Antiwar Demonstration in San Francisco
by Nancy Stark

On June 5, I attended an antiwar rally at Dolores Park in San Francisco, called by the Emergency Mobilization to Stop the War, with two old friends. We were so disheartened by the poor quality of the first few speeches that we left within a half hour. I'm moved to contribute to Swans the following comment and question:

As we sat on our picnic blanket on the hillside in Dolores Park, watching marchers come up 18th Street into the park and munching on apples and crackers, initially we felt excitement at seeing almost 1000 people mobilized. Some carried a big Clinton puppet with long arms flapping, sidling along in the breeze in a Clintonesque manner. Some militant folks from LA (who told us they'd had almost 70 demonstrations there in almost 70 days) had by far the most clever poster -- a glossy picture of Madeleine Albright peering over bright red glasses pushed down on her nose that was titled "Murder She Wrote." There's some liveliness here in the left, we thought at first!

But Serbian flags? Serbian flags! It reminds me of some people I used to know who paraded through the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, a mighty conservative white working class town in the late '60's, carrying the NLF flag and chanting, "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win." Does anyone else of my vintage (late 40's) remember those days? We were kids then, arrogant, and with little sense of the history of the left in this country, and our mood was amenable to taunting the citizens of towns like Lowell, and thumbing our noses at them.

But it's thirty years later now, and we're not youngsters without much sense of historical continuity. We can't afford not to be media savvy. Has the left learned nothing? Is it impossible to have some nuance in our positions? Can I go to a demonstration and feel comfortable protesing NATO's bombing without being mistaken for someone who is uncritically and one-sidedly and stridently pro-Serbia in the bargain? Apparently not. My two old friends and I looked at each other, our initial excitement soured, packed up our stuff and got ourselves out of there. It was just too depressing to stay and hear more. I for one, don't feel inclined to go to another antiwar demonstration again for awhile.

Thanks for this forum to let me sound off.

Dear Nancy,

You're most welcome.

I've never been a fan of antiwar demonstrations--truth is I am never confortable in a large group. Masses frighten me. I guess I am kind of a chicken!

I understand your sourness about the flagrant pro-Serbian bias of those demonstrations. In those moments in life when shattering events bring antagonisms to the fore, views and opinions rapidly tend to be expressed in black and white. So, if one side is considered "wrong"--the NATO blatant invasion of a sovereign country, a parliamentarian democracy--then the other side must be "right". Nothing unusual in such a behavior. It simply misses the complexity of the issue.

It is also true that the Serbian people have been demonized for almost a decade now, accused of all sort of "ethnic cleansing" and killing (the fact remains that the largest "ethnic cleansing" in the 90ies and in the Balkans was done by Croatia against Serbs. This is a fact). So, perhaps, to the defence of those waging the Serbian flag, they were answering that recurring demonization by showing off pride and honor in their ancestry and their culture. Does not make it right (or wrong for that matter) but it may help understand the deepness of their feelings.

I am not sure that those demonstrations should be politically labeled as either "left" or "right". Indeed, this conflict made some real strange bedfellows, such as Susan Sontag, the armchair representative of the East Coast liberal elite, and Pat Buchanan, the populist and isolationist conservative. This war has essentially been ignored by the citizenry (no body bags) except for a loud minority that went far beyond the traditional political cleavages (by the way, I consider those cleavages as obsolete as steam engines...).

Finally, one last thought in answer to your challenging essay: I feel that the Internet played a much more important role than those antiwar demonstrations did. For the first time in history a war was "played" at Internet speed and news mushroomed on the Web that could not be controlled by the respective Western governments and their official media outlets ("Officialdom"). Expect to see an increased effort from the powers that be to censor the Net.



Published June 20, 1999
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