Article Last Updated: Sunday, April 20, 2003 - 5:16:03 AM PST


The peace movement now will focus on the human suffering

By Josh Richman


Sunday, April 20, 2003 - The shooting has died down, but Iraq's humanitarian disaster and military occupation, plus the Bush administration's tough talk toward Syria, seem to belie claims that the U.S. war in the Middle East is ending.

In the Bay Area and across the nation, that leaves the anti-war movement at a crossroads.

Before the war, up to 200,000 people at a time flooded San Francisco's streets to oppose violence against Iraq. On April 12, an admittedly rain-soaked anti-war protest attracted only 5,000, by organizers' estimate; San Francisco police guessed fewer. And nonviolent civil disobedience staged Monday at oil giant ChevronTexaco's East Bay headquarters drew perhaps 500.

A sizable cadre of longtime social justice activists keep taking to the Bay Area's streets, but many others enticed into activism for the first time by the threat of war have returned to inactivity now that the initial fighting is done.

"It's really exciting to try to stop a war before it starts," said Andrea Buffa, a San Francisco organizer with United for Peace and Justice. "The key issue facing the peace movement is how to keep those people engaged ... and we haven't had time to figure out how to do that yet."

"In this new phase right now, people are regrouping, because it's not really about stopping the war anymore, it's about exposing the brutality and human costs of the war and trying to stop the military occupation of Iraq," she said. "While everyone was unified in trying to stop the war, now there are a lot of different directions people can go. So ... the dwindling numbers are somewhat about people coming up with different focuses."

Bill Hackwell, a spokesman for the anti-war coalition International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), agreed "everyone is taking a deep breath right now, but that doesn't mean the movement is going away by any means."

New activists who flooded the streets early this year "are still there," he said. "They're just as committed and they're not going to stop now because of this change of events. What we have to do is to pull those people back who feel demoralized right now and say, 'Hey, it's all right -- that's the way history goes.'

"We know it's going to take a lot of work, but we're very confident," Hackwell added. "We want to rely on that tried-and-true method of building a movement. Anything significant that has ever come about in this country has been the result of mass movements, from civil rights to ending the Vietnam War."

Activists say there is plenty left to protest.

So far, 159 coalition troops -- 128 Americans and 31 British -- have died; at least 495 U.S. service people are wounded. Iraq has not released details of its military casualties, but U.S. military officials have reported thousands of Iraqi military deaths.

Abu Dhabi TV, quoting official Iraqi sources, reported last week that 1,252 Iraqi civilians had been killed and 5,103 wounded. American media say they've been unable to confirm those numbers. A London-based Web site called, which culls international news reports to create an online database of incidents in which Iraqi civilians have died, on Friday put the toll at between 1,642 and 1,904.

Iraq's water and power systems have been devastated, and its hospitals are hopelessly flooded with civilian and military wounded. Priceless treasures from the dawn of human civilization were destroyed or stolen as Baghdad's museums and libraries were ransacked during widespread looting and street violence. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has sternly warned Syria against harboring high-ranking Iraqi government officials or developing chemical weapons, neither of which have been found in Iraq so far.

Bay Area activists decry what they perceive as the White House's lack of concern for protecting Iraqi citizens' well-being, its threats against Syria and its advancement of U.S. business interests in the region.

Business interests

Those business interests have become flashpoints for anti-war activism. Protests have targeted the San Francisco headquarters of Bechtel Group, an international contracting giant now bidding to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure; the Port of Oakland facility of Stevedoring Services of America, a shipping concern under contract to operate the Iraqi port of Uum Qasr; and, on Monday, the San Ramon headquarters of ChevronTexaco, which protesters say will profit from Iraq's oil.

"We don't want to see the people of Iraq trade the tyranny of Saddam Hussein for the tyranny of American corporations," said Patrick Reinsborough, a Direct Action to Stop the War organizer. "No one is crying any tears for Saddam Hussein, but we want to make sure humanitarian aid and Iraqi self-determination is truly the attention and the Bush administration lives up to its rhetoric."

There may not be hundreds of thousands of people in the street, he said, but even a small number willing to be arrested while standing up for what they believe is right can "manage to draw the spotlight of public attention."

This is the anti-war movement's natural evolution, and not unexpected, he said: "This was never just about Iraq -- this is about America's role in the world."

Reinsborough is a longtime activist who has worked with groups such as the Rainforest Action Network on campaigns such as getting Home Depot to stop selling old-growth lumber products; decrying Occidental Petroleum's drilling on the land of Colombia's indigenous U'wa people, and a wide variety of efforts against corporate globalization.

Appeal to public

Getting Joe Public to see and act upon connections between the war and corporate globalization, labor rights, environmental protection and other issues is "always a struggle," he acknowledged.

"But I think most people understand these issues are connected. Our motto at Direct Action to Stop the War is 'Our diversity is our strength,'" he said, adding he that he couldn't even speak definitively on Direct Action's behalf because it's more a decentralized mobilization movement than an organization.

"The beauty of our structure ... is that it's not about us all agreeing, it's about us having a dialogue and working to stop injustice in the world," he said. "It's not a lowest common denominator, it's more of an umbrella ... a sort of space where people step beyond single-issue politics and start to see the connections between many different issues."

That's not easy, Hackwell agreed -- "That's why they call it a struggle. We don't have direct access to the media like the Bush administration does, so we're in a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people."

International A.N.S.W.E.R. -- knocked by critics for its Marxist underpinnings -- now believes "it's very important to give an orientation," he said. "We feel people may be confused and there may be an ebb."

So A.N.S.W.E.R. planned a teach-in on Saturday at San Francisco's Horace Mann Middle School that included informational sessions on U.S. foreign policy as well as strategy-planning sessions on where the anti-war movement goes from here. And United for Peace and Justice is planning a national teleconference along the same lines for sometime in May.

"The overall shooting has stopped but the occupation has just begun, and we feel this is just another form of warfare," Hackwell said. "Just because they won doesn't make it right. All the excuses, all the justifications they came up with are not what the war was really about, and we believe we need the anti-war movement more than ever before."

Contact Josh Richman at