San Francisco police arrested 1,400 people last Thursday at the war protests, but as I stood watching on the sidewalks, those getting hauled away with their hands bound by plastic zip ties only seemed a drop in the bucket.
The antiwar sentiment is strong here in the Bay Area- I hardly even know anybody who supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Why, then, does it seem like only a handful of my friends, family and acquaintances have attended any of the protests?
I myself have been ridden with guilt as I stayed home every Saturday for the last few months. Finally, the night bombs started dropping on Baghdad, I couldn’t take it anymore and found myself out on Market Street bright and early the next morning.
Personally, my reasons for not attending any protests before are not very good ones-they were basically a combination of apathy and a sense of powerlessness.
Mills student Phoenix Eve says that many people who share her antiwar stance have thanked her for being at the protests while they were not. She says, “They thank me but they should be out there themselves. They don’t realize the power of numbers.”
Other non-supporters of the war seem to simply not know what to do. An Oakland resident who preferred to remain anonymous told me, “If I was out there expressing how I really feel, I would be considered a terrorist myself. And ultimately, I don’t want that kind of violence perpetrated upon myself or anyone else. So instead, I just do nothing.”
Another Oakland resident named Ted feels that protests do not achieve the goals of the peace movement. “I was at the protests for the Gulf War back in 1991, and all it did was put more police on the street,” he said.
On Saturday night, I was in a club with a big group of friends where the news was being played all night on a large screen TV at the end of the bar.
This was met with all sorts of comments like “What’s the score?”
Finally, at one point, one of my friends asked the bartender if he might turn it off. A moment later, a man came up to that friend and told him he had a wife and three children in Baghdad. When he looked back at the television again, he could no longer fight the tears that started to stream down his face.
As I looked past him down the length of the bar, I could see two different groups of my friends watching the television over my shoulder, laughing and making cynical comments, and the whole scene appeared to me like a metaphor for the antiwar movement at large.
Muhammed, the man with the family in Iraq, said to me, “People here don’t know what it’s like to live in a place where there’s fighting all of the time. They have never had a war on their own soil.”
Although I don’t support the war, I don’t have a clear picture as to what we should all be doing to end it either. I do remember, though, something I learned studying U.S. history in 5th grade.
My teacher taught me that if the American people don’t like the way their government is being run, it is not only their right but their duty to change it. Now I see why such changes weren’t made a long time ago, and it’s not because the people are happy.