View captioned images. Send comments or video requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. To read the narrative for the October 26, 2002, peace march, read "Luminous Times.", and view the pictures here. For the January 18, 2003, Washington, DC, peace march photos, go here, and read the narrative attached to that event, "War is not the Answer."
Go to the Peace Narrative and Picture Page
2/17 Read Jamila's
Report from New York:
"The World Says No to War" --Jamila is one of the stars of my
a narrative of the march by Jim Macdonald
A sigh in the human heart
I look at the clock on the
It says three minutes to midnight
Faith is blind when we're so near
--from "Minutes to Midnight" by Midnight Oil
"I don't think the
decision [on war] is final. I don't think ... that a date has been set
for an armed action. But I think we are moving closer and closer to it.
Isn't there five minutes to midnight in your political assessment?"--Hans
Blix, Chief UN Weapons Inspector, February 4, 2003
I should learn better than to become gloomy before these protests, but I admit being gloomy this week. Besides having a premonition that something awful I know not what was about to happen, I was generally downtrodden about what I was seeing in the peace movement. I felt that there were two types of people in general who were dominating everything. There was one group who does nothing but act for peace, think of ways to act for peace, and then mobilizes action. Now, what is wrong with that? There is nothing wrong with that, but what happens, I notice, is that people sometimes get so caught up in the acting that they don't stop and think of the reason why they are acting. They act for the sake of acting, and sometimes they do things which are counterproductive to the movement. Sometimes, they are so intent on acting that people who want to slow the process of action down cannot do so without being trampled. On the other hand, there is an other group of people. Besides those activist tramplers, there is another group that never seems to want to act. They can tell you exactly what's wrong with the world and what we should do about it. They often have brilliant ideas and careful analysis, but when asked to be involved, they do nothing and become very silent. In these broad stereotypes, I found myself oscillating between two extremes, an active group and a reflective group, but I didn't see too many of the kind of people who are seeking both to be reflective and active. Today, I saw that my gloom was exaggerated at best and misplaced entirely in the people I got to know today.
However, before I got to feel the violent divisions that face us, feel the rebirth of the soul of the left, and find some activist thinkers, I had to get to New York. The rally in New York was the first of the major anti-war protests on the East Coast not in Washington, DC, and so this raised a logistical challenge for me. After the extremely peaceful and colorful events in DC and with the threat of war looming bigger than ever, I was determined to get to New York but was not sure how to get there. A chain of events made it possible for me to go to New York. One Monday, I was having a personal crisis. Feeling very alone on a lunch break, I took a stroll to the White House. There, almost too shy to approach a group of protesters in pink, one of them spoke to me. This led to a conversation in which I was informed about a State of the Union protest at the Capitol the next night. My personal storms lifted a bit, I went to the Sorry State of the Union event, and learned about a local DC anti-war activist group called DAWN (DC Anti-War Network). Researching DAWN, I learned they were offering buses to New York for $30 a piece and met every Tuesday night. I attended two of DAWN's meetings, met some more very nice people, and now had a way to get my wife Loree and I to New York. If this chain had broken, I might have gotten to New York; however, what I would be writing would be fundamentally different in flavor and perspective. In October, I went by myself; in January, I went with Loree; and in February, I now went with a local anti-war activist group. Each of these experiences was especially profound, and each in some way represents the growing cohesiveness of the anti-war movement. I don't think my story is alone. I think there are several others who have gone to rallies alone and yet have increasingly come to feel a part of a larger interactive group.
At 5:30 in the morning, Loree and I left for DC's Union Station to join a bus, and weather was a general concern. A major snowstorm was starting to come in, and there was a modest worry that weather might keep numbers down. However, the weather was a surprisingly marginal factor in the day. New York showed traces of sunshine in fact. Our buses at Union Station filled up nearly to capacity. We had 5 buses and approximately 250 people joining DAWN's ride to New York. People were bundled up and carrying signs just like the two of us. A diverse group of ages and students joined us on this snowy day.
