By Cinnamon Stillwell and Lee Kaplan
A crowd of around 10,000 protesters gathered in San Francisco on Saturday, September 24, allegedly to express their displeasure with the war in Iraq. But it wasn’t Iraq this rally was really about, but rather radical leftist and anarchist politics manifested by a hatred for America and Israel, and, of course, a chance to rail against the supposed evils of capitalism.
This was fitting given the two main groups, International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop the War and End Racism) and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), that organized the event. For those in the know, those are front groups for communist/socialist organizations that promote the totalitarian and terrorist enemies of the United States. ANSWER in the past provided human shields to keep Saddam Hussein in power and has links to North Korea, Cuba, the PLO and its Ba’ath Party allies. The leader of United for Peace and Justice, Leslie Cagan, is a longtime member of the Communist Party USA.
The radical Left is successful at organizing these events because they use “solidarity” when planning their desired “revolution.” Divisions existed earlier over how the anarchists and communists could appeal to mainstream pacifists, who could be what Lenin called “useful idiots,” in order to swell the ranks. Some dissension did exist before this event that was designed to coincide with the larger antiwar protest in Washington. Al Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (another leftist euphemism for destroying Israel) had some members who were willing to consider a two-state solution first, but the faction insisting on replacing democratic Israel with another Islamist tyranny called “Palestine” won out.
Participants of the march had to sign an agreement beforehand maintaining solidarity on the issues: to oppose capitalism and the U.S. government. Some of United for Peace and Justice’s satellite groups that have members of Jewish descent were uncomfortable with the level of hostility being directed towards Israel and, in some cases, against Jews by the members of ANSWER, not to mention ANSWER’s rallying behind such dictators as Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il. But radicalism and revolutionary fervor won out, as front groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and fake rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun crowd claimed to represent “Jews” in the crowd, dismissing the importance of their allies’ anti-Semitism.
But if such an agreement was signed, there was certainly no evidence of it at the rally itself. In fact, the animosity towards Israel and particularly the Jewish counter-protesters who arrived from San Francisco Voice for Israel, a pro-Israel group, was even higher than usual. Groups such as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and its northern California leader Paul LaRudee, as well as a plethora of other pro-Palestinian organizations, all had stands at the rally advocating the end of Israel. Photos of Rachel Corrie, who was accidentally killed by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent the destruction of a weapons smuggling tunnel in Gaza, were passed out accusing Israel of “murder.” All things “Palestinian” were on sale, from T-shirts to embroidery. Even groups like Jewish Voice for Peace had no qualms about happily setting up a stand among those who profess to despise them in order to make a buck.
As the mass of marchers approached the rallying point, the situation intensified. The first thing that could be seen was a ton of Palestinian flags, keffiyehs (Arab headdresses like Arafat wore), and a huge banner reading “Free Palestine.” Alongside it, ANSWER’s sign reading “U.S. Out of Iraq…Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Cuba, Iran” was barely noticeable. Young people chanted in unison, “Viva, viva, Palestina!” followed by “Viva, viva, Intifada!”
Not merely content to cheer on terrorism, they expanded it to, “Bush, Sharon, You can’t hide. We charge you with genocide!” When the marchers came upon the 50 or so pro-Israel counter-protesters from San Francisco Voice for Israel (SFV4I) waving Israeli flags and carrying signs reading, “What if blaming Israel wasn’t an option?” they became enraged and began screaming, “Look what you’re doing to Palestine!” and “Get out of Gaza!” Considering Israel’s latest efforts to make peace with a total withdrawal from Gaza that only resulted in 35 missiles fired into Israel wounding five people, such comments revealed how divorced from reality the protestors are.
The anti-Semitism underlying this march was further exposed by participants shouting, “Israelis need to go back to Europe,” and “Smash the Zionists entity!” The last time we checked, “Zionist entity” was the term militant Islamists use to describe Israel, but these days, there seems to be little difference in its use by communist/anarchist acolytes. A man carrying a “Washington D.C. has become a Zionist Occupied Country” sign was particularly angry and spent a good deal of time haranguing a counter protestor draped in an Israeli flag: “You’re in America—why are you carrying that flag?” he demanded to know. For some reason, the sea of Palestinian flags behind him didn’t seem to bother him.
As always, Bush Derangement Syndrome was on display for the world to see. Signs and slogans accused the president of being everything from a “Nazi” to a “terrorist,” to “a psycho,” to “a moron.” In their warped view, he’s the most powerful man in the universe, capable of massive conspiracies from the “9/11 cover-up” to hurricane manipulation. There were many references to Hurricane Katrina throughout the day and the alleged “racism” of the Bush administration against the black people of New Orleans; none of the massive amounts of aid and support supplied by the federal government, as well as private citizens, was mentioned. Disasters are simply propaganda material for the Left’s talking points, hence signs like “Make Levees Not War” and “End the Occupation of New Orleans” were visible.
