by Jesse Drew
San Francisco police pepper spraying protesters at anti-Gulf War demo in downtown San Francisco, 1991.
Photo: Keith Holmes
Over 100,000 people marched up Market Street in protest of the war against Iraq on the Saturday a few days after the attack began in January 1991. Hundreds of people carried daily acts of disruption and civil disobedience at the Federal Building and throughout the central city.
Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Video: Gulf War Video Project/Paper Tiger TV West
Even though our video group, Paper Tiger TV-West, had been covering anti-war meetings for months before the Persian Gulf war broke out, I still wasn't prepared for the emotional trauma the war would bring. Once again standing by helplessly as the bombs were launched against a new set of foreign "enemies." Once again watching as our great white fathers sent others to kill and be killed for their gain.
In that dark hour, I looked for some light in the ongoing news coverage. Somewhere there would be sanity, some voice of reason in this frenzy of death and destruction Yet on every channel, anchors stared at me from the tube, cheering "our side " chattering inanely about collateral damage and surgical strikes. As in all authoritarian systems, not a glimmer of questioning, of critical analysis.
I had a moment of dread. What if I was really the only one disgusted by this slaughter, what if I was alone? The day the war started, I headed downtown after work to look for other malcontents shocked and disgusted by this depravity. At 5 pm, there were hundreds of people milling about. By 5:30, thousands were blocking the streets. As we started marching, who knows where, there were tens of thousands. Our camcorders bore witness to this procession. As the days passed, we practically lived in the streets, our cameras rolling incessantly. The more the news media downplayed the existence of a large opposition, the more important our cameras became. We devoted our weekly public-access cable slot exclusively to local anti-war activities. At the end of each week, we spent interminable late night hours editing the show, dubbing it and bringing it to several cable stations for Monday night playback.
Word spread fast that real news was on cable, on Paper Tiger TV. We know this because we got many phone calls thanking us (as well as several death threats). The first shows were scenes of frenzied demonstrations in the tens of thousands, marching through the neighborhoods, shutting down the Federal building, closing the Bay Bridge. These evolved into more orderly demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, bringing together an incredible mix of people committed to opposing Bush's international terrorism. Our local media blatantly lied about our significance, hoping to convince their viewers that "America stands behind its President." At several packed public screenings of our tapes, audiences cheered at the shared images of our huge numbers. To hell with lying TV stations. We exist! San Francisco is no part of the New World Order!
As the war dragged on, our cameras turned to the innumerable teach-ins, meetings, and speak-outs as people tried to make sense of militarism, media censorship, Mideast politics. We ended each show with a list of upcoming events. People knew us now, our logo on our camera provoked many gestures of thanks. While shooting an act of mass civil disobedience, someone shouted "It's OK, it's Paper Tiger TV." People cheered. A film crew from Japan came to watch our tape at a teach-in at UC Berkeley. They used our footage showing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators to confront the local news media with their blatantly reduced crowd estimates. The crew's program aired on national TV in Japan.
We no longer have to rely on the corporate media to determine what's news and what's not. We no longer have to deal with arrogant, unsympathetic and ignorant news directors arranging our stories to fit their own liking. With camcorders to capture the action, and public access to put it out to the community, we can create our own news and make our own history.
1991 Anti-war demonstrator
Photo: Rick Gerharter