The night that George Bush got on TV and declared his and the American media’s war on the Iraqi people-never forget that the original military title for it was Operation Iraqi Liberation, oops-I was ready, well, kind of. I had been meeting with my affinity group for weeks, as many others had, planning a day long assault on business as usual in downtown San Francisco.
We planned to get up by dawn and fan out all over the downtown preventing traffic from flowing in non-violent direct actions. We had picked our streets, made our signs, and put together the arm tubes that would allow demonstrators to chain themselves together while making it more difficult for police to remove them and break the chain. We had decided who was willing to get arrested and who was not. Having done the arrest thing a few times before, I decided to go back to work that afternoon. Local journalist Henry Norr lost his gig at the Chronicle for attending even though his beat was technology. I’m sure there were others.
We waited for the announcement on TV, about 10 PM on the West Coast, as I remember it, watched as our newsmen glowingly broadcast the beginnings of shock and awe, this all, remember after months of ever increasing marches around the world, everyone of which I partook of in SF. Huge beautiful gatherings full of every nationality, ethnicity, age group, identity group, families of all kinds, dogs, bikes, kids, with fabulous costumes and pithy signage, well, you remember.
Just before leaving for San Francisco that night I typed up a quick note to give to workers stuck in traffic to explain why we were there and to tell their employers why they were tardy (a word that only teachers continue to use which is why I like it). They could fill in their names and it was signed, “Sincerely, your Co-workers and Neighbors.”
It said- “Please excuse (fill in the blank) for tardiness due to our peaceful response to war. We are doing our best to compensate you for the lost time of your employee, student, or co-worker by shortening the length, violence, and economic impact of this illegal war.
We understand that you may agree with our goals but not our tactics. Please believe that we have voted, signed petitions, written letters, marched, attended vigils, and torn our hair out. We have implored our government, the UN, and the Pope. Nothing has worked. We hope this small inconvenience will start a movement that you can join. Check our www.actagainstwar.org for ways to help!”
So in my mid-fifties I set out to spend the night in a warehouse . I took a cushion from my deck knowing I would not sleep anyway but I could, at least, be slightly comfortable among a crowd of excited young people. Of course, I didn’t sleep either but waited for the word to start out in the early dawn.
Our first spot to block was a freeway off-ramp which we somehow managed by making it possible for drivers to see us in time to stop before the end of the ramp. It was near Mission and 13th. Then we moved closer to the downtown where most of the action was. At one point we took over 8th at Market where Hyde Street leads before it changes. Cars were backed up raring to head out. Some of our group of young people thought they would sit down. I took one look at the cars gunning their engines and talked them out of that so that they could move quickly if some cars refused to stop (I vaguely remember almost getting run over in downtown Oakland during the Stop the Draft demos-of the Vietnam era.) Others decided to pull newspaper stands into the street for protection, destroying some, an action with which I disagreed.
I remember handing out my tardy notices (I had made hundreds and others handed them out also). Most of the responses I got were not negative. However, at one point, while I stood with my arms locked in another’s, a bicycle rider approached and did not stop. He ran into my side and I came very close to hitting him before I was pulled away by a more peaceful person.
Our goal was to shut down the morning rush hour and for many of us that was done, and we headed back to our lives. Others stayed and made a day of it. By that evening there were some testy interactions with drivers and some demonstrators, more arrests, and some vandalism. Overall, I think we did well-maybe if this had happened in many other big cities for many more days, it might have made some difference. I’m not sure what we expected but I know we were not going to let that awful conflagration start without demanding that business as usual should not go on and letting the MSM know how we Americans felt.
I returned to Oakland to attend a meeting on a budding program to support small local business at which I found many city staff who congratulated us for our actions! I had a friend who was a school principal who reported that her secretary who lived in SF had arrived late with a tardy slip! She loved it.
My son was attending Morehouse College in Atlanta at the time and working with his roommates at a local chain restaurant. It was considered a middle class, business lunch type of joint serving “Italian” food. The TV had been on and the roommates watched in horror as the room erupted in applause when Bush declared war. At that point (among other reasons) he decided to get out of Atlanta as soon as he got his diploma.
But Morehouse was offering him a special chance at a good education with other young Black men who were ready to strive together, and he had been nominated as a youth delegate to the UN. They had a worldwide conference coming up in Frankfurt, Germany in a few days. My son had never been to Europe or traveled outside of the US at all. He had grown up listening to me telling the tales of my youth traveling in Italy, Greece, France, and living in Germany after my high school graduation. He was excited and ready to go.
Then his school cancelled their delegation. Other delegations from other colleges would still be going but Morehouse took their strict parenting duties very seriously-they decided it was too dangerous to travel. Not being the strict parenting type myself and wanting very much for my son to have this adventure, this learning experience, I called and talked to everyone. I pleaded and demanded they not miss this chance-to no avail.
My son has yet to visit Europe though he has seen a little of Latin America now. I know it’s a small thing, but for this, I also blame George, for so many opportunities for so many people, not the least of whom are the young of Iraq-a generation for whom, war and destruction has been the heritage we as a people have bequeathed to them.
I apologize that we let this happen. I wish I could offer more to all that still suffer. This is a day of mourning for all of us, for giving up our democratic rights and responsibilities, for the young Americans who still suffer PTSD, domestic violence, lack of resources, and even suicide, I also apologize and mourn. To American Exceptionalism ne Imperialism, I wish we could say, Never Again, humbly and with the full knowledge of our complicity.