As the war in Iraq completes its fourth year, anti-war activists hoping to turn public sentiment against the ongoing conflict will pack the streets of San Francisco and cities across the U.S. in coordinated demonstrations.
Protesters will march up Market Street on Sunday to a rally at Civic Center Plaza, and on Monday, the fourth anniversary of the war, activists from a network of antiwar groups will stage a "die-in," wherein demonstrators will lie down on Market Street to represent the death toll from the war.
Anti-war protesters have marched and held demonstrations in San Francisco since the war began on March 19, 2003. That day, thousands took to the streets in protest of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. San Francisco was essentially shut down when protesters flooded the streets for two days, resulting in some 2,300 arrests.
"I think there’s a very good chance that the demonstrations will be the largest since the war broke out," said Richard Becker, the West Coast coordinator for the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism coalition, which is organizing Sunday’s rally. Becker predicted a crowd of "tens of thousands" at Sunday’s event.
The self-described "loose network of groups" organizing Monday’s die-in issued a statement Friday asserting that 650,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the war’s start. The die-in is meant to represent what the Iraqi death toll would look like in San Francisco.
But not all activist groups oppose the war. Move America Forward will mark the war’s anniversary with the launch of a "Win in Iraq" advertising campaign. Print and television advertisements will promote U.S. troops and the military action in Iraq.
"Ifour nation throws its hands up in defeat now, we will most certainly see more attacks like that of 9/11," organizer Deborah Johns said. "It is imperative that we allow our troops overseas to finish the mission they were sent there to do."
Move America Forward will stage a demonstration in Washington, D.C., on Saturday as anti-war protesters march on the Pentagon.
In San Francisco, police say they are ready to handle the crowds and traffic snarls.
"It’s a moving situation, so we only close the streets down as long as necessary for the protesters to move through the area," Sgt. Neville Gittens of the SFPD said.
A splinter group of protesters in January and February 2003 broke windows and sprayed paint on several buildings in the Financial district. In late 2005, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the San Francisco Chronicle’s headquarters at Fifth and Mission streets. But Gittens said the last few protests have been peaceful.
"We expect [Sunday’s] to be a peaceful protest and we expect the participants in the protest to be peaceful and orderly, but if any criminal activity occurs, we’ll take the appropriate action," Gittens said.
Effects of Sunday’s protest
» March route: Protesters will meet in Justin Herman Plaza, where they will begin marching up Market Street at 12:30 p.m. The route will take them up McAllister Street to Civic Center Plaza, where a rally is scheduled to last until 5 p.m.
» Street closures: Market Street east of Eighth Street will be closed to traffic at about 11:30 a.m. Police intend to re-open the street on a rolling basis as the protesters move through.
» Bus lines affected: Beginning at 11 a.m., The F Market and Wharves line will operate only between Castro Street and Van Ness Avenue, and between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. All bus lines on Market Street will be affected during the march.
Note: No streets will be closed during the rally at Civic Center, but authorities warn of traffic congestion in the area.