View captioned images. Send comments or video requests to email@example.com. To read the narrative for the October 26, 2002, peace march, read "Luminous Times."
not the Answer"
a narrative of the march by Jim Macdonald
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - Ya
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today
Picket lines and picket
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Ya, what's going on
Ah, what's going on
--from "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye
I don't suppose there is much comfort in Iraq these days, and I doubt there would be much more even if the Iraqi people knew what to expect. The expectation of everyone is that soon the United States will be at war with Iraq on the pretext that Iraq has not fully declared its weapons of mass destruction, which it denies having. Whatever the merits of the pretext, I cannot imagine it is very comforting in Iraq not knowing what might pour down from the sky. It cannot be comforting not knowing whether their loved ones might not come home from work safely, whether they will have anything to eat, and whether the sun in fact will rise to shine another day upon their land.
On the other hand, there is something comforting about the peace movement these days. When I find myself chanting and singing with a crowd, listening to the orators of the day, feeling the power and energy of the entire atmosphere, there is something very comforting in that. Much like our march in October, our march through the streets of Washington was a profoundly peaceful event, an event that managed to change the cultural mood of the city for an entire afternoon. When you compare the civility, diversity, and warm-hearted friendliness of our event in Washington with the sad plight of the people of Iraq, you cannot help but think that we have found a better way.
However, it's not the people of Iraq we need to convince of that, but rather, our own government. As we congregated near the US Capitol to protest the upcoming war in Iraq, we face an uphill battle convincing a weak-minded Congress and a stubborn and reckless President that we have found a better way. On, Saturday, January 18, 2003, many tens of thousands, perhaps 150,000, congregated to plead with our government to handle its grievances with the government of Iraq some other way. At the same time, we offered comfort and support for each other.
So, what went on?
Since October, I knew that there was going to be another very large peace march in Washington protesting war in Iraq. Having had very fond memories of the last march, I greatly looked forward to it. Last time, I went alone. This time, I would have the comfort of my wife. Her presence would greatly change my entire perspective on the event. Having Loree with me meant that I did not feel the need to be silent. It meant that I had someone to share thoughts with, smiles and an occasional kiss. When I was frustrated, I could be frustrated. Having that safe island there helped me feel more like a participant and less like an observer. It brought more melody to my day.
Another thing that made me feel less alone was a community of people I have gotten to know over the last few months, namely the Democrats.com community. Since joining that forum, I have made exceptional friends and have had stimulating conversation. When I mentioned to them that I would be attending the march, I asked them for ideas for a sign that Loree and I would take to the event. It had crossed my mind that many people who don't have the fortune of living near a city like Washington will never have the chance to have their voices heard at a large event. So, while I was unable to give them a big stage, what I was able to do was allow someone to have their sign idea come to life for many thousands of others to see. Thanks to the large number of ideas, it was easy for Loree and I to come up with sign ideas that we liked, ones probably wouldn't have come up with on our own. We stapled two signs together, one that read "We'll Risk Empty Nukes if Bush will Take his Empty Head back to Texas," and another that read, "We've a Terrorist in the White House." Having those ideas and doing my best to design and make signs that reflected those quotes took all of the previous night and much of the morning. It made me feel like I represented somebody and wasn't as alone. Besides being fun, it felt like an example of this better way that our war hawks in our government don't seem to understand.
This morning, Loree and I bundled up to trek out on the coldest day we remember in Washington since moving to the city 2 1/2 years ago. With all the gear that I was putting on and carrying, it felt like I was a knight going into battle. I had long underwear pants and shirt, a sweatshirt, a winter coat, two hoods, two pears of socks, gloves, a large backpack with food and tripod, our signs, and a digital camcorder. It felt like I was about to go on a crusade, but it's probably best that I don't liken it to a crusade. Hopefully, what this is about is the opposite of a crusade--the hopes that we will have peace rather than war in the Middle East. So, I would rather not have likened myself to a warrior, but the language of war infects us in all facets of our life. We aren't even aware of it.
When we got to the subway, it was clear that this was going to be something special; protesters were already packing the trains. The AP, as I write at 9:34 PM continues to report the ridiculous number provided by Capitol police, of 30,000. Thankfully, the DC police agree with me that this is a much larger protest than the one in October, which most estimate at 100,000. The only way, however, that I could gauge the crowd size was by little bits of evidence like this. I never was able to tell where the crowd began and where the crowd ended. I have never seen anything like it. Not even during the large Inauguration protests in 2000 did I ever see a train so packed with protesters, and this was an early crowd. Throughout the day, we were packed tightly, and only at the very end did we unpack at all. I've touched more strangers than I have in a long time.
