A decade later, troubling questions about war and democracy remain

Guardian cover from March 2003.

Ten years ago, during my second week working here at the Guardian, San Franciscans rose up to protest the Iraq War and shut down the city. Five years ago, I revisited that moment and its impact on people's sense of democratic empowerment, writing this Maggie-award-winning essay. Today, on the anniversary of the start of that long war, it's hard to imagine a critical mass of San Franciscans being so organized and engaged with a cause larger than ourselves.

Listening to the segment about the anniversary on KQED's Forum this morning was sad and dispiriting, with disillusioned soldiers, bitter activists, and the survivors of the fallen still trying to make sense of the official lies that created such pointless death and destruction, and why nobody in power was ever called to account for their crimes.

Even as drone strikes continue to kill in our names with little oversight or meaningful review, we powerlessly twitter our days away. The latest technology boom has provided ever more tools to connect us, and yet it increasingly feels like we all live in bubbles of our creation, able to filter out anything that disturbs or displeases us. The mass media seems to be devolving into an endless array of echo chambers adorned with celebrity gossip and pet photos.

Could we rise up again today, over anything, the way we did after the bombing began on March 19, 2003? Do the people still have the power to shut the city down if we choose, with the nearly 2,000 arrests on the first full day of war barely putting a dent in a crowd in the streets approaching 100,000 committed souls?

And if the answer is no, then what kind of system are we now living under?


I'll leave aside the question of whether interfering with the lives of others is ever a legitimate goal anywau.

But I recall that day and managed to move about the town, getting my business done, without too much problem at all.

Americans really don't do protest. They can manage the odd one-off, like this or the ill-fated, short-lived Occupy 15 minutes. But Americans are too fat and happy to protest anything for more than about a minute. They'd rather chomp down on a double-cheeseburger and fries than risk getting a cold by doing what it takes to commit.

Iraq is ancient history for most Americans now. We came, we conquered and then we got the shit out of that hellhole. What's left to say?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

The US is still there and troops are still being killed there. The US also has a tremendously large Embassy there (the largest in the world). That's not leaving either.

The reason Iraq is a "shithole" is because the US made it a "shithole."

Iraq's pain has only intensified since 2003

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

Onshore bases and airfields sure beats carrier based assaults and flying all the way from Diego Garcia.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

"and the survivors of the FALLEN..."

Should read: "and the survivors of the DEAD/KILLED.." Call it what it is. No need to sanitize it or be so-called "poetic."

"The latest technology boom has provided ever more tools to connect us,"

"The latest technology boom has provided ever more tools to DISCONNECT us,"

People are not talking. They're texting. Texting has created silence between people and a disconnect. My partner says that people in his gym text to each other and they're sitting beside one another. They don't talk, they text. He says his gym is like a quiet library. People do a few reps and then immediately go back to texting. They are really there to text and not work-out. They are working out on their gadgets. Hardly anyone talks anymore.

"Could we rise up again today, over anything?"

NO. Most people don't have a clue what's going on nor do they care about anything. Bring up something important, they glaze over and start to yawn. There is also this mentality that since there is a "Democrat" in the White House, one cannot protest him because of party affiliation allegiance.

Thank you for the article.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

Everyone went about there business. The goofy left has visions of relevance.

The invasion of Iraq was utterly wrong of course. The goofy lefts response was to trumpet out the usual CPUSA non sense and Clinton Chronicle type conspiracy non sense.

I went to gulf war 1 protests and was dismayed by the crazy. Gulf war 2 was worse in real world terms, the crazy left upped the dose though and drove away those not bent towards mental illness.

The fringe moonbats will never appeal to the peasants who they claim to speak for while they make crazy.

Posted by matlock on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

Whaddya mean, you don't like hanging out after a march at an anti-war rally in Civic Center Plaza while the parade of leftists shrieks through trebly amplified PA's about how racist, sexist, homophobic and classist everyone else is and how everything is about Palestine, Palestine, Palestine?

What's there not to like?

Far be it for the International AnswerME! cadre to throw the ball into the court of "the people," suggest that they gather into circles, and discuss a series of topics while subdued world music set the calm tone in the background.

That would allow people to think for themselves, and the vanguard can't risk people having the wrong thoughts, can we?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 5:14 pm
Posted by Guest on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

It is not the SF left, it is the old skool left as a movement which is bankrupt.

That is a tragedy because public opinion from Occupy to the Tea Party is solidly against the perpetual war machines and Wall Street bailouts, yet public policy does not budge.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 6:29 pm

It's domestic wars they have a problem with.

But yes, either way, the left has splintered and failed, as it always does.

Posted by anon on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

outcome anyway.

Losing when you are a minority is understandable. Losing when you are a majority (allegedly anyway) is a massive giveaway of power.

What is your excuse for that failure?

Posted by anon on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

My side does not play to win.

When I tell them as much, they act as if I were you.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 7:21 pm

...and *not* center!... you should consider as comprised of individuals who don't neccessarily share your image of them; this "side" may not even want you, whether you agree to be keeping your self-image to yourself, or not.

I can think of one really good reason for this side to think that way, as a matter of fact.

The reason is that pure negativity will never accomplish anything. Its not to say that negativity is bad, per se, since you can't accomplish anything without it either, but too much negativity isn't good at all.

marcos, the fact is that you are almost unremittingly negative.

You will no doubt make another claim to the effect that I sound "like Obama criticizing Chavez" but it won't change the fact that pure negativity is not useful and cannot be made so.

Hmmmm... I'm put in mind of the crazy guy on his bike at a rally not too long ago. Big voice, plastic megaphone, riding around back and forth on Polk *screaming* at the top of his lungs about the killer cops, the CIA, wire tapping, the works -- all actually viable topics for discussion, but just not in that context.

He was disrupting the rally -- which was for Ross Mirkarimi -- and in effect making the people there in support of the sheriff look bad and muddying their message.... similar, eerily, to the "Palestine Awareness" protesters you found so troublesome at Internation Action Center protests against the attack on Iraq a decade ago.

Being involved as you've been in politics, marcos, you must have heard the slogan which goes something like "politics is the art of the possible?" How about the one about how politicians try to be all things to all people?

That last one is absolutely true and trying to make it otherwise is futile. Politicians will always attempt to fool people into thinking their personal interests are going to get served better than they likely will. Its a way to break them in to compromise positions they'd be unlikely to adopt unless they are "fait accomplis."

I think that while certainly every politician naturally has to be *expert* in this skill, it is just as necessary for activists and other leaders. Being unremittingly nasty is, like, the opposite trait.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

That's true, you're absolutely right.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 9:45 pm

That must make you feel very proud.

Posted by anon on Mar. 20, 2013 @ 6:06 am

That's true, you're absolutely right.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 20, 2013 @ 7:32 am

lillipublicans - we appreciate you fighting the good fight. Your words are powerful. Could we suggest that "the possible" is you possibly taking yourself less seriously and understanding that the SFASC seeks to combat stupidity through bringing in believers and not alienating them?

Not closed.

The REAL San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign

Posted by The REAL San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

For the second the protests were null. The stakes were much higher for the second war and there was barely a blip in comparison to the first.

You are correct, going to a protest and being hectored over the cross section of complaints was just ridiculous. Going to a anti-war protest to be blathered on about off topic ravings was stupid. These people had a platform of more than two dozen for the first time in their lives and they used it to display their angry conspiracy addled minds.

Posted by matlock on Mar. 19, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

Do you seriously for a nanosecond think that Andy Griffith was as vacuous as you are? Andy Griffith made "A Face in the Crowd."

Posted by Deli on Mar. 20, 2013 @ 1:42 am

Also from this author