I just got back from the trip to Washington, DC for the massive march organized by both UFPJ and ANSWER (after much crossfire) on Saturday. Someone I know who was there took some great pictures, and happened to wind up very near Jesse Jackson and Cindy Sheehan. You can find his pictures here.
Although my friends and I were caught up in our reunion after nearly ten years of not spending time together, we did capture the spirit of solemnity and outrage while at the march, along with the sense that we were part of a very large protest with a great diversity of people. I was happy to see both size and diversity acknowledged in the NYT, the AP, and the Washington Post.
I haven't been to a big DC mobilization in a while, but I have gone to quite a few anti-war demonstrations. I think the first time I went on such a march was when I was in high school, and rode to DC with my parents for the march opposing US policy in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s. In 1991, my college room-mate and I went to the massive anti-Gulf War March, and I remember feelng a profound sense of futility as we passed the rows of military police in front of the Whitehouse gates. The chant, "This is What Democracy Looks Like" hadn't been invented yet, but if it had, we would have said it with an ironic eye-roll.
In Minneapolis, I protested a lot: in opposition to US military and financial support for the Mexican government, in numbers in the winter that were once so small that one of our organizers said that we "looked like some people grouped around a dead body on the corner." In Minneapolis again, in opposition to US intervention in Haiti, and at that time in full Jewish regalia and blowing a shofar. (It was Yom Kippur and we were denouncing the US's policy of holding Haitian refugees in detention in Guantanamo.) At the "No War for Ramadan/Stop the Sanctions" protests in NYC over Christmas when Bill Clinton bombed Iraq on some no-fly-zone violation pretext. The frequency of such protests and the numbers at them increased during the regime of Bush II. In NYC in October 2001 when the US began bombing Afghanistan. In DC in Jaunary of 2002? against the Iraq war to come. In NYC for the world-historic probably a million people against the war on February 15 of 2003. In NYC in the Spring of 2003. On the anniversary of the bombing start in 2004. In NYC during the Republican National Convention.
And still, the war goes on.
In my own experience, this demonstration stood out in one major respect. I felt the presence of the American war dead in a more immediate and personal way than I ever did at any of the demonstrations I described above. Undoubtedly, this feeling of personal reality is the result of Cindy Sheehan's courageus work all summer long at getting so many Americans to witness her intimate expressions of grief as she waited for the president to answer her question, "in what noble cause did my son die?" While I have always felt a sense of immediate cataclysm and crisis at anti-war protests, a feeling of maddening frustration at the inability of the large opposition to US foreign policy to have any tangible effect on that policy, I have rarely felt the presence of American deaths quite so personally in an anti-war demonstration, an rarely have I felt such a consciousness of being among the people grieving those deaths personally in an anti-war demonstration.
It's not only Cindy Sheehan...it's the number of casualties, the length of the war, and the momentum that's beginning to build as the war drags on. I have never been in alive during the foundation of groups like Iraq Veterans against the War, Military Families Speak Out, and Gold Star Families for Peace. I have never before heard so many testimonies from soldiers and their families in opposition to US wars and their cost. I have never before seen so starkly the impact of military spending and priorities as all of us did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
I never thought that I would cry when I was hearing Joan Baez sing "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" since I had grown up hearing that song and considered it by now a "peace movement cliche." I have always felt the panic and the guilt, the tragedy and the hopelessness when I know that my government is off to bomb another country to punish its leaders for disagreeing with the American power elite's notion of the "way things ought to be," but not since Sept. 11th, when I felt personally that I was trapped between two juggernauts beyond my control, have I felt so strongly how much US foreign policy hurts people in the US, hurts "us" along with the more immediate victims of our policy. I can understand why, as Noam Chomsky interpreted the Powell doctrine, it was all about short, overpowering commitments of American air power that were designed to avoid the kind of anti-war groundswell that met the growing numbers of American casualties in Vietnam.
If we can feel the presence of the American dead so painfully in anti-war demonstrations in Washington, DC, it seems to me a signal of the failure of the Bush administration's efforts to hide the truth of the war's cost from the American people. I often feel hopeless at the conclusion of such protests, but maybe now is the time to feel hopeful.
Tomorrow, protests to continue....more later.