We arrived at the Judiciary Square Metro Station, which is one of the least used in all of downtown; however, on this day, large numbers of people got off the train. We all headed for the 4th street exit, but it was closed. Some may think it was a police plot, but I think it's normally closed on the weekends. Instead, we had to get off about two blocks away at an entrance which comes out at a memorial for policemen who have died in the line of duty. It is a memorial similar to the Vietnam Memorial, although it's white and has some fountains. It can't help but cross your mind that this is ironic. On a day where we weren't likely to look upon the police fondly, we are greeted by the memory of fallen officers. I can't say what that means, but I suspect that we should always take the time to remember people so that new memorials for people who died prematurely don't have to exist. We already have too many such memorials in Washington.
We continued on. The sun was shining, the wind was light, and so the cold air didn't seem to phase us. On this very cold day for Washington, no one at all seemed concerned about it. We simply continued forward. As we walked, we saw a dog, and Loree stopped to pet him (or her). A lot of people brought dogs today, and occasionally we found ourselves missing our dog Stella. It would have been nice to bring Stella, but she's not all that well disciplined in public. Since we got her from the pound where she was almost put to death, we are afraid that if she had an incident that they would take her from us. People are even more ready to put dogs to death than they are Iraqis.
As we crossed 3rd and Constitution, it became clear where everyone was heading. It was simply wonderful to see all the buses and all the people. The crowds weren't especially heavy yet, but they were surprisingly heavy for an event that had not yet begun. Near us was the Capitol and some of the Smithsonian buildings. This was the Washington that outsiders think of when they think of Washington. Of course, it's the Washington that most people who live here only see when people are visiting or when we go protest. As we began getting closer, I noticed that I found myself singing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," which is a song that's almost never in my head. However, through the day, I'd sing aloud "War is not the answer," although much less soulfully than Gaye. Whenever I think of Gaye, I think of the fact that he was murdered by his own father. If you look at the lyrics of the song above, it's so tragic. Often I note how war is an epidemic in our lives, not just in some far off distant land. I don't know why we think we can make the world a better place by forcing someone to comply with behavior that we deem acceptable. Even if you get them to cower and comply, what has been preserved? Does it feel better to keep them from hitting you back when they look at you with hatred in their eyes? Is whatever harm they might inflict on you worth the cost of what you do to them? Protecting myself simply doesn't seem worth it to me if I have to live like that. If I can't live right, what's the point of living at all? Certainly, that's overstated. We all make mistakes. We all let each other down. We all ruin the routine from time-to-time and make a mess of things. That's not the point, really. If I can't do my best to live right, to treat even my enemies with some measure of respect, then I don't derive enough joy from this existence, especially when I compare it with the joy that comes from doing things right. "War is not the answer" was all over the place today. Why isn't it the answer? That's something I always think about, and it's not easy to come up with a good answer. Peace is the answer. Yes, but what is that? When you are in a crowd of people and they're jabbing into, cutting in front of you, waving their signs so you can't see, wearing oversized hats, and doing countless other things to annoy you, you wonder what kind of peace is possible on any level. And, when your partner in peace won't play along, what hope have you got? What the hell happened to Marvin Gaye, who sang with such passion and such soul? It makes you wonder whether peace failed him. Days like today's march give you hope, but it's so important that we think about what kind of hope that is.
When Loree and I found ourselves in the crowd, we thought we might as well try to set up our tripod to tape the event; however, that didn't work out very well. When we set up the tripod, the ground of the mall was very uneven. Besides that, larger banners blocked our view of the stage. Finally, we noted that the crowd was already pushing in too tight and that it would be rude of us to take up that space with a large tripod. So, we packed up the tripod and hunted for better viewing ground.
