Thursday, March 29, 2007

Over 1,000 San Diegans Demand End to War

Boisterous Counter-Demonstrators Try to Crash March


Copyright © 2007 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Over 1,000 San Diegans took to the streets in downtown San Diego on Saturday, March 17 to demand an immediate end to the war in Iraq. The protesters assembled at Fourth and Broadway from 1 to 2 p.m. and then marched to Pantoja Park on Market Street, where an hour-long rally took place. But at least five pro-war counter-demonstrators, almost all young men, crashed both the march and rally.

The counter-demonstrators included a tall man with a Marine buzz-cut and a Kelly green T-shirt who carried a sign reading “If You Ain’t Fightin’, Don’t Bother Squawkin’.” Another was dressed in a burnoose and wore a false beard intended to make him resemble Osama bin Laden — though it looked more like part of a Santa Claus costume than anything else, especially since the wearer was short, stocky and closer in physical type to Santa Claus than the tall, lanky terrorist leader. His sign read, “Osama for Obama in ’08.”

The tall man with the Marine haircut claimed to have served in Iraq and boasted that he had killed Iraqis. Before the march stepped off, he was approached by several peace protesters, most notably Fernando Suárez del Solár, who became active in the antiwar movement after his son Jesús was killed in the first month of the Iraq war when he stepped on a U.S.-made cluster bomb. Suárez carried a large, elaborate sign decorated with photos of his late son, and the mere fact that he was the parent of someone killed in the war seemed to make the counter-protester calm down in his presence.

Suárez also spoke at the post-march rally. Though his English has improved greatly since he started attending anti-war events almost four years ago, he chose to speak in Spanish with his friend, UCSD professor and anti-war activist Jorge Mariscal, interpreting for him. Suárez has been known for making impassioned speeches dedicated to the memory of his son, but he seemed angrier this time out than he has in many of his previous appearances.

“Here we are after four years of illegal acts against Iraqis and Americans, 3,200 American families destroyed and 300,000 Iraqis dead,” Suárez said. “More than 70 percent of Americans no longer support the war. We have to get this criminal [President Bush] out of the White House, but that alone won’t guarantee peace. We have to get the lying military recruiters out of the schools, and we are not going to accept provocations from people who support this policy.”

That last statement was directed at a tall young man wearing a white shirt with rainbow lettering, who was filming Suárez as he spoke. As soon as Suárez pointed him out from the speakers’ platform, at least two people in the audience tried to block the counter-protester’s camera by holding up their signs in front of the lens.

Suárez, who blames deceptive military recruiters for his late son’s decision to enlist in the first place — he said Jesús wanted to become a police officer or narcotics agent to help stop drug use in the Latino community, and the recruiter who signed him up falsely told him military service would help — continued, “The schools are there to teach people, not to recruit them. Go to the schools and block them so military recruiters cannot go in. Our students deserve a free education. It’s criminal that thousands of dollars are spent to recruit students and not to educate them.”

Mariscal, who like Suárez is involved in anti-recruitment activism as a member of Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Options) and regularly leaflets outside campuses to alert students that there are other ways of financing a college education than joining the military, linked the war and the immigration issue in his own remarks. “We have non-citizens serving in our armed services,” he said. “We have people from Mexico and Central America coming here to feed their families. They have no choice. The crisis in immigration is linked to the imperialist foreign policy we’ve had in the last six years. Until we stop bleeding other countries dry, we will continue to have economic refugees.”

The rally began with an impromptu speech by active-duty Navy servicemember John Burks, who acknowledged the potential danger of punishment for speaking out publicly against the war but was determined to do so anyway. “I believe in the freedoms we have in this country, and I believe it’s wrong for one person to decide to send an entire nation to war and lead to the deaths of 3,000 people,” Burks said. “I’m willing to lay down my life for those freedoms, and I find it hard to serve under a person who led us to this slaughter. How can a government with so many problems at home say this war is right?”

“Is it righteous to do the bidding of corporations, to be the world’s bully just because we can, and allow our servicemen and servicewomen and Iraqis to die each day the war continues?” said UNITE HERE union organizer Chris Bricker. “Is it righteousness or self-righteousness? The balance of justice has been laid to its side. We need to stop this pre-emptive bullying that labels the world as our empire.” Bricker said a delegation from his anti-war labor group had attempted to meet with Congressmember Susan Davis and urge her to vote against any more funding for the war, “and she said she still had not made up her mind,” Bricker recalled. “When will the Democrats stop playing politics and lead?”

Maricela Guzmán of Iraq Veterans Against the War recalled that she was already in the service, stationed overseas, when the 9/11 attacks occurred. “I saw the plane hit the second tower on TV, and I wanted to go to Afghanistan and get the people who’d done this to us,” she recalled. “But I was in intelligence, and I saw that as soon as we went into Afghanistan we were preparing to go into Iraq.”

Like some of the other speakers, Guzmán linked the current scandals around the Walter Reed Medical Center and the lousy medical treatment veterans are getting from the government to her overall opposition to the war. “I’ve spent four hours in a VA hospital waiting for someone to look at my back,” she said. “I’ve been assaulted in the service. A lot of soldiers are committing suicide when they come back. A lot of others are physically alive but dead inside. When people ask why you’re against the war, say you support our troops by wanting to make sure they’re taken care of.”

Though the rally lasted only an hour — considerably shorter than previous years’ events sponsored by the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice — people who’d marched steadily drifted away until only about 100 people were left at the end. The event was held to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq and as part of an international mobilization against the war. Because the date was also St. Patrick’s Day, many people on both sides of the issue were wearing green.