Having gotten safely on the bus, our day began in earnest. Most of our day was on the bus, and it seems very hard for me to separate my experience on the bus with the rally experience in New York. In some ways, the rally started the moment we were on the bus seeing who were the members of our group. In fact, no sooner did I turn the camcorder on inside the bus than did a woman come up to the camera and say, "Do you want to interview me?" I happily agreed, and then she proceeded to tell me about the signs she had made. This was one of countless random encounters with people today, one of dozens of intriguing and engaging conversations. In October, having been alone, I spoke to no one. The most profound conversations I had were with my environment, dancing on the yellow lines in Constitution Avenue, caressing a leaf, and looking up under a tree, but today I had so many actual conversations with people that I wondered how I could have such starkly different experiences. When I wasn't speaking, I was often eavesdropping on others. In front of us, a group of three men was speaking what I believe was Farsi. Later these men had a conversation with a couple of young student socialists, and they conversed about the evils of Stalinism and the virtues of Trotskyism. Sometimes, one of the men, who Loree recognized as having spoken at the State of the Union protests, served as translator. I was simply intrigued by these interactions.
Of course, I can be easily annoyed, too, and there was that factor to deal with. I had ridden Greyhound across America, but I had never seen in a 48 hour bus ride as many people use the bus bathroom as people did on this 5 hour ride. Constantly, people were going back and forth past me, bumping in to me, on their quest to use the bathroom. It shows you how easily distracted I can be to let something so trivial aggravate me. What set the tone for that, however, was that our bus got a late start because we thought we left without one of the riders. Our bus left Union Station only to return for 15 to 20 minutes while people hunted in vain for someone. At that moment, I said to Loree, "Someone should call the other buses to see if this person reboarded onto another bus." Loree encouraged me to say something, but I resisted figuring that I didn't want to be one of too many chiefs. About halfway to New York, our bus leader Richard came back and told us that she had indeed gotten onto another bus. So, then I felt like I could have done something simply by sharing my idea and felt partially responsible for the delays in getting us to New York.
When we got to New York in this swirling atmosphere of people who were tense about arriving late, who were having intriguing conversations about the state of the world, and who were going to the bathroom at world record pace, we found ourselves with more obstacles to face. I remember noticing the bus winding through the center of Brooklyn. Somewhat puzzled, I said to Loree, "Why on earth are we driving through the center of Brooklyn?" We were trying to get to Shea Stadium in Queens so that we could take the subway into Manhattan. Instead, we spent an inordinately slow period of time going through Brooklyn. Finally, we stopped at a gas station. Then, we saw the bus driver run into the gas station as though she was getting directions. We were lost. I was getting downright irritated and was hoping that they had the good sense to let us off the bus. I had seen a train station on our route, and it would be much easier to let us take one of the trains up to Grand Central Station than to piddle around trying to get to Shea Stadium. Fortunately, that's exactly what happened. However, now we did not know how we were going to find our bus at Shea. So, as we were leaving to find our way to a massive rally that was already disorganized and unraveling, we made sure we had Richard's cell phone number so that we wouldn't become stranded in New York. Loree and I don't own a cell phone, but we were a little less worried having Richard's number written to her arm.
Up to this point, Loree and I had not really interacted with anyone except each other. To be honest, I did feel a little jealous in not being a part of the great conversations people were having on the bus. However, Loree and I are the sorts of people that don't start talking until someone starts talking to us. When the the unloading of the bus was going so haphazardly, we were beginning to think that we would be alone for the day. That wasn't so bad, but it wasn't what I hoped for in my wildest dreams. While we helped direct a group of students to the subway station, we were essentially alone. That didn't change until we were on the platform waiting for the subway when Jamila, who had been sitting right across from us on the bus, came over. She asked if she could join us for the day, and we happily agreed. We had already lost track of everyone else, and so we latched onto her, and she latched onto us for the rest of the day. We are both so glad that she did because I think her presence helped us feel much more confident about being more expressive and talking to other people. I think we were able to do the same for her. By the end of the day, no one could believe that the other was essentially shy.
