Friday, March 30, Fremont CA: Outraged by the March 11 massacre of 17 villagers in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, people took to the streets of Fremont, California in a bold anti-war march and direct action that shut down the local Armed Forces Career Center (recruitment office) for the afternoon.
Fremont, an affluent suburb south of Oakland, is home to the largest Afghan community in the U.S. There’s been no anti-war protest there for as long as anyone can remember, either by Afghans or anyone else. But last fall, a few dozen Afghans held a community peace walk and vigil against the U.S. war and occupation of their homeland on its tenth anniversary. Now the Kandahar massacre has electrified new outrage, with emergency anti-war vigils initiated by Afghans for Peace spreading to 15 cities.* On March 17 a public rally in downtown Fremont drew 200 people from the wider Afghan community to denounce the massacre and although political views from the stage were mixed, the war itself was powerfully denounced by young members of Afghans for Peace, and others.
Friday’s march to the military recruiters’ station was called by Afghans for Peace along with the Bay Area chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and others including World Can’t Wait, Occupy Oakland and Courage to Resist. Gathering at the BART (subway) station, over 100 people formed up to march. Many were Fremont area residents, including Afghans and Afghan-Americans who were mainly young, with a few elders joining them. High school students rushed over from their school. Occupy Oakland brought an indomitable spirit and a live-streaming team. Occupy Fremont showed up too, along with other South Bay activists.
We arrived at the recruiting station (located in a large outdoor shopping mall) to find it closed and dark. We pounded on the doors of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Nobody was home. We couldn’t tell if they’d locked up for the day to avoid us, or if they’d return once we left. So we declared a day’s victory – nobody recruited today! – and began a long rally, passing a bullhorn round for heartfelt statements and testimonies.
We took off on an impromptu march toward Fremont’s Little Kabul, flowing into the street, stretching our numbers to fill the wide boulevard so no cars could pass. Our numbers grew to 150 as traffic backed up behind us. “1, 2, 3, 4 – We don’t want your racist war! 5, 6, 7, 8 – Stop the Killing! Stop the Hate!” “End the Occupation – NOW!” “Murder, Rape, Torture, War – That’s What They’re Recruiting For!” “Whose streets? Our Streets!”
And a new chant went up too: “Justice for Afghanistan! Justice for Trayvon!”
Behind the Afghans for Peace banner marched young and elder Afghans, religious and secular. A solemn, beautiful set of signs bore the names of the massacre victims, and posters of the names were carried and worn. Women in hejab holding bold signs walked next to high school students and Occupiers in leather jackets, face paint, and stickers. Vets in IVAW shirts and Vietnam vets marched together. Orange “No Torture” ribbons were everywhere. World Can’t Wait’s T-shirts with Bush and Obama mug shots declared “Crimes are Crimes No Matter Who Does Them.” Many helped carry World Can’t Wait’s banners: “Stop the Criminal U.S. War in Afghanistan NOW” (in English, Pashto and Dari) and “The Richest Country In the World Is Destroying One of the Poorest…NOT IN OUR NAME!”
Caught off guard, the police quickly moved in: a motorcycle squad with full sirens and flashing lights rushed the march from behind, ordering everyone onto the sidewalk. But the marchers weren’t having any of it. People stayed in the street, marching at a steady pace, chanting even more defiantly: “Justice for Afghanistan! Justice for Trayvon!” Drivers honked, throwing peace signs (and some gave us the finger instead). People came out of shops to stare, sometimes to applaud the march. The police kept trying to herd us out of the street, pushing us with their motorcycles, sirens wailing high. Sometimes they ran over people’s feet. This went on block after block. We just kept marching, and chanting, over their sirens and shouts, staying in the street, refusing to let cars sneak around the edges. We caught each other when anyone stumbled or got shoved by a cop, and chanted, more and more passionately: JUSTICE FOR AFGHANISTAN! JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON! JUSTICE FOR AFGHANISTAN! JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON!
The march was planned to circle back to the BART station, but it was not clear we would get there. More squad cars appeared, more police — and now some had their batons out, and several held weapons that looked like oversized paintball guns. But the spirit of the people was clear: we have every right and reason to march, to be in the streets raising our message to the people here and the people in Afghanistan, and the police have no right to silence us. We are exactly where we need to be, period. We kept marching.
As a paddy wagon and more police arrived, the whole march quickly jumped a low fence into a shopping center parking lot — where any repressive police action would have had an instant and large audience. We regrouped and marched back to BART. The police had to drive way around to come in after us. So Fremont’s first-ever anti-war direct action street protest was successfully concluded, finishing on its feet and in strong spirits.
The massacre in Panjwai, Kandahar** exemplifies the very nature of America’s blood-soaked ten years occupying Afghanistan. That truth was spoken in the streets of Fremont, California last Friday by a crowd of determined people, mostly young.
They hope word of their action reaches people inside Afghanistan: there are people in the U.S. who refuse to go along with this illegitimate war, and are out to shut it down.
And the protesters hope their action will energize anti-war effort within Afghan communities outside Afghanistan, but they hope too that many other people all over the U.S. will also answer the Panjwai Massacre by stepping up a more powerful, more defiant mass movement of anti-war, anti-empire protest and resistance.
For more information about this action in Fremont: afghansforpeace.org; [email protected]; worldcantwait.net
* See a major Australian TV news report including interviews with eyewitnesses to the massacre.
** Read a Community Reportback from Afghans for Peace about the worldwide vigils for the massacre in Panjwai.
Stephanie Tang is a leader of the World Can’t Wait in the San Francisco Bay Area. Write to her at [email protected]