Thursday, September 20, 2007

Better late than never

What with being so out of it, one of the things I wanted to write about but just couldn't find the energy to was the antiwar demonstration last week. But like the title says I should, I'm going to go ahead and do it now.

Put together by ANSWER and largely and foolishly ignored by most of the rest of the antiwar community (I'm looking at you, United for Peace and Justice) as a result of age-old and to those outside of them incredibly boring turf wars, it brought a hefty number of people to DC to (my words) keep the spirit of resistance alive.

Those turf wars become especially galling when obvious demands for unity or at least comradeship are ignored. The week before the demo, AFP reported that
[m]ounted police charged in to break up an outdoor press conference and demonstration against the Iraq war in Washington on Thursday, arresting three people, organizers and an AFP reporter said.

"The police suppressed the press conference. In the middle of the speeches, they grabbed the podium" erected in a park in front of the White House for the small gathering, Brian Becker, national organizer of the ANSWER anti-war coalition, told AFP.

"Then, mounted police charged the media present to disperse them," Becker said.

The charge caused a peaceful crowd of some 20 journalists and four or five protestors to scatter in terror, an AFP correspondent at the event in Lafayette Square said.
Police had previously threatened to fine ANSWER at least $10,000 if it didn't take down posters announcing the march, claiming the group has used unapproved adhesives. The press conference attacked by the police was intended to show that the adhesives used did meet regulations.

Now, frankly, in this case I don't give a tinker's damn if ANSWER used "approved" adhesives or not. (Back in the day, we were known to do things like put antiwar posters on the windows of military recruiting stations using toothpaste. If they weren't removed before the toothpaste dried, they had to be scraped off with razors.) The point is, other antiwar groups should have responded by jumping into the fray and issuing an emergency call to their members and supporters to get to DC. They could have taken the tack that "We don't support everything that ANSWER stands for but we cannot remain silent in the face of this overt, this literal, attack on the right of dissent. In solidarity, we will stand with them." But they didn't, to their shame.

As for the march itself, as always, the numbers game got played. Media accounts tended to stick with the vague "several thousand" while ANSWER claimed the turnout hit six figures, a number I frankly expect to be highly optimistic: While I was not at the action, my experience with ANSWER is that they routinely grossly inflate their numbers. I recall one time being at an ANSWER demo in Boston which got a decent turnout but still small enough to do a rough headcount, which I did and came up with around 350. In the next day's news reports, ANSWER was claiming something like 2000-3000.

Relying of pictures of the event such as those above, my own guess is there were 20,000-30,000 present. Which was a good turnout, particularly considering the near blackout of planning of the event among the supposedly "antiwar" portions of the mythologized "netroots."

Interestingly, the report whose numbers came closest to my own was one from the Middle East Times, which rather acidly referred to what it called "a skimpy crowd of 25,000 protesters" and complained that
[w]hat ought to have been the most massive protest ever in Washington, DC Saturday turned into a 1960s love fest, with leftover agendas and slogans from an earlier war.
I'm not exactly sure what that reporter was expecting, perhaps the turnout of one million ANSWER originally proposed as the goal, but since the article groused that Lafayette Park, where the march began, was "hardly the right venue" for the protest since the part contains a war memorial and "one monument celebrates military instruction" and it described the "motley crowd of 1960s peaceniks" as "definitely gray," I imagine overly-high hopes were part of their pre-march agenda. (The bit about the "motley gray crowd" was particularly noticeable since it came quite literally immediately after stating that half the participants appeared to be college-age folks attending their first march. There must have been a fair number of prematurely gray students there.)