When we finally found a train to Manhattan that we could all cram inside of, we were greeted by the friendly people of New York. The train was packed, but conversations flowed freely between perfect strangers. In a 20 minute train ride, I can honestly and without exaggeration say that I spoke more than I had in the last 6 months combined on the DC Metro system. Loree and I spoke to two local New Yorkers who were heading down to the protests. They were in some ways New York stereotypes. They were brash, outgoing, not afraid to speak their mind, but they were both so friendly and joyous. Behind me, Jamila was having a conversation with a little girl and her mother. The little girl was a veteran of many protests and was actually quite upset when Jamila said that she was "cute." Her mother was adorable. She is the second in a generation of families who have done numerous protests over the years. When she asked about us, and we told her that we were from DC with 250 other people, her eyes melted with happiness. She kept saying, "God bless you" and offered us the kindest encouragements. Around us, other people were talking, and we were talking with them. This all happened in a space of about 8 square feet if you can believe that. We were simply packed. I was so happy that I kissed Loree at least 3 dozen times.
Finally at Grand Central Station, we decided to get off there and try to make our way to the rally that was supposed be starting from First Avenue and 49th Street and extending back along First Avenue. Unfortunately, there was not supposed to be a march associated with this rally. The city of New York, at first fearing congestion and later public safety and terrorism, denied a march permit. Then, that denial of the right of peaceable assembly was held up by the Federal Courts. People were supposed to be allowed to march on sidewalks, but they could not march in the streets. Getting out of Grand Central at Lexington and 42nd, the sidewalks were already packed with people trying to make their way to First Avenue. While no one was supposed to be allowed to march, people were still there to support the big rally. A lot of big names were going to speak, but the principle reason for going was solidarity with the peace movement and to try if at all possible to save the lives of those who would die in a possible war in Iraq.
We walked slowly along the already crammed sidewalks. Estimates showing the crowd at half a million have to be at least correct, but reports that the crowd only stretched 20 blocks long and 2 blocks wide are woefully incorrect. We were already in a huge mess of people several blocks out on Lexington Avenue. In fact, there was not a space in Manhattan that we found ourselves that was not teeming with protesters. We heard a radio report of estimates of 500,000 - 1,000,000 at one o'clock. If I had to gauge from past experience, I would say we are talking about no less than three-quarters of a million people. I have never seen such a human mass. This protest dwarfed the huge protests in Washington by a long shot. You could have easily filled 8 professional football stadiums with the people who were both outside and packing every eatery along the path. Even aerial photography couldn't gauge a crowd that was just as packed off the street as on it.
The police presence was palpable from the very start. When we were leaving Grand Central Station, a police officer stopped Jamila and told her that she couldn't take a stick into the rally. So, right there, I helped her break her stick so that she wouldn't have to lose her sign in the process. Everywhere, I could see police with batons trying to quarter people off and herd them like cattle. People basically complied as much as possible. However, no one could understand why entire streets that were closed off anyway were so empty while people had to be smooshed along the sidewalk. Of course, this rule was not absolute. Many of us could not believe our eyes when we saw a woman, with one of those huge rolling racks of expensive clothes and goodies she had just bought, being allowed to roll right down the middle of East 50th with an escort. It was like something out of an insane movie. The rich woman gets a street to herself while thousands of people coming to exercise their First Amendment rights were herded like cattle and treated like some sort of social cancer. It was one of many instances where I could see that there was a very clear blue line dividing the great mass of people from the powers that be. When you compared the great diversity of the crowd, the great soulful energy of the crowd, the warm and kind and courteous interactions inside the crowd with the cold stares of police clubs, the quiet lifelessness of the space they created behind them, the cold pavement of "peace" and quiet, you began to see so clearly that the wrong people were in control of the situation. When a woman with her garments and expensive toys can stroll down whenever she wants to, but people who are actually committed to doing something good in the world cannot, you can't help but get a sense of irony.
