San Francisco Bay area marks Iraq war anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO — The BART rapid transit system linked demonstrations throughout the Bay Area March 19 as peace activists marked the 6th anniversary of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq with a day of direct actions, memorial gatherings, leafleting and other creative activities.

The action started early, as commuters entering San Francisco’s Glen Park BART station were greeted by a memorial display of combat boots representing U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq, and fliers calling for shifting billions from the military to human needs programs as well as bringing all troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“A lot of people have died out of a false understanding of what security is, as if security can be brought by guns and bombs and killing people,” Wilson Riles Jr. of the American Friends Service Committee told a morning press conference at the station. He said a new definition of security must stress democracy, development, and building of opportunity for people around the world.

Siri Margerin of Bay Area United for Peace and Justice, the coalition organizing the actions, added, “It’s important for all of us, not just those who have served in the military or have family members serving, to stand up and take responsibility for what’s happening in our name around the world.”

Rachel Avila Normandy, whose son, Randy Normandy, was wounded in Iraq in 2004, soon after his 21st birthday, told the World greater concern is needed for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Statistics show that for every soldier killed in combat, 17 are wounded,” she said. “Sometimes I think the challenges they face are taken for granted.” She said her son, who suffered extensive burns, loss of vision in one eye and impaired vision in the other, experienced a significant wait before his traumatic brain injury was properly diagnosed.

“I’m glad President Obama plans to withdraw our troops from Iraq,” she said, “but at the same time they’re to be sent to Afghanistan. It’s a vicious cycle.”

Rather than building up Iraq’s civil society, U.S. occupying forces have turned the country into a war zone, said Iraqi journalist Salam Talib, who broadcasts for Pacifica Radio. “If you look at the map now in Baghdad,” he said, “you would think all these people are living in separate military camps.”

Expressing support for the president’s plans to remove troops from Iraq, Muhammad Abdullah, a member of Iraq Veterans against the War, called shifting troops to Afghanistan “a huge military blunder.” Abdullah added, “I think most people around the world are pretty rational. If people extend an olive branch, then people will probably offer a hand in return.”

Later in the day, Abdullah was among over two dozen protesters arrested during non-violent civil disobedience actions in downtown San Francisco. Also detained was Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 made public the “Pentagon Papers” revealing government decision-making during the Vietnam War.

Dozens of organizations participated in actions at over two dozen BART stations around the region. The day ended with a vigil at the display of crosses near the Lafayette station, and a town hall meeting at the headquarters of SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco.