Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Big March

I don't know yet how many people there were, and I'll have to sift through the organizers' estimate and the police estimate and guesstimate that the true number is somewhere between the extremes. However, I would say that "100,000 plus" would be a conservative number. On the other side, we were greeted with dozens of counter-protesters, including one lunatic with a bullhorn who insisted that God will condemn us to hell for the hatred in our hearts because we oppose the Iraq war. I briefly contemplated trying to find out more about the logic of his position, but thought better of it. Seriously, for all the noise and media coverage of the planned counter-protests, I expected to see at least hundreds, but I saw fewer than 50 total. The counter-protesters were easily outnumbered by the police presence.

The march route was rather complicated and just flat-out too long. I, and a hefty percentage of the protesters, marched past the White House and then wandered off, especially since that first 1/4 of the route took over three hours to walk! Of course, much of the sluggishness was the slow procession of people yelling their particular slogans at the White House (even though George Bush left town and Dick Cheney was in the hospital) or getting photos with the North Portico as a backdrop. We started from the Ellipse (between the Washington Monument and the south side of the White House, then crossed westward in front of the north side of the White House. We were supposed to then loop back to the north and east, and then head south and east around a chunk of the "Federal Triangle" area before returning to the Ellipse.

I got to hear Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, and a few other speakers at the main stage. Of greater interest, though, was the diversity of people who showed up to march. The usual suspects were there, of course, with the usual chants ("What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, George Bush has got to go" being the most tiresome), but there were a few sparks of creativity and many unfamiliar faces. One popular theme was "Make Levees, Not War," capitalizing on the tie-in of Bush's incompetence as a military leader to his incompetence as a domestic leader. There were also some topical quotes from Madison, Jefferson, John Adams, and Napoleon: "In politics, stupidity is not a handicap." My "Bush's Chicken" sign (the box top from my fried chicken dinner in Waco a few weeks ago) was well received. The best costumes by far were a trio dressed as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Satan. Cheney was pulling Bush's puppet strings, and Satan in turn was pulling Cheney's. There was also a Bill Clinton in a pink dress with a pearl necklace, looking almost Barbara-Bush-ish, with a sign touting "Bill for First Lady 2008." The majority of the protesters, though, were the whole gamut of ordinary citizens: families with young children; grandparents; veterans from Iraq, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II; students; teachers; labor unions (the AFL–CIO took an official anti-war stance for the first time in its history); Katrina survivors; and just about anyone else you can think of.

Thomas Jefferson: "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him," and "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

James Madison: "If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."

John Adams: "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war."

By the way, my count of the pro-war protesters does not include the "Billionnaires for Bush" contingent with their "Give War a Chance!" signs.