San Francisco was the epicenter of the failed movement to prevent the Iraq War -- but the movement that emerged here may still change the country
Like most Northern Californians who opposed the war, I came to San Francisco on Jan. 18 to make my voice heard and experienced a bit of serendipity on my way to Justin Herman Plaza: while reading the Guardian on Muni, I saw their advertisement for a city editor, a job that was ideal for me at a paper I've always loved. Needless to say, it was a great day, empowering and full of possibilities.
Less than two months later I was on the job, and on the second week of that job I was back on the turbulent streets of San Francisco, part of a Guardian team covering the eruption of this city on the first full day of war. When I stepped off the cable car just after 7 a.m., people were streaming up Market Street and I joined them.
When a large group stopped at the intersection of Market and Beale, I stopped too, taking notes and bearing witness to this historic, exciting event. I had a press pass issued by the California Highway Patrol that allowed me to cross police lines, so when police in riot gear surrounded us and threatened arrest, I held my ground with 100 or so protesters.
After interviewing about a dozen people about why they were there and that they hoped to accomplish (see "On the bus: Journalists, lawyers, four-year-olds — the cops were ready to bust anyone Thursday morning"), I was arrested with the others and taken to a makeshift jail and processing center at Pier 27 (no charges were filed in my case, and charges against all of the 2,300 people arrested here in those first few days of the war were later dropped).
I recently tracked down a few of the people who appeared in my article, including Daphne and Ross Miller, who were at the center of the most interesting drama to play out during our standoff with the police. She's a family practice physician, he's an architect, and they live in Diamond Heights with their two children, Emet, who is almost 9, and Arlen, 12, who was away on vacation when the war began.
"We were genuinely shocked that the war started," Ross told me. "We were at some of the earlier protests and really thought there was no way [Bush] could do it."
They woke up March 20, 2003, to news that the war had begun and immediately walked to the BART station with Emet and rode to the Embarcadero station, not really planning for the day ahead but just knowing that they had to make themselves heard.
"We were pissed as hell. I don't think I've ever been so angry in my life," Daphne said.
They quickly came up with a plan. "We basically decided that if anyone was going to be arrested, it was going to be Ross and I'd stay with Emet. But it didn't end up that way and I ended up in the arrest circle."
Daphne had their house keys and threw them over the police line to Ross at one point. A photographer in the circle had gotten shots of a man named Roman Fliegel being roughed up by police as they pulled him off his bicycle, which was towing a trailer with a sound system, and decided to throw his backpack with camera gear out as well. When Ross — who had four-year-old Emet on his shoulders — caught it and refused police orders to give it to them, police grabbed Emet and roughly arrested Ross, leaving a gash on his forehead.
"Rage surged through the crowd, and it seemed as if things might get ugly, but the police kept a tight lid on the situation, using their clubs to shove back protesters who had moved forward," I wrote at the time.
Emet was delivered into the circle with Daphne as the arrests continued, many quite rough. "At that point, as a mom, I had to exercise the most restraint ever," said Daphne, who was angry about the situation but fearful about what she was exposing her son to. "Please, don't let any violence happen here," she pleaded with the crowd. Eventually, commanders on the scene let the mother and child go.