As we approach the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion — which coincides with my fifth anniversary as city editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, for which I’m now starting my reporting for a cover story on the issue — here are a few of my thoughts:
What does it mean that it didn’t matter?
erupted against ’s invasion of Iraq, before and after it happened. Almost a million people filled our streets during several large protests leading up to the war. Much of the city was shut down on March 19, 2002, the first full day of war, and police arrested more than 1,000 people, including me.
Yet it meant nothing to the president, who had compared these massive street protests to focus groups, dismissing their importance completely. ’s political power structure reacted the same way – with a few noble exceptions – while gently condemning the protesters’ impact on business and the police budget. And Congress didn’t care.
It doesn’t matter that the protesters were right. On every major issue and prediction, the messages from the street proved correct while those from the White House were wrong. We weren’t welcomed as liberators. There were no WMDs. isn’t a stable democracy or shining beacon to anyone but the new generation of jihadis we created.
We had numbers on our side. It was the biggest protest in American history of an incipient war. We told our leaders not to do this while there was still time to back off. That should be our right in a democracy and it’s the reason why the framers of our constitution gave the decision to declare war to Congress.
But they didn’t listen.
We had eloquent speakers, insightful slogans, creative signs, and funny street theater, all sounding arguments and themes that were spot on right. People set their lives aside to make their opposition to the war understood, taking vacation time or even losing their jobs, facing violence and arrest and mistreatment in the name of a cause they believed in.
And it didn’t matter. What does it mean that it didn’t matter? What does it mean to democracy? What does it mean to those who protested? What will it mean to our future leaders? Does it create a likelihood of more wars? If the people are powerless to stop even an obviously doomed war, launched in our name without provocation, do we have any power?