Peacemongers, get organized or stay home

Every progressive with a cause showed up at the Civic Center Plaza in downtown San Francisco. Raging Grannies, Socialists, Beats for Peace, Therapists for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Veterans for Peace, Educators for Peace and even, no kidding, Ex-Cons for Peace.

They marched not only for peace in Iraq, but for Cuba, for Palestine, for animal rights and fuel-efficient vehicles. They marched to free Mumia, to empower the Green Party and to rage against Franken-produce.

Someone handed me a sticker proclaiming that war is bad for all of Earth’s creatures, including baby seals.

One sign read: “Iraq-No! Darfur-Yes!” Another: “End the ban on smoking in bars.”

San Francisco’s ANSWER Coalition observed the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion with a parade on March 18. I was in the city for spring break, spending nights at a friend’s apartment about eight blocks from the rally’s start-point.

I thought I’d see how an anti-war march is done in the protest capital.

Lately Reno’s peace community seems a bit insular. A longtime activist recently told me he no longer feels like gathering weekly for peace vigils that attract only a handful of regulars.

Preaching to the zealots, fine. Gives people a sense of identity, sure. But it’s not bringing troops home.

How about useful, creative activism with a coherent, digestible message for those Americans who’ve lost their taste for war but aren’t ready to become vegan anarchists?

Looking for ideas, I hiked to the San Francisco rally, which looked, at first, like a craft fair. Booths lining the plaza offered bumper stickers and T-shirts and peace beads and prayer flags. I bought a stress-relieving “Smush Bush” for $6. The price included a pin with a picture of Bush and the slogan, “Like a rock, only dumber.”

An impressive turnout. Organizers said 25,000. An event this size makes national, even world headlines. Wouldn’t it have been nice, then, if someone had handed out, say, talking points? The theme of the event was supposed to be something clear: Bring the troops home.

Muddling this message were chants of “Free Palestine” from large numbers of protesters carrying Palestinian flags and wearing white scarves over their heads and faces. Great photo op—especially when juxtaposed with the clean-cut pro-Israel counter-protestors across the street. Separated by a line of armed cops with handy riot gear in tow.

No wonder Mom and Pop Red State Voter, catching the news before Wheel of Fortune, are confused about the anti-war movement. To them, in their comfy Midwestern universe, these activists look, at best, like nuts. At worst, well, they’ve deliberately dressed in a way that might identify them, in the simpler minds of 24 fans, with The Terrorists. Who strap bombs around themselves and blow up innocent women and children (unless Kiefer can stop them in time).

Yes, the Israel-Palestine conflict is related to Iraq. Indeed, it needs to be discussed. Americans need to be aware. This just ain’t the right forum. That’s bad marketing.

Other issues clouding the day: American Indian rights. Women’s rights. Off-shore drilling. One woman shouted about the need for the working class to unite against the capitalist oppressors. Long live socialism!

There’s a message that won’t get you far in South Dakota.

It’s a war. In Iraq. Dying soldiers. Dead civilians. Price tag to date: $236 billion and climbing. For what? Democracy? Take another look at the so-called “democracy” we’ve installed in Iraq.

That’s the message. Stick with it.

We all love baby seals. But this isn’t about their safe ocean habitat. It’s not about freeing Mumia or raising the salaries of teachers.

Be smart, you who work for peace. Tie it together for the folks at home.