On Saturday, in San Francisco, the morning was momentarily darkened by a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. After the sun re-emerged, thousands of grieving and grimly determined humans marched in peaceful solidarity on Market Street calling for “All Out for Gaza, No US Aid for Genocide”.
Organized by the San Francisco-based, youth-oriented Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Saturday’s demonstration was one of the largest anti-war protests in the Bay Area since a generation ago when hundreds of thousands repeatedly marched in opposition to the US attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan. National leaders ignored pleas for peace.
Saturday’s protest felt like a different breed of political animal from past protests on Market Street. This reporter has covered anti-war demonstrations in San Francisco since the mid-1980s, when protestor demographics were mostly white, youthful, radically exuberant, and prone to weirdly callous humors. In 1984, for example, the Revolutionary Communist Party herded a flock of totally terrified sheep to run bleating and pooping inside a Democratic Party national convention at the Moscone Center, making a rather obvious point while gaining international media attention in the many languages of laughter.
In subsequent decades, it was not uncommon in Market Street demos for advocates of nonviolence to brawl with window breaking anarchists, calmly watched by red flag-festooned vanguard party comrades trying to sell sectarian newspapers to potential revolutionaries, while police on horseback bashed heads at will, ignoring press passes.
But time passed, and capitalist imperialism remained strong in the homeland of the mighty dollar. While Black and Puerto Rican and La Raza radicals were sometimes imprisoned for political activities, the white radicals of San Francisco tended to buy houses and hold bureaucratic jobs; they slowly aged in place, whilst periodically marching down Market Street, shouting the same old cliched slogans, head hairs whitening as the once formidable size of demonstrations against US military atrocities dwindled and social media tweaking disempowered young and old alike.
But all was not lost. In the aftermath of the economic downturns of 2009, white youth organized the grassroots Occupy Wall Street, which grabbed headlines as it spread in self-governing encampments across the United States until it too withered away as stocks and bonds rebounded and the media moved on. But then! uprisings of inner-city-focused Black youth spotlighting officially sanctioned, genocide-lite murders by police gave birth to Black Lives Matter, which, for a while, revitalized the US’s domestic political scene, and made room for the Me Too phenomenon.
Backlash was inevitable. White male media monsters and worried establishment-supporting academics evolved a clever combination of overt and tacit anti-feminist, white supremacist, and backwards-looking “anti-wokeness” hysteria which has served to smother many of the human-oriented political gains of the last century, as public sanity is eaten alive by Tik Tok and Ron DeSantis.
Saturday in San Francisco was a new development. The thousands of protestors were youthful, they were clearly middle class, educated, sad, appalled, nonviolent, and mad—and they spoke the G word, loudly and unapologetically.
Since World War Two, “genocide” has been powerfully branded as applying only to the Holocaust, the industrial extermination of millions of European Jews by capitalism on steroids: fascism. But let us not forget that the racially radicalized German people were also complicit as the Nazis leaders gassed Roma people, Communists, labor organizers, gay and lesbian people, and other dissidents from the populist programs of National Socialism. This can happen anywhere, it seems.
The settler state of Israel was established by avowed terrorist leaders combating the British Army in the aftermath of a global war which had harvested 50 million lives. And the newly coined phrase “genocide” was reserved by the academicians studying it as mainly applying to the Holocaust, even though the modern era encompasses forms of genocide in North America, Armenia, China, Russia, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Indonesia, Congo, Biafra, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Occupied West Bank and Gaza.
To be clear: Hamas is bad. Although only democratically elected to govern Gaza way back in 2006, its leaders are cynically using two million Gazans as pawns in an intensely complicated power struggle waged between the leaders of Hamas, Israel, the Palestinian National Authority, Hezbollah, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Lebanon, and the United States, to name but a few of the interested parties. None of these entities appears to be interested in making significant multilateral concessions to try and establish a genuine peace in the Middle East.
Who wins from 70 years of this chaos? Arms dealers such as Lockheed, Raytheon, Elbit Systems, and the corporate think tanks who love them, such as Center for a New American Security.
So, yes, down with Hamas, but up with the people of Gaza—and down with the technocratic phrase “collateral damage” by which exploded children are turned into political vapor. On Saturday, the keynote speakers, who were Palestinians and a representative of A Jewish Voice for Peace, did not mention Hamas, much less endorse Hamas, nor did they mention the Israeli dead, who have many mourners. Eschewing the hateful binaries that poison so much discussion of the Middle East, the speakers on Saturday urged the demonstrators to raise voices to the heavens to try and stop US-backed Israel from collectively punishing the people of Gaza, turning two million souls into collateral damage.
The United Nations is begging for a ceasefire, and, on Saturday, tens of thousands of people around the world marched, calling for peace, or at least military restraint, as they did in San Francisco. Will world opinion count for more this time than it did in 2003?
We can hope so, although Joe Biden is buying more weapons for Israel which already possesses the world’s most advanced armaments, including nuclear bombs. Seymour Hersh and others are reporting that the Israeli plan is to obliterate all buildings and life in the northern half of Gaza with extraordinarily deadly explosive power “Made in America” as soon as the ultra-right wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, gets the nod from Biden. Survivors of the blitz will be incarcerated in camps yet to be built; the solution is framed as a final end to Hamas, according to recent reports.
Our leaders are failing to rise to the occasion, failing to hear the international people’s voices objecting to the past, present, and future extermination of Palestinian people. For example, Marin and Sonoma Rep. Jared Huffman has issued a statement, concluding, “While I urge Israel to do everything possible to avoid and minimize the loss of innocent Palestinian lives, there will surely be collateral damage. Hamas has blood on its hands for these deaths too. … Their sworn objective is to kill jews [sic] and wipe Israel off the map. I stand with Israel against that threat.”
If in the coming days, Gaza is bombed and leveled like the Warsaw Ghetto was in 1943 after the Jewish people blockaded in the city rose up against brutal Nazis occupiers, will our leaders acknowledge the blood on their hands, too? As a placard carried by a young woman at the Saturday protest asked, “What Happened to Never Again?”
UPDATE: On Monday, Oct. 16, 13 progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a resolution calling for an “immediate deescalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.” None of the signatories are from the Bay Area.