Soon after, we ended up fairly close to stage right. For most of the event, we had a fairly decent view of the stage, and we could see most of the speakers. However, crowds at these events are very fluid things. As we packed more tightly, different people would sometimes be in front of you. I always feel very sorry for short people at large public events like this. They don't stand a chance at all in seeing a thing. I am a man of slightly below average height, and so I find a way to manage, but many of the women in the crowd just had to give up. Several times, I told Loree that I thought it should be a crime for people to wear big, wide hats to events like this or wave signs near the front of the stage. I mean, when you've seen the same sign for the 5,000,000th time, you get the point; you'd like to be able to see the speaker. Thankfully, we could see just often enough to take a few good pictures and film the crowd. It was very fascinating seeing the event through the lens of a camcorder. Constantly zooming in on signs forced me to notice all the beautiful creativity out there. So, while at once it was easy to be annoyed, on the other hand, it was easy to forgive because the spectacle was simply amazing.
The speeches began with song, and that's the way it should be. I suppose if we sang to each other all day long, our idea of melody might be the cadence of speech. However, it's not that way, and when our days our occupied with the babble of cable news stations, the babble of politicians, the babble of each other, it's so refreshing to be drawn into something just a little prettier. The tone was set nicely by the English band Chumbawumba, whose music was very moving. When I watch our tape, I'll look forward to hearing them again. You realize when you tape a large outdoor event like this that it's not going to be very pretty. Watching it will be a tedious labor of love, but what will make it worthwhile are those moments when sound fills the air with music, and not just any music, but music that fits the peaceful theme of the day. I couldn't imagine listening to Mozart today.
As I filmed and the speeches began, I noticed how little I was listening to the speeches with any great focus. Perhaps because I was filming, perhaps because I felt crowded, perhaps because my arm was starting to hurt from holding a camera up for so long, I couldn't quite concentrate. A lot of the speakers I remembered from the last march in October, and so I knew already what they had to say. I had heard the guy from Palestine, and the student activists, and Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson, and Ramsey Clark, and Cynthia McKinney. All of their speeches were excellent, but I didn't particularly listen to them for any insight on war and peace. I think, instead, what I was noting were themes and how those themes seemed to harmonize with today's peace movement. One thing I noticed was that a lot of the signs, including our own, had a very angry tone, and yet the speeches today were mostly about one of my few heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday is Monday. The messages were about peace and nonviolence. They were about the courage needed for activism and the need to fight now; they were about hope. Around me, though, I felt, in ways that are hard to explain, a greater tension, a much greater urgency and anger. So many people, for instance, came to us to admire the signs we had made, and more than a dozen asked us to stop so that they could take pictures of them. Our signs didn't talk about peace, or about the love that represented King, but our anger and derision toward President Bush. It's an anger I feel, too. I feel the great disgust for this man and what his government has done. I am disgusted by his sheer stupidity and his heartlessness. Yet, it was more beautiful to me to be reminded of Dr. King and to remember what wonders can be done by staying committed to a good cause. And, yet, Dr. King was gunned down, too. Nevertheless, would you rather have lived King's life and died too young or lived Bush's life and killed others when they were still too young?
The speeches did not drag on nearly as long as last time, and that was a welcome relief. What really impressed me was that the speeches were almost entirely about peace; the other people who carried different agendas dedicated themselves today to talking about peace. So, when a number of speakers from labor unions came forward, we saw what peace was from the perspective of these people in labor. What stake do labor unions have in a war in Iraq? Not a heck of a lot it would seem, and yet the men and women of these unions recognize that there's a greater principle at stake that is directly relevant to what they believe in as members of the labor movement. It's always wonderful to see labor take charge and show that their own cause is a universal cause, not necessarily in some sort of Marxist proletariat way, but in a simpler way, one that says that people matter, and that we are not entitled to treat them in any way we see fit. Besides labor, there were speeches from a different set of celebrities than last time. So, instead of Susan Sarandon, this time Tyne Daly and Jessica Lange spoke. I did not listen carefully to either speech, but I noticed that Lange was extremely impassioned to the point that she had trouble at times maintaining her voice when she spoke. Those were real moments, and it was good to know how much it mattered to her. The words weren't coming out right, but they didn't have to.