Turning away from the people in blue and the great deathly world outside
our circle, it was impressive to see the life and color inside the circle.
Everywhere was interaction. Everywhere in this slow moving crowd
of people were glorious signs, wonderful sounds, and a wide diversity of
people. We were only supposed to be going to a rally, but we found
ourselves in a march instead. We never made it to a rally, the only
hints of which were the walkmans that we could occasionally hear scattered
in the crowd. The march, on the other hand, was a truly amazing thing.
As you bump into people, annoy some others (at one point, I nearly ended
up in the lap of a handicapped person as I was trying to take a picture
you get an amazing rush from being filled with a such a display for the senses. The air in such crowds hits you a little less harshly because the body heat of others lessens its blow. You don't have time to notice your feet ache; you are just searching for the next space to squeeze through. Chants, sirens, and drumbeats fill your ears. The eyes move to color, to signs, to unusual costumes and outfits, and especially to children. And, yes, there were a lot of children in the crowd. I had wondered whether children would be there, especially after the dangerous situation created by the New York Police Department's refusal to give a march permit. Still, there were large numbers of children, especially small ones in strollers. Your eyes wander to children or to dogs or to anything that seems a little out of the ordinary but captures the spirit of why you are there. All around, we looked for messages that agreed with ours. We hunted for signs that were for peace, that cleverly assaulted the Bush Administration, that found a way to mix art, humor, and substance together. As someone who is fond of metaphors, I'd seek them out and film them. I hunted for the quiet and the noise and wondered endlessly to myself what it all meant. The real story was not where the line of life met the line of blue police officers met the empty stillness of the world behind those lines, but the story was truly inside the circle. People talked. I had random conversations with many dozens of people. I'd say something to someone else, and I'd hear a laugh or get a reaction by someone unrelated mere inches away. Bewildered by that blue line though we were, our spirits were rarely broken. And, what's more, the police only rarely got the better of us, and those moments were far outweighed by the greater story.
However, we did have some very unintentional tangles with the police, and they were extremely disturbing to us. Loree, Jamila, and I were simply trying to find a way to get to the legal part of the rally on First Avenue. We did not know the best way to go, and so we were randomly trying to get there as quickly as possible. Our buses were leaving early, we weren't sure how to find them, and so we only had a few hours to spend in this crowd of people. The last thing we wanted on this day was to be civil disobedient because we simply had no time for it and no plan of action on how to do it. In every possible way, we wished to be cooperative so that we could speak our message and yet could show that we are not the great threat to society that these people in blue thought we were. Of course, many of the police officers didn't think we were a threat, either. Unlike DC where the police can keep a cold silence in such protests, the New York police almost always talked back with the crowd. They talked with each other, many lamenting that they got stuck on this job during the day, and many others very mocking of the crowds. As the three of us approached East 53rd and 3rd Avenue, we noticed things had stopped moving. So, we stopped there for awhile. We didn't know what to do or where to go. Soon, we heard grumbles from the crowd that people were heading to a march on Times Square, and we thought that we'd go against the crowd heading toward Times Square to try to get closer to the rally. However, soon after that, our progress was stopped, and people stopped moving. Not more than five minutes after standing there, a crowd of 4 or 5 men dressed in black started pushing and shoving through the crowd toward the police line. I believed right away that they were police because I had read up on the tactics of the NYPD in big events like this. They quarter the crowd and sometimes try to divide it by sending a line of police through it. However, many weren't sure if these men were simply a gang of bullies or the police. In any respect, these men started pushing people and yelling at them to get out of the way. Then, the last in the series made the mistake of trying to knock Loree aside. My wife is a very calm woman, who rarely gets animated, and has no love for trouble. So, what I am telling you is so out of character for her but will help tell you how upsetting an experience this was. The last man pushed her, and she violently shoved him back. It was a very hard shove. Immediately, he got in her face and yelled, "Don't shove me! I am police." She did not back down and yelled back, "All you would have to do is ask nicely, and people will get out of your way!" He yelled back that he was police and that she shouldn't be doing that. She said that it was impossible to tell he was police because he didn't have a uniform on. He got disgusted, refrained from trying to arrest her, and left. