And That's The Way It Is
Itâ€™s been a few days since the anti-war march in D.C., and by now there are some excellent write-ups about it out there, especially from Max Sawicky, eRobin, and William Rivers Pitt. Their experiences mirror what I saw and felt there, which was that it was an incredibly diverse grassroots commingling of countless groups and individuals who all shared a common goal--to end the Iraq war--and that the attendance was massive. Listen, I have been in large crowds before. I know what 100,000 people in one place feels like, and this was far vaster than that. There is no question in my mind that a half million would be a defensible count.
Coming out of the train at the Archives/Navy Memorial station, we were greeted by pro-war agitators with signs that read â€œWar IS The Answerâ€, and â€œTheyâ€™re Not Anti-War Protesters, Theyâ€™re Traitorsâ€. We headed up Pennsylvania Ave. and stopped at the Old Post Office for a break, where we discovered the American flag is considered a dangerous weapon. â€œNo flags!â€ barked the guard, and one of us had to stay outside with the arsenal, while the rest of us had to empty our pockets and remove our traitorous buttons before we were allowed to proceed to the venerable inner sanctum, which, while lovely, still bore a suspicious resemblance to your local yuppie galleria.
We (my husband, our friend Lee, her daughter Dani and friend Alena) met fellow bloggers extraordinaire Robin and AltHippo at Freedom Plaza, and arrived at the ellipse around 11:30. Shortly after we were joined by another fine blogger,Thomas Nephew, and we so enjoyed our own company that we "remained together till almost the end of the march; chanting, singing, waving our PA For Democracy" banner and upside-down flag, getting to know folks as varied as a Latino union worker from Texas, an elderly blind rabbi, and a fellow SubGenius (Hey, Dr. Pissoff!) Even then the crowd, nearly elbow to elbow, was so huge we couldnâ€™t see anything except what stuck up above our heads. Although the march was supposed to start at noon, we stood there for 2 more hours as the crowd grew and surged around us, absorbing more and more people, clueless as to why we couldnâ€™t get started. It was only later that we realized the crowd had become so big that they couldnâ€™t fit us all onto 15th Street.
We had decided to wait in front of the Code Pink folks and their banner, since it seemed like the obvious starting-point of the march, yet thousands of people had gathered ahead of us even then and kept coming, coming for hours, spilling out onto the sidewalks and lawns and park area, and still they couldnâ€™t hold us all. (We later discovered that both Amtrak from NY and two of the DC Metro rail lines had stopped runningâ€”interesting timing--which makes the number of people then present even more amazing.) We watched the grassy area around the Washington Monument fill in with people. (The Monument, by the way, has glowing, blinking red eyes that glare down at you while the 1st Air Cav or something buzzes around it like a biplane trying to distract King Kong.) The speakersâ€™ area and tents were only about half a city block away from us, yet the effort to fight our way through to get to them was so great that most of us decided to stay put, while Robin and her husband sallied forth to get the full technicolor experience.
Street theatre puppets shaped like skeleton horse and rider, giant sculptures, and people in deathâ€™s masks and costumes entertained and excited us while we waited. The union people beside us sang an infectious call-and-response. Lady Liberty on stilts. Numerous Uncle Sams. A guy in a George Bush mask on a tricycle with a backpack PA, welcoming us to his parade. When the crowd did finally start to move, it was extremely slow and intermittent. It took almost two hours to get from 15th Street to the White House in peristaltic contractions, working our way through the streets like a large meal through a pythonâ€™s guts. Old people wore â€œBush is a Moronâ€ t-shirts. Babies wore buttons telling us to ask them about the Downing Street Memo. Songs and chants birthed and died in our throats along the way.
In spite of the tight quarters and forced intimacy, in spite of stepping on toes and shoving flagpoles into each otherâ€™s faces, in spite of the usual problems that arise in any enormous crowd, the feeling was mellow. People were gentle with each other, and patient, and the only anger I saw was directed at the murderers in the government. Regardless of the scowling, screaming youths in the few photos run by the media, there was none of that anywhere within our sphere. People were enjoying themselves, and welcoming each other, and tolerating each other. The atmosphere was festive, like a fair or a carnival, and it was exhilarating to be with others who shared our goal. It was a constant high, being with them and feeding off their excitement. It was always about ending the war. I never, ever felt the anti-war message was lost or watered down. Only near 4:30, at the very end of the march, did a group of youngsters come drumming down the street chanting about Palestine. By then things were breaking up. We were heading for the train. Their appearance seemed like an afterthought, and about as important.
