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Global Protest, New World Politics
Published on Thursday, February 20, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Global Protest, New World Politics
by Ruth Rosen
 

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 our country."

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 American people.

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 war.

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

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