San Francisco, CA Over 500 Bay Area residents marked the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq by taking direct action at the headquarters of the Bechtel corporation to protest their exploitation of the Iraqi people and misuse of U.S. tax dollars. Two marches converged on Bechtel's offices, one led by teachers holding a banner reading "Education Not Occupation," and one led by healthcare workers marching with banners reading "Healthcare not Warfare" and "Democracy Not Empire". The march was flanked by a marching band, yogis for peace, colorful puppets, cyclists, and banners protesting the US occupation of Iraq. While the crowd occupied the street, several dozen people engaged in civil disobedience by blocking the entrances to the building. By noon over twenty-five people had been arrested. The actions were organized by local grassroots mobilization Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) and will be among the first of hundreds of anti-war actions happening this weekend in 250 U.S. cities and over 50 countries.
Kate Raphael, a Bay area resident who recently returned from Iraq, explained why people were confronting Bechtel. "Bechtel has used its close ties to the Bush administration to get $3 billion worth of contracts to repair water systems and schools but I was recently in Iraq and I saw children playing in sewage and schools with crumbling walls. Bechtel executives are getting rich while people in Iraq continue to suffer and die. What Bush calls reconstruction is really a corporate invasion that's auctioning off Iraq's resources to the highest bidder."
Affinity groups involved with DASW also occupied an abandoned building to highlight the impacts of the escalating military budgets on Bay Area communities. "Why are we spending billions to illegally occupy Iraq when there isn't even enough affordable housing in our communities? Teachers are getting pink slips and our hospitals are under funded while more and more money is directed to Bush's policies of permanent war and empire-building," said Victoria Welle a San Francisco hospital worker.
Last year, DASW coordinated the largest and most consistently visible direct actions against the war inside the U.S. On March 20th, 2003 an estimated 20,000 people engaged in civil disobedience which shut down the San Francisco Financial District. In the following three days over 2,300 Bay area residents from all walks of life were arrested for protesting the invasion. Throughout the spring, DASW's direct action campaign continued with mass actions at the offices of war profiteering corporations like SSA, APL, Chevron-Texaco, Lockheed Martin and Bechtel.
The anniversary of the invasion comes as the Bush administration struggles to answer difficult questions about their motivations for a costly and unjust foreign policy. The fact that no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, or links between Saddam Hussein's government and 9-11, has been found has led to a sharp drop in Bush's public approval. "The Bush Administration lied to the American public and took our country to war under false pretenses. A government that lies is not a democracy. We need grassroots action to show the world Americans stand with them in opposing Bush's lawless warmongering," said Raeanne Young, a student at Mills College in Oakland.
Direct Action to Stop the War is a community-based mobilization organized through decentralized affinity groups and a directly democratic spokescouncil. The actions on March 19th will be the West coast kick-off of a "Beyond Voting: Democracy versus Empire" campaign to challenge the Bush administration's policies of empire-building, permanent war and domestic cut backs with grassroots mobilization for a real democracy.