But by the time I got home and had a chance to peruse some of the initial reporting on it in the main news outlets, I couldnâ€™t believe how trivialized and ignored it had been, and how tiny the numbers were that were reported. Today, as I told some of my co-workers about the day, they shook their heads, saying it was the first they heard of it and they hadnâ€™t noticed any coverage of it in the news. Most of the first reports didnâ€™t even waste the usual snark on the event. That job was left up to The Left That Eats Its Own. Some merely pretended it didn't even happen. Some were too interested in a sci-fi movie to care. By far, the most vituperative accounts I saw came from bloggers who weren't there, and relied on their exposure to an hour of television news for their information--the very same hated MSM they rail so poignantly about. They thought they were seeing the truth on that screen? What happened to the day when people expected the MSM to distort things? Did they suddenly become real journalists overnight? Why is this suddenly an issue of almost fatal merit?
Marching in Washington D.C. on September 24 was the best thing I could have done that day, and Iâ€™m proud to have been there, and proud to have contributed to it, and I donâ€™t give a shit what anyone else thinks. Iâ€™m sick of reading the broadsides against the organizing and the sponsors, the marginalization of the event, the trivializing of the numbers who attended, and the wailing about how this is no way to get the Democratic machine to get on board because thatâ€™s the only way to end the war, world without end, amen.
You know what? Youâ€™re going to grow old and gray and watch your last eyetooth fall out before you see the timid-ass, clueless, idea-impoverished, greedy, cowardly, opportunistic Democratic machine get on board with anything that doesnâ€™t guarantee them a steady influx of lobbyistsâ€™ dollars and a safe and soft ride from one election to the next. Yeah, they know how to organize the skeleton of a campaign, they have the infrastructure in place, but whatâ€™s it to you if they donâ€™t use it for whatâ€™s important? The last decades are full of chump arguments by the oh-so-moderate liberal contingent about how oh if only we could get those big dogs on board we would have a shot at making the world bloom again, tra-la! Decades full of left-brained, hard-nosed, practical, realistic, centrist arguments like the kind you read ad nauseum in The New Republic. Hasn't worked for ya so far, has it folks? 8 years of Clintonesque compromises and keeping the nose clean and avoiding dirtying yourselves with the too, too left. It ended in a facsist takeover and a one-party state, if you didn't notice by now.
Anyone who looks at the march and says it didnâ€™t matter because no one important was on board doesn't know how to measure importance. They want a leader, a Martin Luther King, to get up and speak at these things, but where do they propose we find such a one? Not one person, outside of Robert Byrd, can match that kind of eloquence, and the left holds its nose at Byrd because of his white-robed past. They say the message was too diffuse, but they weren't there to be able to say exactly what the truth was. They sit in their comfy chairs like the 101st Keyboard Kommandos they love so to skewer, and pronounce judgement on things they neither experienced themselves nor lifted one finger to change. They compare today's mobilization efforts to the 60s and think somehow things are different. They hold up the Winter Soldier as the moment of perfection that changed it all. It was not. It was only one of thousands of marches, demonstrations, and public maneuvers to grab the attention of the media and the powers that were. It took years and years and thousands of the dead. Yippies and street theatre and chants were "diffusing the message " back then, and it took more than a couple hearings. It took a gradual groundswell of people, led by the students and the wackjobs, taking to the streets over and over again, in numbers large and small, forcing the media to pay attention and fighting constantly against distortions of the movement, to get to that last helicopter evacuating Saigon. Even the clear criminality of the president of the United States could not unseat the machine that sent our children to their deaths and living deaths back then. Things don't change with the snap of a finger or a lightbulb cartoon balloon going off over some yupscale DLC type's brain.
Anyone who says there was too much theatre there on Saturday, or the people behind it were too wacky, or the wackjobs ennabled the media to make it a joke, or one march isnâ€™t going to change anything, needs to stop whining and fingerpointing, get off their ass, and show us some blueprints: what's your big idea for turning the country around? What have you done so far, other than type out your disapproval for the efforts of others? Let's have it, and let's hear what you yourselves are doing to make changes, and then maybe I'll listen. Till then, I'll do what I think is important for others, and what is life-affirming for me. Because declaiming in H.L. Mencken tones about the crappiness of it all is good for blowing off steam for awhile, but it doesn't do a damned thing to make things better. (And yes, I'm both inside and outside the system, working on multiple levels to bring positive change to my community and to the nation and the wider world as well. Just in case you wondered. And even if you didn't.)