SF Proposition N and How it Got Sidetracked
By Carole Seligman
“It is the Policy of the people of San Francisco that: The Federal government should take immediate steps to end the U.S. Occupation of Iraq and bring our troops safely home now.”
This statement—Proposition N on the S.F. ballot—passed overwhelmingly on Nov. 3. The measure was endorsed widely by the major antiwar organizations, the Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and many civic, liberal, and Democratic Party clubs and organizations in the City.
The vote was a sign that antiwar sentiment is alive and well in San Francisco, California, a city that was the site of several massive demonstrations opposing the U.S. wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as opposing U.S. aid to Israel’s war against the Palestinians. The day after election day, a demonstration called by Not In Our Name to oppose the war (no matter who won the Nov. 3rd election), of over 2,000 people took place.
Some of the organizations that worked to pass Proposition N, in particular, Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW), saw the resolution as a means of building the antiwar movement by keeping the need to mobilize against the war in focus despite the fact that both Democrat and Republican candidates were aggressively pro-war, each trying to out-warmonger the other. BAUAW members expressed the hope that the resolution could spread to other municipalities in future local elections and keep the discussion about the need to bring all U.S. troops home now, front and center in American politics.
But, something took place in the course of this campaign—a kind of dirty trick—that seemed to be intended to blur the sharp, clear message of Prop. N. What happened was that the City Attorney’s office, which is charged with formulating resolutions into “questions” for the actual ballot, reworded the resolution as follows:
“Shall it be City policy to urge the United States government to withdraw all troops from Iraq and bring all military personnel in Iraq back to the United States?”
As you can see, this wording left out the word “now,” the most important part of the resolution. Withdrawing American troops from Iraq immediately is the only way that Iraq will gain its right of self-determination. U.S. and British withdrawal is the only way to end the war continuing to rage, taking thousands of Iraqi lives. The latest reports estimate, probably conservatively, that 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs and other military action. This fact points to the critical task of removing the occupying army now, in order to end this massive killing.
The arguments in the Voter’s Pamphlet in favor of Proposition N by Bay Area United Against War, the Central Labor Council, the Senior Action Network, and others, as well as the official legal wording of the measure, all contained the original wording of immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq.
This writer has tried to learn how the resolution demanding the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces got changed to the milder question. So far no-one admits to being the author of this change except the City Attorney’s office and this office claims that the wording that they submit for the official ballot is open for public scrutiny and challenge. Apparently, none of the S.F. City Supervisors, who placed the original measure on the ballot by majority vote in the Board of Supervisors, opposed the changed, milder wording when they could have done so. The question is why?
My guess is that these Democratic party hacks who populate the Board of Supervisors realized that John Kerry, their Presidential candidate, was pro-war—not anti-war—and that they were in a bind. There was a contradiction in asking people to vote for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq at the same time as asking people to vote for a candidate, John Kerry, who not only voted for the war in the first place, but who was now calling for sending more troops there!
Originally, I believe, these Democratic Party fakes, thought that putting an antiwar measure on the ballot would bring out antiwar San Franciscans to the polls who otherwise might stay home, knowing that there was little difference between the two major candidates. I think they were trying to use the antiwar sentiment to help their candidate and boost their liberal credentials.
Attempt to blunt antiwar opposition
After Kerry was confirmed as the candidate at the Democratic Party convention in Boston at the end of July, these same supervisors, and the labor “leaders” who support them, probably sought to tone down the opposition to the war by accepting the milder wording on Prop. N, to try to overcome the contradiction of supporting a pro-war candidate for President. What they succeeded in doing was blunting the power of the resolution as a clear statement of antiwar principles.
During the election campaign the national antiwar movement was severely compromised by the many leaders of it who succumbed to the “Anybody But Bush” tactic of supporting the pro-war Senator Kerry, including people like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky and a wide range of other antiwar intellectuals who had spoken out so forcefully and eloquently before the elections.
This election afforded nearly no opportunity (outside of a few nearly unknown working class candidates on the ballot) for working people—the majority—to vote in their own self- interest. The election was stolen by the billionaires before it ever took place. Both major candidates represented the same class, the ruling capitalist class, whose interests are solely for profit. Capitalist candidates are opposed to the interests of working people to meet human needs for peace, economic security, education, clean air, water, equal rights, civil liberties, protection of the earth’s environment, and human freedom.
Until a massive working class political organization is built, which can fight for worker’s needs on the electoral front because it fights for our needs at the workplace and in the streets, capitalist elections offer more pitfalls for workers than opportunities to advance our interests. The fate of Proposition N is one small example of that.