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Thousands march against the war in S.F., across the country


By Jim Doyle, Susan Sward, San Francisco Chronicle

On cue from a bullhorn's blast, thousands of protesters fell to the pavement on Market Street in a symbolic "die-in" Saturday as part of a coordinated protest staged in cities across the country against the war in Iraq.

For three minutes the demonstrators lay on the pavement, representing what organizers said were more than 1 million Iraqis killed since the war began in 2003. The protesters then resumed their march from San Francisco's Civic Center to Dolores Park.

March organizers put their number at 30,000 - old, young, workers, students, religious leaders. Police declined to give a formal estimate, but onlookers said the demonstrators definitely numbered more than 10,000. They filled up Market Street for several blocks, shouting that U.S. troops should be brought home and carrying banners decrying the war.

At the head of the marchers was a band of Native American drummers who pounded a steady beat as protesters chanted, "No more war!"

Before the march began, demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall to hear speakers berate the Bush administration and call on Americans to stand up against the war. Organizers said part of the reason for staging this protest was to mark that it is now five years since Congress voted to authorize the use of U.S. force in Iraq.

"Silence shows compliance," Nicole Davis, a leader of the Campus Anti-War Network group, told the crowd at the San Francisco event, which was organized by the Oct. 27th Coalition of several groups, including ANSWER - Act Now To Stop War and End Racism. "If you disagree with this war," she added, "it is your duty to stand up and let the world know."

Sarah Sloan, an ANSWER spokeswoman, said her group estimated the size of the crowd "based on the number of blocks - about seven - that the march takes up and the density of the crowd."

In New York, thousands demonstrated in the rain, marching to Foley Square. In Chicago, thousands of protesters gathered at Union Park and marched to the Federal Plaza. Organizers said anti-war rallies, sponsored nationally by a coalition of groups headed by United for Peace & Justice, also took place in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Jonesborough, Tenn., Philadelphia, Orlando, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston and other cities around the country.

"It would be one thing if it were just San Francisco, but it's not," Jim Haber, a Bay Area chapter representative of United for Peace & Justice, told The Chronicle.

"We've helped organizers mobilize their communities in places like Jonesborough, Tenn., and Salt Lake City, which you don't typically associate with anti-war demonstrations. This underscores the broad opposition to the war in Iraq."

At Dolores Park, hundreds of black boots were placed in rows on a hillside in memory of the U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq. A tag bearing the name of a dead soldier was attached to each pair of boots, and many of the boots had daisies and other flowers placed in them.

At the park, demonstrators listened to an array of speakers, including American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks and anti-war activist and congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan. She asked people to vote for her instead of her opponent, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in 2008.

Banks told his audience: "As I look out over this crowd, I see many young people. That gives me great hope." He recalled that it was the young - many of them students - during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s who took to the streets to pressure the United States to end that war.

Anne Roesler, of the group Military Families Speak Out, said her son was a U.S. soldier who had been deployed to Iraq three times and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. "This is Congress' war," she said. "They have the blood of this war on their hands - they are building their political careers with the blood of our loved ones and Iraqis."

Clarence Thomas, past secretary-treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10, said, "We have to take a lesson from the civil rights movement. We have to wake up and understand we are all in this together."

In the throng of San Francisco demonstrators was a trio of Code Pink members, including one attired as the Statue of Liberty, who belted out, "I am going to sing until the world is free, down by the riverside." One group, the Raging Grannies, entertained the crowd with protest lyrics sung to classic songs such as "Anchors Away."

Labor groups made a special effort to get their members to turn out, with hundreds of workers showing up - among them sign installers, teachers, roofers, nurses, security guards and communication workers.

Sharon Cornu, secretary-treasurer Central Labor Council of Alameda County, said it would be the first time that seven Bay Area labor councils - San Francisco, Monterey Bay, North Bay, South Bay, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda - worked together to urge members to attend the protest.

Although Bay Area labor groups have been involved in earlier protests against the war, Cornu said, this was the biggest effort yet. "More and more union members are seeing the war's impact on our schools, transportation and health care systems because money is being spent abroad that could be spent at home," Cornu added.

"We are working people - we make things in this country, and we want to be heard," said Oakland roofer Leroy Cisneros, echoing Cornu's words about the pressing need for expenditures on education and health care.

Wendy Bloom, a nurse from Children's Hospital in Oakland, said, "Our priorities are distorted. We are spending billions on an unnecessary war instead of health care."

In the days before the protest, organizers used anti-war videos on the Internet to encourage participation in the rallies across the country. One video was a two-minute short by the Brave New Foundation in Culver City that invited viewers to be part of something "huge and meaningful."

Another two-minute video, "Confront the War President," featured a series of wrenching images of the Iraq war's dead and dying, grieving relatives and the wounded. It included film clips of President Bush in interviews - one in 2006 saying, "To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong," and another in 2004 stating: "I am a war president. I make policy decisions here in the Oval Office on foreign policy matters with war on my mind."

Chronicle news services contributed to this report. E-mail the writers at jdoyle@sfchronicle.com and ssward@sfchronicle.com.

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