Unearthing the history of protest against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

Photographs © by David Bacon

March 19, 2023, is the 20th anniversary of the start of the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003.  The war in Afghanistan was already underway, having begun a year and a half earlier.  Both wars marked a generation, and the war in Iraq is still going on, at least in terms of the ongoing presence of U.S. soldiers.

Today war continues to be a fact of life in the world, and in the lives of the people of California.  The anniversary of the Iraq war gives us a moment when we can look back at the way our community responded when these conflicts started.  Then, as now, people did not accept the reality of endless war or its normalization.   They sought to change it.

These are images from the protests against the wars as they unfolded between 2001 and 2007.  While the protests against the Vietnam War has entered history as the massive events they were, the protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq also brought thousands of people into the streets of San Francisco and Oakland.  But unlike the protests of the Vietnam era, these marches and demonstrations have been virtually erased from the historical record.

These photographs, taken by David Bacon, document them.  They demonstrate the depth of opposition, and the diverse faces of those involved.  

People didn’t just show up once and go home; they came out again and again from 2001 to 2007.  The images show that the protesters were overwhelmingly young.  They were very diverse racially and nationally, especially the highly visible and vocal presence of African Americans and Asian Americans.

This is not surprising, since the Bay Area is home to Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who was the one vote in Congress against the military authorization bill that sanctioned the start of the wars.  While she may have been a lone voice in Congress, these photographs make clear how popular her opposition was.  African American civil rights leaders rallied around her.  The marches featured actors, singers and celebrities who sought to add their voices to hers.

The images show an extraordinary cultural diversity.  Signs and banners spoke in many languages.  Korean drummers walked with contingents that started in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square.  Dancers danced.  Elaborate banners created a colorful atmosphere.  The determination of demonstrators is obvious in their acts of civil disobedience, and the photographs show the emotion in young faces as they were arrested.

The photographs were originally taken on film, and have been scanned and digitized in a cooperative project with the Green Library of Stanford University, where David Bacon’s photography archive is housed

This presesntation coincides with the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, on March 19, 2023.  Participants in these protests can identify themselves and each other, comment on the images, and add their own observations about the war and the impact of the protests, by responding to David Bacon at dbacon@igc.org.


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