MY 89-YEAR-OLD friend Alicia is angry because she can't march in San
Francisco this Saturday. All her life, she has fought for civil rights and
against unjust wars. Now, bound to a wheelchair, she is unable to walk. "If I
were well and young," she says, her voice rising in indignation, "I would be
there. So go tell all those young and able people that this war on Iraq is
Alicia is hardly alone in wanting to express her opposition to a possible
invasion of Iraq. The pope has called such a war "a defeat for humanity."
During the next week, anti-war demonstrations will take place in at least 23
countries, including Argentina, Canada, France, South Korea, Germany and
On Saturday, this country will witness two large "National Marches in
Washington, D.C., and San Francisco." The number of buses chartered by
communities from Maine to Texas suggest that more than 150,000 marchers will
descend on the nation's capitol for a peaceful march and rally against a war
In San Francisco, organizers say they are bracing for a huge crowd as well.
Buses will be arriving from as far as Canada and Idaho. "I'm bringing my
grandkids," says one friend. "There's no better way to teach them how to be a
citizen." She joins peace organizations, church groups and families with
children who will arrive Saturday and assemble for an 11 a.m. opening rally at
the foot of Market Street at the Embarcadero. Then they will march to Civic
Center Plaza for a closing rally with speakers and cultural performances.
Organizers chose this date because they believe it may be the last time
Americans can prevent, rather than protest, a war with Iraq.
But the day is also special because Monday commemorates the birthday of the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. For many civil rights and peace activists, the
march also honors the last year of King's life, when he broke his silence and
denounced the Vietnam War.
King rightly anticipated that all kinds of people would try to discredit
him for his anti-war position. "I came to the conclusion," he told a stunned
congregation at Riverside Church in New York City in 1967, "that there is an
existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself;
nobody else can speak for you."
There is never a good time to oppose your government, he told them. "On
some positions, cowardice asks the question, 'is it safe?' Expediency asks the
question, 'Is it politic?' And vanity comes along and asks the question, 'Is
it popular?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes
a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor
popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right."
I still remember hearing King denounce the war that year. As I stood with
other students at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza, I heard King worry that he might
be cast as a communist for opposing the war. But, he said, silence was far
more dangerous. "Those of us who love peace," he urged, "must organize as
effectively as the war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must
spread the propaganda of peace."
Like many other people, I rarely agree with the specific slogans or
politics of those who happen to organize large protest marches. After hearing
King speak that day, however, I realized that it's more important to oppose an
unjust war than remain silent.
I especially don't like to march under signs that express disrespect or
hatred for my country. It's my nation's policies -- not its ideals or people --against which I bear witness. And so, I listen to the sage advice offered by
one veteran peace activist: "Just bring your own sign."
For logistical information: www.internationalanswer.org.
denunciation of war: www.stanford.edu/group/King/about_king/encyclopedia/vietnam.htm
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle