Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Monday, 17 February 2003

# 8:15 PM

From boingboing: an article in the Seattle Times about the successful ongoing redevelopment of Portland and Vancouver as high-density, car-not-necessary cities.

# 5:10 AM

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

— Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth (1966)

Today I attended the peace rally in San Francisco with my friends Adam, Alexander, Nathaniel, Rachel, Robynne, and Vynce. Vynce is making T-shirts which say "n T-Shirts For Peace" (he increments n every time he makes another one — mine is #4) and we all wore one. We also handed out 160 print copies of Shweta's and my comic What's Going On.

This is the last of a set of worldwide protests scheduled this weekend; it was to have been yesterday, but was postponed so as not to conflict with the Chinese New Year parade (which is a San Francisco tradition going back to 1853). The crowd is estimated from 150,000 to 300,000 people; I am inclined to the higher end of that scale, because the Civic Center plaza was packed full of people and it's known to hold about 250,000.

Good bits:

  • All of the protest that I saw was entirely peaceful, and the SFPD officers present were all good-natured and professional. Police presence was quite minimal given the sheer size of the crowd; I imagine they have lots of experience with large rallies and marches, San Francisco being what it is.
  • The protest drew lots of ordinary people. The freak population was out in force, naturally, but I'd guess that at least two-thirds of the crowd were what they call "mainstream America." This is a good thing because it means antiwar sentiment is not confined to groups that can be dismissed as lunatics (by the people in charge).
  • In front of the library there were some guys selling absolutely delicious fresh tamales for two bucks a pop. Muchas gracias, señores.
  • Lots and lots of good slogans. I particularly liked REGIME CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME and STOP MAD COWBOY DISEASE. My own sign said NOT ONE PENNY FOR EMPIRE, which was inspired by this report of the January march in DC. And of course the old reliable MAKE LOVE NOT WAR and IDENTIFYING-TAG AGAINST THE WAR were in evidence. (Of the latter I liked FAT UGLY MAN AGAINST THE WAR best.)
  • The duct tape meme. I'm not sure precisely what is up with this, but an awful lot of people featured duct tape as part of their sign or their costume. There was even one guy handing out strips of duct tape and telling people to put it over their mouth. I put it on my forehead instead. (If anyone knows the origin of this meme please let me know.)

Not-so-good bits:

  • Overall I feel that protest marches are simultaneously too much and too little. You put 225,000 people (splitting the difference) on the street in San Francisco, that makes a big media splash, but does it really change government officials' minds, and does it really get people who weren't supporting The Cause (whatever that might be) to start? Nathaniel and I handed out 160 copies of What's Going On, but will any of those reach people who didn't already agree with what it says? (Similar sentiments were expressed by Nathan Newman and Kos after the January DC protests.)
  • As I've said in the past, I would like to be anti-war and pro-Israel at the same time, and I don't appreciate how the anti-war-in-Iraq movement seems to be inextricably joined with the anti-any-U.S.-support-for-Israel movement. Which is not to say that I approve of what Ariel Sharon has been doing for the past while; I don't think any solution to that mess is actually on the table (my preferred approach would begin by disestablishing Judaism in Israel, which is just not going to happen).
  • Also, and this is why my sign said NOT ONE PENNY FOR EMPIRE: I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to this specific potential war. To understand why, I would like to point you to an op-ed column by Barham A. Salim (a leader of the Kurdish government in exile, if I remember right) which someone had Xeroxed out of the New York Times and pasted to some of the temporary fences around the federal building, where protesters going by could see it. But it's not findable online so I will attempt to summarize. He said that he and his fellow exiles were eager for an opportunity to establish a democratic government in Iraq, that he hoped the coming war would provide such, and that it didn't matter to him whether or not the U.S.'s true motivation was greed for oil, because he'd still get his opportunity. Which is where I diverge from agreement with Mr. Salim: I don't think he will get his opportunity. I think that Iraq will be left in ruins, with some sort of ineffective client government that facilitates the big multinationals moving in and exploiting the hell out of the place. This will breed more (entirely justified) resentment and more people willing to engage in suicide missions for terrorist organizations. In the end, we'll all be worse off.
  • The Scientologists, who have an office near Civic Center, were capitalizing on the march to sell Dianetics books. Bleah.