Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Protest Story: Part II*

Permalink to Part I

Finally complete...

Speakers from Far and Wide

I attempted to document some of the speakers, but I admit this is not fully comprehensive, as I stopped taking notes at one point and allowed myself to be swept up in the emotions around me. The first speaker I have notes for is Virginia Rotira, who spoke about Iraq and impeachment, but also informed us that London had 100,000 people protesting at the same time as us. She also said that protests were ongoing in Mexico, Canada, Japan, and other locations around the world.

I believe there were some speakers in between, but I was so overcome by the experience that I temporarily forgot to take notes. Some of it is still a blur; the next speaker I have notes for is Representative Cynthia McKinney, who spoke on the theme of America being swept by an Ill wind, an ill wind that carried disenfranchisement and war, that thought Government more important than the people it serves. I’ll be honest; I cried during her speech, at least a little bit. It was very moving, especially when she talked about how, while dead bodies laid in the Superdome, military recruiters moved in on the Astrodome, trying to reap the benefits of the tragedy. My respect for Representative McKinney now knows no bounds.

The next speaker was Fred Mason from U.S. Labor Against War, who said “People of consciousness can win”. Very stirring, very emotional. A natural-born speaker. I have to say that, at this point, I noticed that there was a great amount of African-Americans running the show, and I have to say I liked it. Obviously, the issues of racism and poverty have been huge in this country lately, and they have always been tied up in military deployments and those who end up going off to fight the war. The sooner we recognize this, the better, and we can all work together to make the changes we need.

Curtis Mohammed of Community Labor United spoke next, focusing on the tragedy of New Orleans. He said their main focus is to find the survivors, who have been scattered to the four winds, and attempt to get their input on what will be done with THEIR communities. A great point – do they get a stake in where they used to live? My guess is no.

Following Mr. Mohammed were the Raging Grannies, who came from as far away as Washington State, with some even getting arrested along the way for attempting to enlist.

Jesse Jackson followed the Grannies. His speech was even more inspirational, as he compared Cindy Sheehan to Rosa Parks. He said that there are and have always been wars that are worth fighting, for the right reasons – the Civil War, World War I, World War II, but that “Nicauragua, Panama, and both Gulf Wars” are not those kinds of wars. My favorite quote? “It’s a long road, but keep marching.” I was also surprised when he led a chant.

Cindy Sheehan followed, holding hands with Jesse Jackson and waving to us before she spoke. She was very straightforward with her speech, obviously not a trained speaker, but she was very effective and inspirational for all of that; in fact, it was distinctly refreshing after the polished rhetoric of Jesse Jackson. