March 18, 2008


On Sunday, I spoke at an event organized by a coalition of peace groups marking the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It’s the kind of event I like doing: no fuss, no muss, all I had to do was walk a few blocks to the Unitarian Universalist church over on Franklin Street. It was a beautiful spring day, and, although the program wouldn’t start until 5 in the evening, it was still light, and warm (warm, that is, for San Francisco) as I set out on my way. Hand-holding couples ambled down the sidewalks, window-shopping, luxuriating in the change of season, and there was a holiday feel in the streets. I wondered: how many people are going to give up such a lazy Sunday evening to attend a political event?

As I approached the cross-streets of Franklin and Geary, I could see the crowd spilling onto the church steps, their signs “Out Now!” and “Cindy for Congress” giving the whole scene a festive air. Trotskyites waved their newspapers at me, and thrust leaflets into my hands as I entered the hall, which was filled with people—the church was already more than half full, and it was a very big room. They soon ran out of seats, and people stood in the aisles. I estimated the crowd at close to 1,000. Perhaps that was due, I thought, to the publicity for the event, which had headlined the presence of Sean Penn, who I believe is some sort of actor.

Being a speaker, I got to sit in the front row, angled between Dan Ellsberg—an old friend—and Matt Gonzalez, the former president of San Francisco’s board of supervisors who very narrowly missed getting elected Mayor, and the only guy in the room wearing a suit. I looked around for Sean Penn, or somebody who just might be Sean Penn, but saw nobody fitting that description. (He never showed).

Go here for Matt Gonzalez’s speech, which was thoughtful, and radical. Yet I wondered at the dichotomy he drew between the moral and economic arguments against the invasion and conquest of Iraq: as the Iraq Recession sets in, and people lose their homes, their jobs, and their hopes, is this any less immoral—and consequential—than the carnage we are wreaking in Iraq? Well, yes, it is, but it is only a matter of degrees of coercion. And what about the poor—don’t they suffer the most?

Go here for Cindy Sheehan: Cindy’s hated by the neocons, but I like her—- and not just because of that. Keep in mind, watching the video, that she’s running for Congress as an independent, against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: here is a natural politician in action. Notice how she starts out by thanking all the people who made the event possible: always buck up the base. Her mastery of emotion and rhetoric, her evocation of Palm Sunday—a poetic touch. This, added to her tears—it was the anniversary of her son’t death—topped off her riveting performance. As far as the ideological content of the speech is concerned, Her praise for Ron Paul before this solidly leftist crowd speaks for itself.

My good friend Dan Ellsberg gave the best speech, in terms of analysis: but then again, that’s to be expected. ,Here is Joe Wheeler, a veteran of the Iraq war: what he said shocked me, just as it will shock you.

Here is my speech—which, I hope, will satisfy those who say I’m going soft for Barack Obama.


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