Occupation is a Crime!

(The 7th anniversary of the war on Iraq was marked by huge protests all over the US against war and occupation. Shashwat Sinha, who participated in the San Francisco anti-war rally, reports.)

Hey hey, ho ho…the occupation got to go! This was one of the many spirited slogans chanted by people in the anti-war rally in San Francisco held on March 20. The rally was part of a coordinated protest all over the United States to mark the 7th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. More than 5,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown San Francisco calling for an immediate end to the occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. The march had protesters beating drums, blowing trumpets and full bands playing anti-war music all along the way. The protesters carried a big flag showing flags of the US and 7 other countries (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Palestine, Lebanon) where it is directly involved. Some of the slogans raised were: 'They say cut back, we say fight back’; ‘US-Israel you will see, Palestine will be free’; ‘What do we want – US out, when do we want – Now!’; ‘Money for jobs & education, not for war & occupation’; ‘Working people are under attack - what do we do – stand up fight back’. The rally included many children (mostly 4th graders) who along with their teachers demanded funding for schools than for wars and banks. Many onlookers cheered the march while some waved their shirts from the building windows in support of the cause. This was against the backdrop of police cordons and a police surveillance chopper continuously flying overhead. The mainstream media was conspicuous by its absence; they carried a blackout campaign.

The speakers at the rally eloquently linked the US imperialism to racism, colonialism, injustice, economic and social inequality and labor and human rights issues. A speaker from the ‘Blackest of Black Coalition’ accurately described the imperial forces were now hiding behind a black face (of a lighter shade though) and demanded reparations for historical and current atrocities against blacks than spending on imperial and colonial wars. A call was made to release the ‘Cuban Five’, unjustly imprisoned in the U.S. for defending the Cuban people against terrorist acts. The $1 trillion war spending was highlighted by many speakers including Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) who said that the spending will continuously increase if people don’t protest strike now. The understanding and recognition that the issues are intricately intertwined, symbiotic but are subsets of a bigger cause were key to the success of the rally. It was in this spirit that the protesters expressed solidarity with the striking hotel workers of the city by raising slogans in front of the Hilton hotel en route.

A remarkable feature of the rally was coming together of private citizens, splinter anti-war and social organizations, trade unions and radical left parties; all putting aside their differences to make the protest successful and send a strong anti-war message. The rally saw support from groups ranging from Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, AFL (American Federation of Labor), parties like RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender, queer) groups. Parties like HWRS (Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism) who believe direct labor action (strikes) as the only way of stopping the imperialist war machine still participated recognizing the value of protests. Still other parties like Party for Socialism and Liberation who support all mass movements against US occupation also showed their solidarity.

In other parts of the country, over 10,000 marched in the national mall in Washington DC and over 6,000 in Los Angeles. There were smaller protests in several other cities like Minneapolis, Orlando, Anaheim, Knoxville, Bloomberg etc. Those arrested at the rallies included activist Cindy Sheehan, who has been a vocal critic of the invasion of Iraq since her 21-year-old son Casey was killed in 2004. The rallies were organized by ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition which is increasingly becoming an umbrella organization to mobilize other organizations to act in concert for major causes with particular emphasis on ending US aggression on foreign soils. Some of the other endorsers included: National Council of Arab Americans; Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the 4th of July”; US Labor Against War; Palestinian American Women Association; Alliance for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Philippines; National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations; Coalition for Peace and Democracy in Honduras; Free Palestine Alliance; National Coalition to Free the Angola 3; Malcolm X Center for Self-Determination and many more.

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