JUAN AND YUMI carefully wheeled their baby stroller through the huge
crowds that squeezed along San Francisco's Market Street to protest a war in
Iraq. Their 9-month-old baby slept soundly, unfazed by the cacophony of chants
that filled the air.
Unable to move forward, we soon struck up a conversation. "I can't vote,"
Yumi told me, "because I'm an illegal immigrant from Japan. So this is the way
I can protest an unjust war." Juan (who asked that I change their names), was
born in this country of Mexican parents. He is outraged by the Bush
administration's contempt for the rest of the world. "It's unconscionable not
to come out and demonstrate against this war. There is no immediate threat to
Brenda W., an African American social worker, jumped into the conversation.
She had never before attended any kind of protest. "If there's a war," she
said, "it's always poor people and minorities who fight. They're the ones who
need the social services that are disappearing. So I decided to give up my
Sunday and be counted."
These are some of the new faces in the global anti-war movement.
Last weekend, an embryonic global civil society began to raise its voice in
protest. In 600 cities, from New Zealand to Iceland, some 8 million people, on
six continents (seven, if you count Antarctica), said no to war. In Montreal,
protesters shivered as the temperature dropped to minus 34 degrees; in Sao
Paulo, they sweated under a scorching sun.
Interviewed by BBC and CNN reporters, protesters everywhere responded with
the same message: We are not anti-American; we are against Bush's pre-emptive
war. Saddam Hussein is a monstrous dictator, but arms inspectors are crawling
all over his country. We don't believe Bush cares about weapons of mass
destruction; he threatens to use them in Iraq and refuses to address North
Korea's nuclear threats.
In European cities, millions of our traditional allies poured into the
streets and said, with pride and defiance, Yes, we are Old Europe. Our land is
soaked with blood: we've known war, we've been bombed, and we want to prevent
the deaths of Iraqi civilians.
As I watched these global protests on television, I couldn't help but
remember the days and weeks that followed Sept. 11, 2001. I was in Norway when
the terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center's Twin Towers and
the Pentagon. The grief and sorrow expressed by Europeans were deeply moving.
In Oslo, families with children covered blocks surrounding the American
Embassy with heaps of flowers and mounds of toys. On a wire fence, they strung
notes to survivors, pledging support, expressing their solidarity with the
What a difference 17 months make. So much squandered goodwill. Today, tens
of millions of people view America as an arrogant bully. They distrust Bush's
unilateralist policies, dislike his cowboy swagger, suspect he seeks to
control Iraq's oil reserves and reject the leadership of an American
government that views international treaties and law with disdain.
"In only the space of two short years," Sen. Robert Byrd said on the Senate
floor on Feb. 12, "this reckless and arrogant administration has initiated
policies which may reap disastrous consequences for years."
Some of those consequences will undoubtedly transform the political
landscape. The prime ministers of Great Britain, Australia, Spain and Italy --
prominent members of Bush's "coalition of the willing" -- now ponder their
endangered political futures. In Turkey and Pakistan, elected leaders consider
the inconvenient fact that more than 90 percent of their citizens oppose this
Last weekend, in 300 cities across this great nation, people hoisted signs
that read "Pre-emptive Impeachment" and "Drop Bush, not Bombs." George W. Bush, too, may find his political world has changed.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle