A Serious Protest for Peace

SF Crowd

The view from the stage at San Francisco's peace rally by Lisa Rein. Video »

It seems that everyone was at the peace march in San Francisco on Saturday--the guy who'd been in line behind me at the Danish bakery and our waitress from brunch last weekend. The stroller contingent kept just ahead of the 40-person brass band, while the Quakers danced behind them. Raiders fans made the connection between the protest and Sunday's game: "Raider Nation, Not Raid Other Nations." It wasn't exactly a march; more a molasses-slow procession for peace.

For such a large crowd, the message was notably unified--almost all signs focused on the need to avoid war in Iraq. Some of the best: "Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield--Axis of Weasel"; "I Love Everybody"; and a large group of women wearing shirts that said "Another Waitress for Peace."

Many people had taken all-day bus rides from as far away as British Columbia and New Mexico. "I came to not feel so crazy and alone in opposing this war," said one woman who'd driven up from Los Angeles for her first protest. "We are the majority, and that gives me hope."

Unlike protests in DC and New York, police presence was minimal--limited to two cops outside The Gap, a few outside a closed Starbucks, and a smattering of badly disguised undercovers mixed in with the crowd. A few signs warned that, if this peaceful march didn't work, people were going to "get rowdy," but for Saturday, at least, more than 100,000 people seemed committed to giving peaceful protest another chance to make change.

How many people were there? From within the march, it was impossible to tell. If you counted the babies drooling and sleeping for peace and the dogs ("Small Carnivores for Peace"), 200,000 seemed about right. By the time we inched into the tiny cement spot left open in Civic Center Plaza, four hours later, the rest of the protest still had many blocks to go. The consensus going around was that there were more people than people could count--a lot more than the last big protest and that had been a lot.

But while the sun shone and a few puppets and stilt-walkers swayed in the light wind, the mood was united but definitely not celebratory. One large sign, attached to a tree read: "Attention Media: This is Not a Parade but a Serious Exercise in Democracy."

And it was true. Once the speakers began, the crowd began to disperse. Point made: a whole lot of people don't want this war and don't believe it is necessary. But the unspoken question is: Will a government that wasn't democratically elected, that has shown little respect for democracies abroad or for international law be affected by mass democratic protest?

Leading up to the march, speakers on the radio had insisted that what we really needed to do to stop this war was to get everybody out into the streets. On Saturday, all over the country, people came out into the streets. Will the government listen?

Rachel Neumann is Rights & Liberties editor of AlterNet.

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