Surely the most dramatic part of the event was the "die-in" of - depending on who you ask - somewhere between several hundred and a few thousand people at the Capitol. Initially, police took no action, so people started climbing over a low wall and a fence erected by police, getting arrested as they did so. Something approaching 200 people, including a number of Iraq War veterans, were arrested. In fact, Indymedia says that
[t]he civil disobedience was large enough that the Capitol police tried to stop arresting people and someone in charge yelled that the protestors had made their point. The police at the wall began to push back anyone trying to get arrested, and sprayed chemicals from a small red cannister on two people who tried, and finally succeeded, to get arrested.
There were, of course, counter-protestors, who look at the 60+% of Americans who want to troops out rapidly if not immediately and screech that those constitute a "vocal minority." There were - again depending on who you ask - somewhere between a few and several hundred of them. While their message is clearly one the public stopping buying some time ago, their presence did serve to point up a real difference between "us" and "them." Raw Story described how during the rally
a counter-demonstrator made his way onto the stage at one point, saying, "I'm not scheduled to speak today, but I do want to bring a different point."

The crowd listened attentively as he began, "I stand before you with respect for your convictions," but the moment he announced, "I'm a conservative," the microphone was shut off amid a chorus of boos. The boos, however, quickly changed to chants of "Let him speak, let him speak," and after some discussion onstage, the microphone was turned back on.

"All I'm about is protecting our soldiers, alright?" said the counter-demonstrator. "Now, all of you believe war is bad, but unfortunately, sometimes that bad is the best American defense. There is an enemy at our doorstep that wants us dead, and they will do everything that they can in their power ..."

When the crowd heard those over-familiar arguments, the boos broke out again, more loudly, cutting off the speaker. Then Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus - who was injured in an altercation with Capitol police last week when he tried to get into the Petraeus hearing - hobbled up on crutches. Yearwood put his arm over the shoulder of the counter-demonstrator, who put an arm around him in return.

"This is awesome," Yearwood stated. "This is what democracy looks like. ... We might not agree on philosophy, but I'll be damned if I kill this man."
By comparison, the Washington Post said that
[a]nti war protesters who approached the fringes of the counterdemonstration on the Mall were quickly chased off. One man in a tie dye t-shirt was surrounded by several screaming counterdemonstrators who called him a traitor. He replied, "Is this what we've come to," before being escorted away by police.
I would have liked to have asked the man who crashed the ANSWER rally what he thinks would have happened if one of the protestors had tried to do the same thing among the pro-war folks a few blocks away. In fact, Democracy Now! has an answer to that question. It's coverage for September 17 had an item about Carlos Arredondo, who has been "crisscrossing the country pulling a flag-draped coffin" in memory of his son Alex, who died in Iraq three years ago.
He marched with the coffin on Saturday and then left the march to return the coffin to his truck. That's when a pro-war supporter tried to rip a photo of Carlos' son from the coffin. When Carlos tried to save the photograph, he said a group of pro-war activists attacked him. ...

"I was assaulted by a group of pro-war people. They come into the ground, and they kicked me and punched me. As a citizen of this country, it’s my duty and my responsibility to participate. As a father, who I lost my son in Iraq, I got to honor my son."
Honor him, that is, in the best way possible: By speaking out, by raising his voice, by demanding an end to the carnage. That is in stark contrast to the raging counter-protestors, their eyes and veins bulging with the fury of their fears, their lips frothing with cries of "traitor," their darkened hearts and decayed consciences wishing death and destruction on foreign innocents in whatever measure is required to ease their trembling nightmares - and in even starker contrast to the cold-blooded, calculated manipulations of such as the so-called "Freedom's Watch," populated with Bush acolytes, whose ads exploit wounded veterans to proclaim, contrary to Mr. Arredondo, that the way to "honor" the dead is to kill more, the way to "respect" the wounded, the mutilated, the ruined, is to wound more, multilate more, ruin more, the way to have their "sacrifice" not "be in vain" is to impose more vain sacrifices on more thousands, more tens, hundreds of thousands, both American and Iraqi, and to do it for years on end.

Shame on me for not being in DC to say in whatever tiny way my presence would have, "no."

A Few Footnotes: Eli at Left I On the News was the source of the photos up top of this post and also has video of several of the speakers. One speaker not in those videos was Michael Berg, whose son Nick was the contractor in Iraq whose beheading spawned a multitude of conspiracy theories.

And by the way, Washington was not the only place that saw demonstrations last weekend; even "the heartland" got involved with protests in Lincoln, Nebraska, St. Paul, Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Kansas City, Kansas.

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