I drove to Washington, DC, on Friday afternoon. Late Saturday morning, I met up with blogger Natasha, of Pacific Views, now transplanted from one Washington to the other for a while, and we joined 10,000 or so other like-minded citizens in protest of our government’s bellicose policies. The purpose of the assembly was to rally popular support for ending the war in Iraq — and not starting a new one in Iran, or elsewhere — and bringing the troops home.
We gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, and heard speeches at the pre-march rally. In the marches I’ve attended before (this was my fourth related to the Bush administration and this war), the rally and speeches were at the end, but I guess it was a question, here, of where they were permitted to set up the stage and sound system.
We heard the Reverend Yearwood, who had been refused entry to the Petraeus hearings earlier in the week. The video of his attempt, and his being pushed to the ground, injured, and arrested, is on YouTube. Rev. Yearwood encouraged us to watch the video. “The revolution,” he preached, “will not be televised, but it will be uploaded!” It’s a great line. I’ve watched the video, though, and I have to say that the police acted responsibly, and Yearwood irresponsibly. He argued with them, refused to do as they asked, shouted at them, and ultimately made a lunge for the door (you can see this at 1:40 into the version I linked above). It was then, after his attempt to break through, that they took action. I’m sorry, Reverend; as much as I’d like to be critical of the authorities here, you were wrong.
We heard Cindy Sheehan exhort us to lie down in the streets and to “shut down the city!” I’m with Natasha on this one: this isn’t the sixties, and it isn’t that that will work here. I do have some ideas, which will see light here in a couple of days, about what might work. Sit-ins and tear gas aren’t the answer today. I thought Ms Sheehan’s camp in Crawford was very cool. I haven’t been as wild about her more recent antics, including her threat to run against Representative Pelosi.
We heard Ralph Nader, who took the stage to boos of “You gave us Bush!” Eventually, the crowd did start cheering his message, which was that the Democrats have become as useless as the Republicans, and we have to replace them all. On the other hand, his claim that the Democrats could have had the [congressional] election in 2000 and they lost it, was a little rich, given what his presence did to the presidency.
We heard from one speaker after another, on and on, repetitious, verbose, and over-long. After two hours of it, as they introduced yet another, came the best line of the day from a woman somewhere behind us: “Sweet Jesus, let’s march!”
Some of the final words went to a counter-demonstrator who had gotten to the stage, and who managed to take the microphone. “I wasn’t scheduled to speak today,” he began, “but I have a few words to say.” Someone tried to remove him, but he wouldn’t go. Just as he announced, “I’m a conservative,” they shut off his microphone. The crowd demanded, “Let him speak!”, until they finally did. He told us that he agrees with us that the war is wrong, but, he went on, sometimes it’s necessary. With that, the crowd switched to booing, mostly, I think, because he was using a tired, oft-repeated argument, and had nothing new to say.
After two and a half hours, we finally took to the streets. Starting from the front of the White House, we went around the corner and down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol. The procession was calm and orderly. The posters labelled the administration “war criminals” and called for impeachment. The demanded that we “end the war.” An effigy of Hillary Clinton came along, wearing swastika arm-bands. My favourite silly poster was, “Smoke weed, not Iraq”. Most of the posters were much more serious.
The way was lined with spectators, most supporting the march, many holding their own posters or cheering, until we reached 8th St, where the counter-demonstrators were permitted. Under the watchful eye of a robust contingent of police, they shouted at us and held up their own signs. Some of the signs were the standard “God Bless America” and “Support Our Troops” stuff. Some were quasi-sensible, like “Peace Through Strength!”. There was the delusional “Safe Since 9-11”, the surreal “Straight Girls Love Our Military” and “Hippies Smell” (that is certainly a stinging indictment!), and, my personal favourite, “Get A BRAIN! MORANS”.
We gathered on the Capitol lawn at the end, preparing for the “die-in” finale: at the sound of a siren, representing an air raid, participants would lie on the ground, as if dead. Those who were willing to risk arrest, we were told, could lie on the road; others would stay on the grass. Police in riot gear guarded the steps to the Capitol.
We left then, after more than four hours, choosing beer over arrest. Those who were later arrested had mostly tried to approach the Capitol, crossing the police lines. I’ve heard of but minor scuffles, marring an otherwise peaceful event, and the 189 who were arrested clearly set out to be.
Photos below. Click each one to see the full-sized version. These and more are in my Picasa album.