Even as the image of soldiers toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein seemingly heralded the end of the American invasion of Iraq, Santa Barbarans opposed to the war protested for the 30th consecutive week.
About 200 people gathered in Veracruz Park on Saturday morning to denounce the American military involvement in Iraq, according to estimates from the Santa Barbara police. The protest was in conjunction with International Day of Protest, an observance organized by the anti-war group Not In Our Name. Although attendance has dwindled in comparison to that of the protests before the war began, John Tieber, executive director of Santa Barbara’s chapter of Not In Our Name, said the gathering will continue.
“It’s important that people keep seeing us out there,” Tieber said. “We need to focus now on education, getting people to know what the reasons are for what’s being done.”
Tieber said between 500 and 900 people have been attending the regular Saturday protests. Saturday’s crowd carried signs bearing slogans like “End Colonialism,” “I grieve for America” and “What kind of God would bless America?”
“This [was] excellent, a really good turnout,” he said. “The protest effort is still going on.
He also said a mock funeral procession by local anti-war group ARISE was powerful. The processions consisted of about 30 people – many of whom high school or college-aged – dressed in black and carrying coffins. The group also read names of people who died in the war, including Americans, British and Iraqis.
Helen Theung, a sophomore political science and global studies major, said she walked in the procession to remind people of these deaths.
“Essentially, this is a funeral,” she said. “We’re a procession to mourn past, present and future victims of the United States Empire.”
Theung said public reaction to the procession was often negative.
“People were shouting things like, ‘You people suck!’ and ‘You look ridiculous,’ and ‘Remember 9/11’ and ‘Bush rules,'” she said. “Hearing all those names and numbers of casualties, I started to tear up. Some of the people in the procession did too. … People can say what they want in support or against the war, but no one can deny that innocent lives are being taken on both sides of the battleground.”
A speaker at the protest told those marching down State Street to maintain a peaceful attitude despite such objections.
Just across the street from the protest’s meeting point was the weekly downtown farmer’s market, where some people said they felt the protesters’ efforts were ineffective. Bea Brierton, a Santa Barbara resident and UCSB graduate who sold blueberries at the market, said those objecting to the war should reconsider the plight of Iraqi people.
“We just don’t realize the atrocities that go on there,” Brierton said. “We should have done this a long time ago. We need to be protecting freedom in other countries or we will lose the freedom we take for granted.”
The protesters should look at the ways the war could help people, Brierton said, including providing Iraqis basic human rights they were previously denied and helping the United States’ economy.
“War has always pushed our economy. It sure hasn’t put a dent in it today,” Brierton said, motioning to the few packs of blueberries not yet purchased by customers.
Brierton said youth has blinded many of the teenagers and young adults in the march from understanding the full implications of war. She did not fully understand the Vietnam War, she said, when she was attending UCSB.
“I didn’t understand it all when I was younger, and they don’t really now,” Brierton said.
Many of the protesters who attended the protest had witnessed previous American conflicts. Santa Barbara resident Charity Gourley said protesting gave her a way to vent her anger with the war.
“I don’t think war can solve any problems. It’s a sign of failure,” Gourley said. “I have two reasons for being out here. For one, I feel I have to do something. And [secondly] by being here, I hope I can get somebody else to think about what’s going on.”
Some of those at the protest agreed that both side of the issue had valid points. Santa Barbara resident Sam Tanksley sold buttons bearing both peace symbols and the slogan “Support the Troops.” He said few stores downtown sell the buttons.
“This is a war I don’t think we should have gotten involved in. The U.S. cannot heal the ills of the countries in the world,” Tanksley said. “But as it happens, I have family over there. They’re doing what they’re trained to do, but soldiers don’t want to go over there to kill and die.”
Tanksley also said he felt some guilt by selling such a product during wartime.
“It’s kind of like selling marshmallows while your neighbor’s house is on fire,” he said. “I don’t make much of a profit off them, though. It’s basically about getting the buttons into the hands of the people of Santa Barbara.”
Tieber said whether the message of the protest changes from stopping the war to teaching people what he said are the war’s true motives and costs, the protests are far from over.
“People will keep coming out here and protesting,” Tieber said.