The crowd began to march, and this was when I started feeling wonderful. Yes, the pain in my arm from holding up a camera became excruciating at times, and Loree's feet and back were giving out for over half the day, but marching with a crowd of people like this is such a profoundly beautiful thing that you remember that more than anything else. There were little musical interludes everywhere. As soon as you were out of one, another one began. I remember how we were drawn by some drumming and dancing. It turned out that the anarchists were beating drums and dancing. I wasn't all that pleased to see the anarchists because they tend to use tactics which go against peace, but I remember remarking to Loree, "For people who don't believe in order, they sure can keep a good beat." And, the truth be told, I don't know how "anarchist" these anarchists are. You look at them, and they hardly look like a threat to Western Civilization. They're not scary. They're just people. During the march, though, there were more than drumbeats. We heard people singing spontaneously. We came across bagpipers. We saw our share of guitars. All of these things helped contribute to a climate where your inhibitions to be beautiful are freed, and you simply look at strangers with such a fondness. Besides the music, there were lots of elaborate costumes, including some people dressed up like Bush and Cheney. It was a little surprising to see these two show up at our peace march. While Cheney looked like he had a bad case of constipation, at least it looked like Bush was enjoying himself. I suppose he thought it might be possible to get off the wagon again and join many of the other protesters who flooded into liquor stores along our route. In any event, hearing and seeing all of these things, interacting with strangers who admired the signs, and smiling and enjoying the company of Loree, just made the feeling wonderful.
Again, I tried to gauge the size of the crowd, but I couldn't. At a few points, I was able to look out over a large area to see how large the crowd might be. However, I was never able to discover a beginning or an end or have a clue as to how to judge it. This certainly seemed and felt larger than any football game I had ever been to. When I got home, and the Capitol Police said 30,000, I was not shocked. I was less shocked that the press would report that number as if it held any weight. Yet, this was by no means a crowd that small. It's impossible to imagine how anyone could have figured out how many people were there short of the aerial methods that have been used in the past. The Capitol Police seemed generally disdainful of the event. At one point, many of them hovered on top of one of the buildings while another bunch were on the ground, apparently detaining one of the anarchists. People were shouting at the police to let the person go, and eventually, they did. Large cheers went up in that area, but I have no idea what was going on, and I was no more than 20 feet away. Soon after, a motorcade of Capitol Police forced themselves through the middle of the parade route for no apparent reason except to intimidate protesters. All that Loree and I could say to each other was, "Those fucking assholes." We had seen similar tactics by police during the Inauguration when some forced themselves through the crowd with large batons and paraded in front of protesters in a show of force. It was extremely silly to be honest. When you compared their behavior to the festive and jovial and outgoing nature of our parade, how could you not help but think that those who run our government and who enforce our laws are beholden to a strange culture that promotes warfare? Most of the time we don't see it because we can't gauge the difference. We have never seen the beginning or the end of it. We don't know any other way. However, at these rare moments when we come together in such a different cultural spirit, it is painfully obvious how much better the world would be if we followed the example of the marchers. We danced and sang in the streets, and we saw just a little bit of what it's like when we let love conquer hate. It was a large endless crowd, and it was beautiful.
I mentioned that the Capitol Police were somewhat revolting, but the same should not be said about the DC police. Much like the march in October, the DC police were out in some show of force. However, I noticed very early on that they took a very different attitude toward the crowd. It was not uncommon to see police officers smiling and chatting with protesters. Their laid back attitude was rewarded by kindness in return. While no one to my knowledge threatened or fought with a member of the Capitol Police, it could feel like war was being waged through intimidation. However, that tense feeling was gone when the police treated the strange people walking through their streets with respect. Later in the route, I noticed DC police chief Charles Ramsey watching the parade, often waving at people who walked by. He stood there with another officer and drank a cup of coffee. And, I give the Chief credit in this case for telling the Washington Post that he believed this number exceeded the march in October, which most certainly seemed true.