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera on and was in shock. I had no interest in having Loree get into a physical fight with a police officer, but I was too stunned just to pull her away. It all happened very fast, and I saw how police can take extremely peaceful people and manipulate them to join this pressure cooker. People like us only wanted to know where to go, but the police had quartered off sections unnecessarily and were now pushing and shoving through the crowd for no other purpose than to intimidate the protesters. Soon after this, the police officers pulled back some, and the crowd took up the space. Then, out of nowhere, the police started pushing the crowd back, telling them that they had to get back right away. People, most of whom had no desire to be facing police clubs, started screaming and crying, "Where do you want us to go?" The police simply coldly said, "Back." Others yelled, "There are children here! There is nowhere to go." And, yet, people moved back. We outnumbered police by an amazing number and could have stood ground, but we obliged en masse. We cooperated to an amazing degree as the police shouted at us, yelled at us, told us to go home. Then, a couple people who weren't so lucky to get out of the way fast enough were grabbed by police and taken to the ground and arrested. A horse did its best to march through the crowd and seemed to injure somebody. One policeman got high on a vehicle and started taunting the crowd with his arms in the air. It was the motion that people have when they say, "Bring it on!" Then, another cop started yelling at the crowd and said, "If you don't go, that's going to happen to you next." He was referring to a man the police took down and arrested. This led to an argument I captured on tape where the cop told a middle aged couple that people should go home and move back. When informed that there were lots of babies in the crowd and that we had just been forced to trample over strollers, the policeman simply said, "They shouldn't be here." The woman said, "They shouldn't be here?! You shouldn't be here! We simply come to exercise the freedoms of this great country." At that, he shut up having no good argument in response.
But, while the police put us in a dangerous situation and hurt several people by arbitrarily moving their police lines back and then forward over and over again, the response of the crowd was overwhelmingly peaceful. Instead of becoming like the politicians of the city and country wanted us to be, which is quiet and afraid, we fought back as peace-loving people. We kept making music, we kept interacting, we kept making those connections that made us realize that we were empowered to make changes in the world. When we faced the blue line and realized part of the world was cut off from us, we saw in each other this incredible energy that was now organizing the world over that was more profound than a bit of street we couldn't walk on. I have met people in the last 4 months that have proved to me over and over again that we are not alone, that there is life in us yet. We have been quartered off in more ways than the police barricades, and many of us are realizing that. If we are so lucky to have jobs, we are alienated from the work we do. We are slaves to a consumer culture that keeps us at home watching a fluff media on television. Often, our lives revolve around dinner and a movie for wild entertainment and making a living to prop up this existence the rest of the time. Some aren't so lucky. In all cases, we think that the world simply works this way, that there isn't a better way. However, as these crowds grow and as friendships bond inside the mass of humanity, a better way is starting to coalesce. Loree and I had Jamila with us to make that point more than evident. She was warm, funny, friendly, and sweet. She saw the world like we were seeing it. Without her, I doubt there would have been courage for Loree to yell back at a police officer or for me to have so many neat little interactions. And, she said the same. On the bus ride up, she barely spoke to a single person, either. And, yet, here we were in this crowd talking about the police, talking about the spirit of the crowd, talking about the greater meaning of the peace movement, noting the odd and endearing characteristics of New Yorkers, laughing and in some cases crying. This would not have happened without these rallies. Instead, we'd all continue being strangers to each other. If our leaders had realized that going to war in Iraq would have unleashed this spirit that is far more dangerous to them than weapons of mass destruction, they would have thought twice. If they had allowed their press to report on these events right the first time, they wouldn't be so surprised by the swell today.New York had to call in 1000 extra police officers because they were shocked by the size of the crowd. The campaign of misinformation has only helped bite the forces of fear in the butt even more. Still, it's not them I was that concerned about. I found myself concerned for the people I was with and all the other people who hadn't realized that simply wanting to attend a rally made them such a threat.
