Iraq War Fifth Anniversary Protest, San Francisco, March 19, 2008

Direct Inaction

The day's protest was essentially divided into two separate spheres: the first half of the day was to be composed of several "direct actions," while later in the day everyone would gather at Civic Center for a traditional rally and march. The activist group Direct Action to Stop the War identified dozens of downtown buildings that were to be targeted because they were occupied by corporations, organizations or individuals who were connected to the reconstruction effort in Iraq one way or another. Some of the connections seemed rather tenuous (some companies were targeted simply because they invested in other companies that had government contracts), while some of the supposed "war profiteers" were doing things like building schools and hospitals for Iraqis.

What is a "direct action," you may ask? Well, it's anything you want it to be: basically any sort of physical confrontation, ranging from blocking a doorway, to chaining yourself to a building, to invading and occupying an office, and on up to more violent actions if things get out of hand.

But, as it turned out, things didn't even get close to getting out of hand. In fact, they didn't seem to get in the hand in the first place. Altough there were apparently a few "successful" direct actions very early in the morning (around 7:30am), for the rest of the day the actions were more along the lines of inactions.

For example, this crew went to the Bechtel headquarters to pull off, well, something or other. But there were barricades and security guards preventing any sort of shenanigans, so the direct action consisted of standing around on the sidewalk for a few minutes and then wandering away.

A larger group of disaffected youth found themselves outside a skyscraper that had been identified as housing the offices of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that had contracts in Iraq. But once again, it was not clear what anyone was supposed to do, so despite the presence of a news crew looking for something to film, they had an ineffectual pow-wow and then drifted off in search of food.

This quartet of direct-actioners pretty much summed up how the whole thing went haywire: the sites being targeted were so numerous and so far-flung, and the coordination was so absent, that many otherwise willing revolutionaries found themselves meandering around at random, looking for an action to materialize. Which, of course, it never did.

The Israeli consulate was also one of the sites on the list, but they were ready ahead of time and had set up barricades and numerous guards to prevent anyone unauthorized from getting into the building. Here we see one of the Israeli consulate employees leaving the office; not a single protester in sight. (Though they might have made an appearance earlier in the day, for all I know.)

The Israeli guards were the most effective ones I saw all day: they didn't even want anyone taking pictures of the building, much less protesting in front of it. Dozens of barricades sat nearby, unneeded.

Often, the only indication that a frustrated direct-actioner had even made an appearance was a spray-painted message left on the sidewalk, such as this "War Profiteer" tag in front of the Chevron building.

ProtestShooter had some pictures from earlier in the day of the "snake marches" leading people to the direct actions, but they didn't seem much more effective than what I witnessed.

(Video courtesy of jackanape4)
Now here was far and away the most interesting and creative direct action of the entire day. Near Dianne Feinstein's office, a group of what looked like cult members dressed all in white and wearing white makeup stood in a circle and sang "Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh" in one long tone, to bring about an end to war. I'm quite sure it worked!

Another flopped direct action involved creating a faux-birthday cake to celebrate the fifth birthday of the war -- indicating how many people (including the widely discredited "1 million Iraqis") had died in the war. The cake was just standing in the middle of the sidewalk, ignored.

I ventured far afield to the military recruiting center on the Embarcadero, which was supposed to be one of the biggest sites for the most aggressive direct actions. But when I got there, only one guy was manning the protest -- and he said that he was the only one there all afternoon.
[UPDATE: I received the following email from "Berkeley Peacenik," who claims to be the person shown in this picture; I didn't personally witness any of what he describes, so I can't verify its accuracy, but I'll let him tell his version of the story in any case:
"I guess you left the area before other protestors arrived ... it wasn't pleasant ... a "black bloc" group showed up and started yelling at and insulting the lone police officer who was there, and I tried to defend him from their insults. Before leaving, they picked up a news rack and threw it at the police car, which I read in one report as being the only property damage that day. In the meantime, other protesters (peaceful ones) had begun to arrive, and a little while later someone dumped a bucket of water on us from a balcony several stories up. I asked two different police officers if they would investigate that: the first one simply refused, saying he only cared about the damage to the police car; the second one (the same guy who I'd stood up for when he was insulted by black bloc types) angrily told me that "of course he wouldn't" and that I was "stupid" to think he'd do anything about it."]

His warning to potential volunteers was, "What orders will you be given?", with the implication that American commanders routinely give orders to commit atrocities. But the examples shown were rather counter-productive, as neither of the incidents depicted had anything to do with the United States military. On the left was a scene from the infamous shooting incident at Kent State, which involved local members of the Ohio National Guard, not the U.S. military; and on the right was the famous photo of Kim Phuc, the little girl who was injured by napalm after a bombing by South Vietnamese troops, not American troops.

Facts? Who needs facts? It's the intent that counts.

[UPDATE: After this report was posted, I received the following email from someone claiming to be the person depicted in the photo above; I present it here to let him give his side of the story:

"I do care about 'facts,' and make every effort to speak truthfully and from a place of knowledge. Regarding your allegation:

I chose the 'napalm girl' photo knowing that it was a South Vietnamese pilot who dropped the bomb. The bombing was done in coordination with US forces, so it does represent a war casualty with American participation in the decision. I also knew that the National Guard was responsible for the Kent State shooting, but since the National Guard is being used so heavily in the Iraq War, I don't see the distinction you're trying to draw between them and the U.S. military. and no, the intent of my display is not to imply that 'American commanders routinely give orders to commit atrocities:' I believe that most members of the armed services (including the commanders) are honorable people doing their best to serve our country and the values it stands for. My signs are intended to provoke thinking by potential recruits."

On the other side was a book that was sure to convince any potential Marine to change his mind: Why Do People Hate America?

And, basically, that was it. The "direct actions" bombed, shall we say.

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