As we continued to march, I noticed several things. One of the things I noticed was that the parade route was taking us to parts of DC I had never seen. We were moving through the southern quadrants of Washington, beyond the posh Capitol Hill neighborhoods, under I-395 to some of the poorer parts of Southwest Washington near the Navy Yard. What I noted was that as we moved into areas that are heavily populated by African Americans, there were now a large number of whites and hispanics setting foot in parts of the city that they never set foot, and I wonder how many people (especially since so many were from out of the area) realized this and realized the irony and sadness of it. On this Martin Luther King Jr. day weekend, we were still coming as a racially segregated society, if not in law, then in fact. That I even was noticing this, as I often do, told me how far we are from the promised land mentioned by Dr. King. I looked through the shops, now being filled for the first time in ages by white patrons, and wondered what the people here must think of this. Although our march was very diverse and represented the entire spectrum of nationalities and races, it was still an overwhelmingly white crowd, albeit with a very large number of Hispanics. It still must have struck the locals of the forgotten areas of Southwest Washington as a sort of silly little thing going on. If most of the people there hadn't been on a march, myself included, would we have ever stepped foot into their shops and stores? I doubt it. The racial gulf is still so staggering. As a white minority in a majority black neighborhood, I sense that gulf in little ways every week. What encouraged me, though, about the march today as well as the one in October is that it was an extremely integrated event from an organizational standpoint. It was refreshing to see bridges made between racially diverse groups, who now come together to meet and march together. Besides the racial gulf, I also noticed the joy in the crowd. Large roars waved through the crowd at regular intervals. People were smiling and hugging. Even as we banged and bumped into each other, very few looked disturbed. People were kind. Strangers expressed well wishes. If October set the seeds for a new peace movement in America, I felt like those seeds had just begun to open and were setting some roots. People seemed less uncomfortable around each other, somehow. You began to wonder what friendships were forging, what new opportunities were happening. Maybe, Mr. Bush, by being such a ruthless idiot, had awoken us to new possibilities, had driven us to dream again.
I was happy to be there with Loree. While she wasn't with me in October,
she was always on my mind. What comforted me was seeing her excited
to be there, to see her light up and enjoy the spectacle. At times,
any two people can feel the strain of their relationship and wonder what
the heck is going on; but at those times when you find yourself connecting
with each other and letting that connection spread in small ways to the
rest of the world, it gives hope that the strains are just chords in a
better song. Being out there with her sort of made me wish that there
were peace marches every week, although I'm sure she would disagree.
Her back hurt immensely, her feet felt like they were about to fall off,
and when we finally got a chance to sit, she couldn't even sit down properly
at first because of the pain. So, perhaps, she might not want to
feel that way every week, but I would, if it meant that I could see such
splendid people. And, we didn't just see splendid people young and
old, we saw several splendid dogs, too.
The dog pictured here was only one example. Many dogs like this one representing the "Fags 4 Peace" had signs attached to them. I don't know if dogs really are for peace, but I suspect they are for some sort of routine that they can depend on and respect, and that's certainly a large part of what peace is about. Peace is many things, and essentially an interactive dialogue, but such dialogue is premised on a kind of mutual trust. You need that trust, and dogs need that trust. When they have it, they'll wear your signs for you and flatter you with cute poses. In any event, every time I see a dog, I think of Loree because of her love for all animals. Seeing her with a dog always teaches me something about love and peace. Being with her on this day where we were together, when we joined other people, and when we petted a few dogs was really special.
Eventually and not long before the end of the march route, we went home. Apparently, there was supposed to be more ranting and raving at the Navy Yard, but the permit for a sound system which had been approved was revoked at the last second. Others can speak more to that than me, and I was probably more happy that this was now over and done with than to have to sit through another round of speeches I wasn't going to listen to very hard anyway. Besides, I was now more concerned about Loree, who was not doing that well. So, we cut off on Third Street and headed back to the Metro. However, we weren't done. The area was teeming with protesters heading home. People all the way home and even as close as a mile from our home continued to be festive and act freely. The subway was so packed; the only thing you could to keep yourself together was laugh. We could hear other conversations going on around us. They were different and interesting, about life and death and war and peace. A young liberal about my age, who Loree said by pure coincidence worked at the Humane Society with her though she didn't know him, was talking to an older woman about the war on terrorism. He was trying to convince her that sometimes war is necessary while she quietly listened and clearly disagreed. He continued to talk and talk, and she smiled and asked a question or two. I liked eavesdropping. For an extremely packed train, people were just so kind. When leaving to change trains, the lens cap fell off our camcorder. People made sure I wasn't trampled on as I scrambled to find it. I eventually did, and I was safe thanks to the kind people there. It was so different than my normal experience in this city that it gave me some hope.
Why don't we band together more profoundly and more often? Why are
we fighting with our mothers and our fathers, our brothers and our sisters,
our spouses and our children? What have we gotten from that answer?
There just has to be a better way. There has to be some way to keep
us from killing each other and ourselves. We have to stop
thinking that what we want, that what we need, that what we have to have
is the most important thing at all costs. And, we have to replace
that with love, charity, and festivity like we had today in Washington.
Somehow, we have to find a way to give that present to the poor, suffering
people of Iraq. I am afraid, though, that nothing quite gets into
that empty head of our President. But, like someone else once did,
I can dream.