Soon after getting knocked around by the police and capturing some of it on film, I said to Loree that I thought we should get out of there right away. It was starting to bring out the less peaceful sides of us and that I didn't think we were cut out to be in the first row in front of police clubs. The situation was dangerous, and I was not going to be party to making it more so. Loree and Jamila agreed, and so we headed away from 53rd and Third and toward the subway. We needed to find our way back somehow to Grand Central Station, and it didn't look like it would be easy through such thick crowds. As we walked, we stopped at an Au bon pain bakery and eatery. The restaurant was filled with people. All day wearing a heavy backpack, I was constantly in the way of other people. It was very hard to stand in this eatery while Loree and Jamila grabbed something to eat. However, as we stood there, I noticed that the emcee from the State of the Union protests showed up. I couldn't believe my eyes, but he was unmistakable. He looks just like Elvis Costello. Loree said that I should go say hi to him, but for once today, shyness got the better of me. However, I almost did. After getting food, we headed toward Grand Central Station. We walked by a lone pro-war protester. I started to wonder if the press would give him as much time as the hundreds of thousands of people in New York who disagreed with him. In fact, he was surrounded by signs of people who were against the war. Around one of those people, a three generation group of women (a mother, the mother's daughter, and the mother's mother) were arguing with an anti-war protester. As we continued to walk down the street, these women were right in front of us. Then, the matriarch of the family turned around and said to Loree and Jamila that she thought we should go protest in Iraq and something about needing to be 30 before we said such things, or something about "30" none of us can quite remember right. Loree, who was still very edgy and felt broadsided again, spoke up and said that we should be able to speak up and then called the old woman "ignorant." Again, this behavior was so uncharacteristic of Loree. After she shouted that the woman was ignorant, the older woman's daughter turned around and glared back. The look was shock and anger. So, everyone started arguing. I can't imagine that any of us would be like this in different circumstances. The older woman said again that we should protest in Iraq. Jamila said, "I don't want to protest in Iraq; they don't have the freedoms there to do that. I want to exercise the freedoms this country gave me." The mother and daughter responded, "That's exactly the point. They don't have those freedoms there." Then, Loree and I said something to the effect of, "So, you would rather us become like Iraq." The daughter said, "You don't seriously believe that, do you?" I said, "Well, you would rather that we just shut up and not exercise our freedoms and essentially be like the people of Iraq." After that point, they both shut up talking to me. So, the older woman was saying that Jamila should be fighting for human rights, who subsequently lied and said she worked for a human rights organization (which was at best a stretch of the truth). In some sense, that wasn't a lie, because Jamila has a graduate degree as a social worker and is involved with a nonprofit that helps others to be able to take advantage of some of those rights. The older woman responded, "I'm sure you do. They've brainwashed you." In any event, the scene was not pretty. The best we can say for ourselves is that, "They started it," but we certainly finished it, and we weren't happy with ourselves. Upon leaving them, Jamila yelled, "Are you Christians?" They said, "Yes." Jamila said, "Maybe, you should read your Bible." They responded in unison, "Maybe, you should read yours." We thought that was the end of it, but I realized after a block and turning down another that we might run into them again. Sure enough, there they were. So, Jamila said that we needed to start quoting Bible passages to them. So, I started yelling a litany of them like, "Love one another," "Pray for those who persecute you," "Blessed are the peacemakers," and actually many more. Jamila encouraged me to speak directly to them, but I am not that sort of person. I felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. At that moment, we decided we had lost control somewhat. What turned out to be ironic at that moment was that I discovered that Jamila, like me, was the child of a minister. We both began to realize that we were now using our religion as simply a kind of vengeance to get them back for their snide and ignorant remarks. While we played that game better than them, we all felt bad about it. When the subject came up during the day, Jamila said that she really believed that if she sat down for coffee with these women, that they could have a real and good conversation. I'm sure she was right.
