The crowd was slow to arrive, with people getting off buses and walking up from Market Street. But the numbers swelled as the beginning of the march grew closer, with more people showing up even as the first contingents took off up Larkin Street.

Jan Parpart of Muskogee, Okla., was in the Bay Area visiting her brother when she decided to join the march. She carried a sign with a picture of her son and the words "For Kyle."

"Kyle was one of the lucky ones, he came home alive,'' she said.

Today's protests weren't confined to the big cities. A number of anti-war rallies took place in smaller communities like Palo Alto and Walnut Creek.

"Our tactics have changed,'' Hereford said. "We want to bring (the anti-war movement) to the suburbs and make it very present in people's communities.''

In Oakland, congresswomen Barbara Lee of Oakland and Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma spoke to an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd at the Grand Lake Theater Saturday morning.

"The $72 billion appropriations bill could send 9.5 million children to Head Start for a year,'' Woolsey said. "It would give every child in the world basic immunization for the next quarter century. Instead, we've damaged the trust of America and its leaders and destroyed basic human democracy.''

Outside the theater, the movies posters were covered with white sheets with the spray-painted message "Impeach Bush and Cheney." There were life-sized plywood cutouts of soldiers, marked with the number of American dead.

Among the protesters were members of Grandmothers Against the War, a newly formed East Bay group.

"During Vietnam, I did a lot of protesting carrying my infant babies in backpacks,'' said 68-year-old Linda Spatz of Berkeley. "As a grandmother, this is most important message I can send to my grandchildren, that we don't solve conflicts by killing people.''

More than 3,000 people crowded into Civic Center Park in Walnut Creek for an anti-war rally. Despite the grim tone of the speakers, the atmosphere was almost festive, with families bringing picnic lunches and protesters arriving with their dogs.

There were plenty of veterans of Vietnam War protests, including singer Country Joe McDonald, former Republican congressman -- and current candidate for Congress -- Pete McCloskey and Rep. George Miller of Martinez, who was first elected in 1974.

"I'm an old-timer in this effort,'' Miller said. "We ran Nixon out of office and we should take George Bush and take him out of office.''

But it wasn't all cheers and applause. Across the street from the park, someone had set out 60 pairs of black military boots, each with a small American flag and a handmade ID tag of a California soldier who has died in Iraq.

Lance Larsen of Moraga was out riding his bike, but was so choked up that he had to stop at the makeshift memorial.

"It's a great reminder that people are actually dying out there,'' he said. These boots used to be filled and now they are not here anymore.''


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