On January 18, 2003, I stood in front of the Capital building along with 200,000 other protesters to rally against a probable war in Iraq. Though the Bush administration, as well as most of the mainstream media, have been ignoring the anti-war movement, the weekend rally left little doubt that there is quite a large contingent of people opposed to war in Iraq.
The weather was anything but balmy, but people from all over the US gathered to listen to speakers including the Rev. Al Sharpton (who announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for President two days later), Jesse Jackson, the actress Jessica Lange, and Representative John Conyers, a Congressman from Michigan. Interspersed between rally organizers encouraging the crowd to chant “No War,” the keynotes spoke about topics ranging from the tightening of our civil liberties to disarming the entire world of nuclear weapons.
People from hundreds of different organizations braved the chilly but clear afternoon, some walking around on stilts, others juggling, and a few climbing trees to get a better view of the endless crowd. Others were walking around the crowd holding signs with phrases ranging from the commonplace (“No blood for oil”) to religious (“Thou shall not kill, idiot”) to R-rated (“Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity”).
International ANSWER, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, organized the largest anti-war protest since the Vietnam War. The rally in the nation’s capital coincided with protests from around the world, including San Francisco, Tampa, Paris, and Tokyo. Protesters came from all over the country, from Maine to Alabama, Texas to Montana; one guy even walked all the way from the University of Iowa.
The signs provided much of the eye candy, as the stage was impossible to see, and it was still too early for all the hippies to be stoned and the commies to be pissed off. Among the best signs: “When there’s a Bush and a Dick in the White House everyone gets Fucked,” “Draft Beer, Not Me,” and “My Mom Says: Fuck You, Bush.” I also enjoyed the irony of an American flag with the stars replaced by corporate logos such as McDonalds, Chrysler, Mobil, and Microsoft.
During the march to the Washington Navy Yard down Pennsylvania Avenue, there was a large police presence that guarded the sidewalk around the capital. They looked as happy to be outside in the cold as alligators in Alaska. After the march passed by the bar where my old rugby team used to hang out, a group of five or six stood on a balcony drinking champagne with a sign that said, “Go Home, Hippies!” The marchers stopped and continued to chant “No blood for oil!” and “Peace! Now!” while flashing peace signs, gesturing with closed fists, and one gentleman gave everyone the pleasure of seeing his bare ass.
On the metro after the march, I struck up a conversation with a woman from New Jersey who was there with her husband and young son. It was the first peace march for her five-year old son, and she mentioned that this was the largest protest she has ever been a part of. The crowd was more intense than the rally she came to in 1990 opposing the first Bush administration and conflict in the Gulf, she said. Many of the marchers seemed more aware of the hypocrisy of the administration’s explanations of the so-called necessity of the war than do most people that pretend to have an idea of what is going on.
Jesse Jackson brought up a good point when he mentioned that the rally in DC was just a starting point, and that the anti-war attitude has to be manifested in many other ways. He mentioned organizing campus “teach-ins” or “sit-ins” and organizing multi-group events that will mobilize hundreds of college students in ways that cannot be ignored by all media. He was easily the most rousing and effective speaker of the day and mentioned the activities of Martin Luther King, Jr in order to explain how a strong voice can be heard.
Organizers of the latest in a number of protests going back to last April said this protest was larger than the one they sponsored in October (which drew almost 200,000 people), and DC police chief Charles Ramsey confirmed this statement, but would not make an estimate on the actual number of protesters in attendance.
Although the numbers are in dispute (The Buffalo News seems to be reporting the lowest estimate, only 30,000 to 50,000 people), it is not so much the number of people in attendance, but how much the consciousness of the people there was raised. As Sera Morgan of Takoma Park, Maryland explained, “the message doesn’t acquire greater value” just because there are more people than reported by mainstream media.