This obsession of the radical Left with somehow “getting rid” of the Bush administration was evident as signs calling for Bush’s impeachment were everywhere. Another commonly chanted theme was the call to “Drive Out the Bush Regime.” How this would be accomplished was never quite made clear, although flyers naming November 2nd as some kind of boycott Bush day were given out.
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do damage in the meantime, particularly in trying to undermine the U.S. military. There were repeated calls throughout the day to “organize on college campuses,” a reference to the radical Left’s ongoing attacks on military recruiters on campuses. The backers of Proposition 1, otherwise known as “College Not Combat,” an initiative attempting to ban military recruiters from San Francisco schools, played a prominent part in the march. A man with a “Register as a Conscientious Objector” stand set up while a young woman in military camouflage made her way around the rally with a sign taped to her back saying, “I didn’t sign up for this.” It turned out that she actually had signed up for the National Guard, but as soon as her unit was deployed, she apparently got cold feet and went AWOL ten times. It seems military benefits were her entitlement as long as she didn’t have to serve her country. She said after going AWOL the tenth time, the Army changed her status. She revealed that the military finally discharged her without pressing charges. When asked why she joined the military in the first place, she shrugged and said that she simply wanted the “college money.”
Others displayed a lack of knowledge or even interest in the political underpinnings of the event they were attending. A young couple from Berkeley “didn’t really know” why they were there, and two 14-year-olds boys who had come with their families found their first antiwar protest to be “awesome” and said that “it rocked.” Such casual attitudes betray a lack of support for the antiwar movement among regular, everyday Americans. Beyond the hardcore political radical leftist center, the movement’s support is largely waning.
This crowd did not resemble the ecumenical groups that marched against the Vietnam War, although these radicals certainly hoped they would. San Francisco’s rally, while relatively large, was not as much a grassroots movement as it was beefed up by busloads of people from throughout Northern California who were brought in by ANSWER and UFPJ organizers as a means to blow off steam after a year’s absence of a major to-do on the streets of San Francisco. But even as a national movement, the extremism and fractiousness of today’s radical leftists hold little appeal for mainstream Americans, since most people along the march route shook their heads at the marchers rather than to voice support for their causes.
This may explain why all the talk about striking down “capitalism” at the rally appeared less heartfelt and superficial. Young people wore the trendy “Anti-Capitalista” t-shirts conveniently offered for sale at the rally, along with their Nikes and the latest fashions from The Gap. Others were decked out in Che Guevara t-shirts and berets, desperately trying to achieve revolutionary chic. The requisite dreadlocks and Jamaican hats were also quite popular, as were bandanna-covered faces in the style of Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Lip service to the ills of “colonialism” was also prevalent among the various third-world nationalist groups in attendance. The Philippines, Korea, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, Syria, Columbia, and a host of other countries are all apparently suffering under the yoke of “U.S. imperialism.” They even managed to find one group of Iranians (Iranians Against Military Intervention and Occupation), who don’t want U.S. help in achieving regime change against the Iranian dictatorship.
While radical left-wing Democrats such as Barbara Lee were lauded, it seems that Nancy Pelosi, although hardly a right-winger, has earned the wrath of some on the Left. Apparently, she isn’t anti-war enough and is far too supportive of Israel for the leftists of San Francisco, who carried signs saying, “Hey Pelosi—We Want Peace,” and “Hey Pelosi: Not One More Dime for the War.” Although the Progressive Democrats of Sonoma County took part in the march, they didn’t appear to have a lot of company. Instead, it was the Green Party, the International Socialist Organization, and a variety of other Neo-Communist groups that held sway.
As always for San Francisco, street theater was still in high gear. An effigy of the Statue of Liberty with a skull face holding an American flag with a swastika on it was wheeled around, followed by an old hippie playing a banjo and people dancing along merrily. A young man wearing a white shirt with fake blood dripping from painted bullet holes, all the while smiling inanely, carried aloft a Palestinian flag. In one distasteful display, a man and woman wearing George Bush and Condoleezza Rice masks danced around with a “George Bush Loves Black People” sign. The Raging Grannies group sang songs like, “Oh Where are those Weapons, Mr. Bush?” The thugs of Anarchist Action stood around trying to look menacing.
Nuttiness in general was at an all time high. 9/11 conspiracies were the order of the day, as were the tiresome references to “blood for oil.” Lyndon LaRouche cult followers set up a table and gave away magazines with Dick Cheney on the cover with the overwrought headline, “Soldiers of Satan.” Even food took on a sinister connotation, as the evils of genetically modified food and non-vegetarianism were lamented. A regular at all protests in San Francisco, Frank Chu, otherwise known as the “12 Galaxies guy,” babbled nonsensical ravings to anyone unfortunate enough to be filming nearby.
While this certainly won’t be San Francisco’s last antiwar rally, it felt a lot like the beginning of the end. Despite a decent turnout, the passion behind the slogans and the rhetoric just wasn’t there this time. At some point, the radical Left will have to do more than simply tear away at the fabric of society and march against their own country and in support of overseas terrorists and totalitarian regimes. They’ll have to actually offer something constructive to build a better world. But after attending this event, we’re not holding our breath.