US: Protests on the West Coast and in Michigan

By our reporters
22 March 2004

Protest demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the Iraq war took place in all the major cities along the West Coast of the United States as well as in many cities and towns in the Midwest and South.

In San Francisco, a huge crowd marched from Dolores Park to Civic Center Plaza to protest the US occupation of Iraq, the continued occupation of Palestine, and the latest occupation of Haiti. The march went directly down Mission Street, through the heart of the Mission District, home to working class people from Mexico, Central and South America, Vietnam, India and Pakistan.

There were representatives from many organizations; principal amongst the crowd were members of the International Longshore and Warehousemen Union (ILWU), who were attacked by police in Oakland, California during an antiwar protest at the Port of Oakland a year ago.

Among the speakers at Civic Center Plaza was State Assemblyman Mark Leno, a Democrat, who spoke about the lies of the Bush administration in the standard “Anybody But Bush” vein. He was followed by a speaker for the Peace and Freedom Party and Workers World Party, who attacked the US military occupation of Haiti and the kidnapping of Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Tom Ammiano, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, spoke about the homophobia of the Bush followers and the issue of gay marriage. He also called for the troops to be brought home from Iraq now. Other speakers raised the issue of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, the election in Spain, and the profiteering by Halliburton and other US companies.

Trent Willis of the ILWU spoke of the impact of the antidemocratic Patriot Act and Department of Homeland Security on working people. He was one of the few speakers to mention John Kerry by name and criticize the Democratic Party, asking people to question the allegiance of the Democrats to their interests.

More than 350 copies of the Socialist Equality Party’s statement, “One year since the US invasion of Iraq,” were distributed.

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, thousands of demonstrators marched along Hollywood Blvd. The protesters included students from Pasadena and Valley Community colleges, California State University at Long Beach, the University of Southern California, the Claremont Colleges and UCLA.

Also present were longshoremen and health workers, though there were no official union contingents represented. There were members of the bus riders union and delegations from Mexican American and Philippine organizations.

Supporters of the SEP distributed over one thousand copies of the World Socialist Web Site statement “One year since the US invasion of Iraq,” and discussed with protesters that the struggle against imperialist war requires the building of an independent political party of the working class, based on a socialist program.

The demonstration was smaller than last year’s huge protest a month before the war, and noticeably restrained in its political tone. Many of those who marched carried “anyone but Bush” signs, suggesting that they were prepared to support Democrat John Kerry, despite his backing for the continued occupation of Iraq.

The main speakers at the rally that ended the march sounded that theme as well. Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles denounced the US invasion of Haiti, denounced the Bush administration and called for the removal of troops from Iraq. She called for bigger demonstrations to put pressure on the government to end the war.

Waters was followed by disabled veteran and antiwar activist Ron Kovic, a Palestinian speaker and representatives of ANSWER, an organizing group led by the pro-Stalinist Workers World Party. None of these speakers mentioned the name of John Kerry, although Kovic called for “regime change” in Washington, without specifying how this was to come about.

The last speaker, from ANSWER, made a passing reference to the presidential campaign, saying, “Let the Democrats and Republicans go after each other, instead let’s build an independent political movement to take this administration down.” This was a tacit endorsement of the Nader campaign, which had its supporters on the march as well.

Pacific Northwest

As many as 12,000 turned out in Portland, Oregon, where, many of them carrying homemade signs denouncing Bush.

Supporters of the SEP in Oregon set up a literature table at Pioneer Courthouse Square which attracted much attention and were able to speak to many students and workers about the perspective to stop the war. Over 1,200 WSWS/SEP leaflets were distributed.

Many demonstrators agreed that the Democratic Party was essentially a pro-war party and with the need to build an alternative and signed up to be contacted for the Socialist Equality Party election campaign meeting in Portland.

The rally in Seattle, Washington, by the Church Council of Greater Seattle and Sound Nonviolent Opponents of War, drew 4,000 to 5,000 participants. Banner messages such as “We will still say no to war. End the occupation,” “The emperor has no clues” and “Make jobs, not war” were being waved along with the UN flag and peace flags. There were very few posters for Kerry in the crowd, as well as a smattering of Kucinich and Dean posters.

After several antiwar songs there was a series of speakers, focusing on the “anyone but Bush” mantra, with strong encouragement for people to vote in the upcoming election. Actor Ed Asner, a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party, was the highlighted speaker for the day’s events. He addressed the crowd as “fellow patriots” and expressed his concern for the outsourcing of American jobs.

During the antiwar protest another group had organized a demonstration, “Operation Support Our Troops,” where approximately 100 people carried signs and photographs of loved ones serving overseas with the military. The local daily, the Seattle Times, gave equal coverage to the two demonstrations, although the antiwar action was 50 times as large.

In Michigan, protests took place in both Lansing and Ann Arbor. The Lansing demonstration brought close to 500 people to a rally in the rain at the state capitol. A large percentage of the participants were youth and students, many from nearby Michigan State University. There was also a layer of older people, veterans of the Vietnam War-era protest movement, as well as a small number of Middle Eastern immigrants, but no union participation.

The rally began in a nearby park, where protesters marched toward the capitol as drums were played. Many people carried signs with such slogans as “Stop mad cowboy disease,” and “Bush Lies—Soldiers Die.”

Speakers included a Democratic member of the state house of representatives, a Vietnam War veteran, and a high school student who is a member of an anarchist group. While denouncing the administration’s policies toward Iraq and Haiti, none of the speakers advanced any clear political perspective. The high school student pointed out that John Kerry and most Democrats had voted for the invasion of Iraq, drawing boos from a significant section of the crowd, who evidently were pro-Kerry.

Sharen Furman, who has a son in the military currently stationed at the base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, expressed her frustration at the capitulation of the Democrats to the right-wing policies of militarism. She told the WSWS, “I feel like I am living in an insane asylum.” A team of SEP supporters distributed leaflets throughout the crowd and discussed the perspective of the SEP with a number of the demonstrators.