We finally made it to Grand Central Station and thought our day was nearly over, but when we got to the entrance for the subway, police had blocked it off. They weren't letting anyone on the subway at Grand Central saying that it was a public safety risk and that people would have to walk all the way to Times Square to board the train. I could swear that some of the cops at Grand Central were there just earlier at 53rd and Third. So, now we couldn't board our train and now needed to head toward the hornet's nest at Times Square where civil disobedience marches were supposed to be going on. We also had no guarantee of getting on the train there because the police could not guarantee that that subway stop would be open. So, we walked across Manhattan to Times Square walking along 42nd Street. We headed into the Broadway tourist district where there was an odd mix of locals, tourists, and a huge number of protesters. People who were not there for protests were swarmed in by the crowds of people trying to march or to get to a subway. There was a lot of confusion. As we approached Broadway, a march of civil disobedient protesters started marching arms locked down the street. A line of blue policemen started running at them with clubs ready. The crowd started cheering the protesters who then sat down. The police stopped and faced them. More police came running, at points abandoning police lines. We asked directions of policemen to the subway as we continued to move against the grain. We crossed Broadway. Then, the police opened the lines to let people cross 42nd Street. The lights of Times Square and Broadway were all around us. The bright neon lights were surrounded by this confusion on the streets. As we crossed, a line of police suddenly reversed course and started pushing and shoving everyone back again, much like at 53rd and Third. We were forced back onto the sidewalk. Loree said that they did this because someone was trying to run away from police, and yet I can think of better ways to handle this than to let a whole crowd cross and then moments later shove them all back. Over and over again, the police would inconsistently move their lines and then reassert them, yelling insults and cold commands to a crowd often asking the people who were supposed to be protecting public safety where to go. Just a minute after this, they let us cross again. We asked whether we were allowed to cross and whether we were going to be shoved again, explaining we were just looking for the subway. In fact, in this crowd, many people were not even demonstrators. We finally crossed and made it to the subway, where some nice locals helped make sure we got to Shea Stadium and our bus, which was much easier to find than any of us had expected.
However, as I said, most of my day was on a bus, and the bus ride home was as much a part of the day as was being part of such a massive crowd. The bus ride home was an extremely special event for me that told me what the fruits of the peace movement are. If being in New York helped bring home the feeling that we are in fact minutes from midnight, that the world is simply waiting to push lines arbitrarily and make war on people, then the last of those minutes were spent on the bus rediscovering that the left has a new soul coming to life.
