With a somber, almost resigned tone as the nation edges closer to war with Iraq, tens of thousands of anti-war demonstrators
marched through San Francisco on Saturday in what could be the last big peace rally before a U.S. attack.
The city's fourth large-scale demonstration in five months coincided with similar events in Washington, D.C., and around
the globe and came one day before President Bush and the leaders of Britain and Spain were to meet in the Azores islands to
discuss what the White House called "diplomatic options."
The main demonstration was peaceful, but as has occurred at past rallies, a black-clad, anarchist-led group marched from
Jefferson Square in the Western Addition to Ninth and Mission streets and through downtown. Police arrested 157 people, most
for blocking traffic near Fourth and Market streets, and detained about 65 more.
But the splinter group's antics were out of step with the vast majority of demonstrators, many of whom were committed to
peaceful tactics. Dozens of protesters attended nonviolent civil disobedience training classes in Jefferson Square, where
speakers urged them to walk out of work at the outbreak of war.
"I would expect people to pour into the streets if bombs start dropping," Colette Mercier said as she coached activists
on civil disobedience tactics.
Organizers say the anti-war movement is evolving from "protest to resistance" as hope dims for a peaceful resolution in
"It seems this war was a foregone conclusion a year ago," actor and activist Martin Sheen told the crowd
gathered at Jefferson Square under sunny skies that defied stormy forecasts.
Before he took the stage, the devoutly Christian star of the award-winning TV drama "West Wing" told The
Chronicle, "At this point, there is only one thing we can do: Fall on our knees and pray. We need help from a higher power."
Police declined to estimate the size of the crowd, but organizers placed it at 100,000. A Chronicle reporter estimated
that 40,000 marchers passed Octavia and Hayes streets in about two hours. Taking into account other marchers who joined the
protest at different times and locations, the total for the day could range from 48,000 to 60,000 people.
While the protesters offered an array of arguments against attacking Iraq, one clear sentiment emerged: Peace activists
are frustrated that their own government seems to have tuned them out.