Anti-war movement seeks allies

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Protesters shut down San Francisco on March 20, 2003.
Bill Hackwell

By Jobert Poblete

This Saturday (March 20) will mark the seventh anniversary of the Iraq war and local groups are mobilizing for another round of protests to oppose the occupation of Iraq and the expansion of the war into Afghanistan. But this year's program will also highlight local struggles as well, with speakers delving into the fight for more public education funding and the march passing by two hotels where union workers are in strained negotiations for a new contract.

The protest is being organized by ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – a coalition notorious for its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to protest. Besides its plugs for Iraq, Afghanistan, public education, and local labor struggles, flyers promoting Saturday's protest include demands around jobs, Palestine, Latin America, and Haiti. ANSWER organizer Chris Banks told us that these seemingly disparate issues are connected.

“There is a finite amount of resources in our society,” Banks said. “And if those resources are used on wars and to bail out banks, then we can't use them for schools, health care, and public transit. The wall between foreign policy and domestic policy is a fictitious wall.”

This year's protest will focus on the economic crisis and on “bailing out people instead of banks.” Students who helped organize the recent March 4 Day of Action are part of the coalition mobilizing for the Saturday protest and students and teachers will be among the speakers at the rally at Civic Center. Protest endorsers include the United Educators of San Francisco, a union that represents more than 6,000 public school employees. Dennis Kelly, president of UESF, told us that the protest “ties directly in with our concerns about the California state budget, that the priorities being set are the wrong priorities.”

The rally will be followed by a march that will pass by the Hilton and the Four Seasons, two hotels where members of Unite Here Local 2 are without a contract because of a negotiating impasse with management. The biggest point of contention between the hotels and union is over health care. (Union members currently pay $10 a month for family coverage but the hotels want to increase that to $200 a month.)

Israel Alvaran, a community organizer at Local 2, said that the health care issue provides a connective thread between the anti-war movement and his union's struggles. “We believe in stopping the wars in the Middle East,” Alvaran said. “They're driving the war economy that's preventing people at home from getting affordable health care, public education, programs for creating jobs and building the economy.”

Alvaran hopes the March 20 protest will help raise the visibility of hotel workers and show the hotel corporations that the union has broad community support. He also said that including workers' struggles in the protest is important because it exposes young activists joining the anti-war movement to labor and union issues.

Banks echoed this desire to raise public consciousness about local issues. “As much as possible, we want people to make the connection between local struggles and imperialist wars,” Banks said. “People go into political motion for different reasons. We want them to come out on March 20 and they'll have opportunities to hear speakers representing different movements.”

Saturday's protest will begin with a rally at Civic Center Plaza at 11 a.m. At noon, protesters will march through downtown San Francisco before returning to Civic Center.