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February, 2003

Anti-War Rally Floods San Francisco
By Louis Nuyens

On Saturday, 18 January 2003, organized primarily via the internet, approximately 150,000 to 300,000 demonstrators poured into the streets of San Francisco in protest of the Bush administration's preparations for war on Iraq.

With Justin Herman Plaza already filled to capacity at San Francisco's civic center, the entire length of Market Street along the parade route was packed with protesters. From the embarcadero to the civic center, and across the breadth of Market Street, one could rarely find room to take a full-length stride.

Owing to the size of the crowds, many never reached the civic center, and many stayed there only for a short time. Aerial and ground photographs of the march can be found at SF Indymedia (http://www.indybay.org/).

While there were musicians, festive groups and chant leaders scattered throughout, the march was marked by the solemn resolve of the vast majority of participants. It seemed that most of those in attendance were certain of their position and came to be counted, rather than to hear speeches or to be rallied by chants.

Many signs called for peaceful solutions in Iraq, and in general. But if there was an overarching message, it was clearly one of distrust of the Bush administration, with an emphasis on assertions that the US government has done little to show the necessity for military action in Iraq. Represented on many picket signs were suspicions that charges against Iraq are being blown out of proportion to cover for domestic travesties in civil liberties, domestic economy, and environmental protection, to secure oil, and/or to support military-related industries.

The march was cooperatively organized by an umbrella coalition called International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism) including the participation of many groups, such as MoveOn and Working Assets. Speakers at Justin Herman Plaza included actor Martin Sheen, and singer-activist Joan Baez.

Early press reports set organizer estimates at 100,000 people, and 'actual' numbers, based on police estimates, at closer to 50,000. However, organizers actually estimated close to 200,000-300,000 participants, and, within days, the SF Police Department raised its estimate to 150,000. Early press reports also indicated that the march had been kept civil by a heavy police presence, but, aside from traffic direction on adjacent streets, police presence was virtually invisible along the parade route, and the march proceeded peacefully on its own.

On the same day, dozens of protests also took place across the country, including one in Washington, DC, at which organizers estimated as many as 500,000 participants (police estimated only fifty thousand, and AP estimated "at least 30,000"). Other US events were reported as considerably smaller, including gatherings in Portland, Ore., Des Moines, Iowa, Indianapolis, Florida, Albuquerque, NM, Lansing, Mich., Montpelier, Vt., Houston, TX., Orange County, Calif., Richmond, Ky., Las Vegas, NV.

Saturday events also took place around the globe, with hundreds to thousands participating in events in France, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Jordan, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, India, Britain, Norway, China, New Zealand, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden, and elsewhere.

In November 2002, Reuters reported a nonviolent peace march of 500,000 to 1 million in Florence, Italy.

At press time, European leaders in countries such as France and Germany appeared to be taking momentum from the protests and strengthening stands against following the US. timeline for invasion of Iraq.

Meanwhile, a CNN/Time poll showed the Bush administration approval rating fell to 53%, just 1% above its lowest to date (AP reports that Bill Clinton's second-term job approval only dropped to 52% right after the Monica Lewinsky story broke in January 1998, and the following week it jumped back up 16%).

The next anti-war march in San Francisco is scheduled for Saturday, February 15th.

Those wishing to attend should keep in mind that the number of participants may continue to increase. In October 2002, organizers estim