Even before we approached the bus, Jamila said something poignant that had crossed my mind repeatedly and often does at these events. We only have one itty bitty piece of the puzzle. Our own experiences don't really give a sense of the event; they only give an alternative sense of the event. They might be more real and more personal than what you get on the news, but they are still so small. Jamila talked about trying to collect stories of other people on the bus, hoping to get a sense of the entire event, wondering if people made it to the rally. In fact, someone who was alone did manage to make it to the rally on First Avenue and gave a description of it to us. Others had a radio on, and I could hear scattered reports from the march. Someone said 2 million people, but no one believed that. From reports, we gathered it was between half a million and a full million people. In fact, as we were leaving, some people were still coming in. I think the number of people could very well have been a million. I have never seen anything like it; it is one of the largest protests, if not the largest, this country has ever known. This news excited everybody. Though few actually made it, no one felt the worse for wear. "We did it," I heard countless numbers of times. On the bus, I used the bathroom for the first time in 13 hours and apparently didn't quite feel so annoyed with myself as I had those people earlier in the morning. Loree and I looked at the pictures I took and watched the video. Jamila joined us, and she felt embarrassed that I taped her crying while the police were madly pushing us back. Loree and I both encouraged her and thought her reaction was very human and touching. Loree soon after went to sleep, but I was too energized to sleep. I started talking to Jamila about my sense of frustration before the march, with the two extremes of thoughtless activism and do-nothing thoughtfulness I kept finding. Jamila found herself feeling the very same way. We started talking and bonding some more, discovering that we were coming at things from the same angle. A dear friend of mine out in California had told me that I needed to take heart, that those people were out there and in some sense were the majority. She turned out to be right. As we started talking, a young man named Tim joined in the conversation sharing his ideas on the state of the Democratic party, of the left in general, and of the problems we face. Then, the two people sitting behind Jamila, whose names I never caught but will soon, joined in our conversation. All of us were talking about the need for vision and cohesion in the message, for a new Martin Luther King Jr. to rise up among us. The man sitting behind Jamila said something those who know me know I say all the time, "The left needs to find its soul again." And, yet, we were encouraged that the soul was being reborn, that the peace movement was no longer being marginalized and prostituted out for the sake of selling other causes. The other causes were now being connected to the peace movement, and slowly a larger social vision was beginning to coalesce. Yet, we realized that many of our own leaders didn't realize that. So, we began discussing the problems of leadership, of vision, of people with vision rising, of people who can both lead and care. We began discussing the rebirth of liberalism as a spiritual and inclusive movement with cohesion. In the peace movement and on these buses in little groups of 4 and 5 a new soul for the left was being born, was thawing from its frozen slumber. I thoroughly enjoyed listening and sharing with these other people, who otherwise wouldn't stick out, who otherwise people might not listen to. I suggested that the five of us need to be our own subgroup group and simply get to know each other and begin in our own way to be reflective and active together. Today, we were being both, and I felt that should continue. Jamila took the idea enthusiastically and ran with it. She took our email addresses down and promises to get in touch with us so that we can meet and simply let the interaction take care of the rest. Not only did I find a new friend in Jamila who also was hoping for something between the extremes of pure activism and pure reflection, but also I saw that there were others just sitting around us yearning for some group where their own unique voice can be heard. I realized firsthand that there was a very silent disenchanted group of people looking for a niche within a niche. And, those networks and niches are the hope of a social dynamic that can change our streets and overcome the dominance of the world behind the blue line. We might not stop atrocities in Iraq, might not even be able to walk freely down First, Second, or Third Avenues, but the stronger dynamic is the stuff you will not read about ever in your newspapers. The newspapers look to report facts (and usually rather badly), but they don't look for what can't be seen, and that's unity and soul. They don't see the power and mysterious magic that happens when people can connect about things close to their hearts. Jamila even said that we needed a name and initially called us the "Peaceful People" or the "Peace People" (I can't remember which). However, I suggested that she call us the "Otherwise Shy" people, and she thought it wonderful and polled the group to see if they were otherwise shy people. While the question received mixed response, I think she and I came to the conclusion that that was true. We are the "Otherwise Shy" people, who if put in a different place in a different circumstance would not have been so bold, who would have been quartered off in our homes, or quietly letting the world happen to us. When put into our element, we can have our voice and speak calmly and confidently and reflectively.
We eventually made it home after what felt like a million hours.
Loree and I parted company with our new friend Jamila and went and grabbed
a bite to eat before heading home. We got home not too long before
midnight, as it turns out. I just hope you all see that though the
world is in dire straits, though Iraq is now less than 5 minutes before
midnight, that the bell might yet toll, that in those last minutes before
midnight that some of us are challenging the inevitability of it all.
Between the buildings, inside the buses, inside the depths of our hearts
a new left with a soul has been reborn. The hour is late, but I sense
that only the end of the beginning of a profound outbreak of love will
pass with the midnight hour. Let's welcome this outbreak, this reborn
child, with all the compassion and thoughtfulness we can muster.