I’d forgotten how much of a baseball town San Francisco is until I went to the big peace march there last Saturday. Giants banners hung from light poles, fan paraphernalia appeared in Union Square store windows, and places like Lefty O‘Doul’s were filled with the team‘s Halloween-colored balloons. Even some of the anti-war demonstrators’ signs were keyed to the World Series (“Beat L.A. Not Iraq,” “World Series, Not World Domination”) and a protest version of “the wave” rippled up and down the parade that day as it surged along Market Street.
An off-the-chart spectrum of protesters gathered in front of the Ferry Building and quickly laid siege to a nearby Noah‘s Bagel shop, which had lines running out onto the sidewalk for hours. There were Gray Panthers and stilt walkers; freaky young street actors performed nude or in nightmarish costumes, and neo-lefts exhaled old rhetoric from a stage. (“The days of the military-industrial complex are marked!” one woman screeched.) There were too many bullhorns and different drums being beaten to hear much from the stage, but the pleasant carnival spirit of the day was formed in this anarchic swirl of dissent and whimsy.
Around 12:30 the march finally headed up Market to the Civic Center. I’d been on this route before -- nearly 30 years ago, during a counterinaugural march protesting Richard Nixon‘s second term and the Vietnam War. As I remember, that mobilization drew 50,000 people???[ADD: ,] and last Saturday’s was easily as large. Its size demanded better news coverage than it received. The typical Saturday-night TV-news headline order was Rally Monkey, Peace Demonstrations, Sniper; the Sunday L.A. Times ran an 841-word notice on Page 17 ???[tr. 2]mostly focusing on the larger rally in Washington, D.C.
But the people in San Francisco weren‘t there for the TV cameras. They had come from ???[ADD: cities and towns from =OR= as far as San Diego and Seattle>> ]San Diego to Seattle to do what they could to stop Bush II from unleashing Gulf War II. They were here because the Feinsteins, Daschles and Gephardts had turned yellower than a garden of Texas roses when it came time to debate Bush’s imperial diktat. Quite a number of marchers held signs and banners honoring the late Paul Wellstone, a senator who, in the middle of a close re-election campaign, had stood up to the White House when the rest of his colleagues hid under their desks.
The demonstrators were a lively, happy and creative crowd that included Clowns for Peace, Historians for Peace and Grannies for Peace. Berkeley‘s Cheeseboard Collective Bakery had baked skinny loaves in the shape of peace signs, which they held aloft on poles. One homemade sign mischievously invited Bush to eat some pretzels, another read, “Fuck Oil, Burn Hydrogen.”
When the anti-inaugural protest had reached the Civic Center in 1973, we ???[had] heard speech after speech denounce a president who had been elected in a landslide and was winding down a war; this past Saturday???[ADD: ,] Berkeley Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others criticized a president who had not even received a plurality of the vote???[ADD: ,] yet is now poised to start ???[a war DEL 1 >>]one. (Another difference with 1973???[1973’s protest =OR= scene] was ???[not] having to constantly avoid bumping into oblivious protesters as they chatted into cells phones or videotaped everything in sight.)
About two hours into the rally???[ADD: ,] some 500 young marchers peeled off from the Civic Center and followed anarchist banners for a “direct action” down Market Street. This completely caught the police off-guard -- even though an online flier had announced the action and instructed anyone interested to “follow the flags.” Whereas an overwhelming LAPD presence had completely outflanked and contained a somewhat smaller march against police brutality a few days earlier, the San Francisco cops, who were comparatively invisible Saturday, had to catch up to the breakaway march and hastily form a short line separating the sidewalk from the protesters, who busily swarmed around stranded trolley cars. It was an ineffectual maneuver, as witnessed by how many times marchers would casually leave the parade to withdraw money from ATMs located directly behind the cops.
No one seemed to know where the march was headed or what would happen, other than that it was clearly stopping traffic and the SFPD was merely in tow. Around Market and Grant ???[ADD: Avenue] some demonstrators pulled up their black bandanas, and for a moment it seemed that the action was about to become very direct. Where would it go off -- The Gap? Old Navy? Montgomery Street? Nothing happened though, and the march simply snaked into the eastern fringe of the financial district‘s skyscrapers before heading toward the Embarcadero.
Earlier, a black-masked young man had confronted a clean-cut family who were holding small hand-lettered signs reading, “Support Our Troops” in front of City Hall. During their ensuing debate over Iraq, one of the pro-war family members, who probably was the same age as the apparent anarchist, said, “Why do you have to hide your face? That’s weak.”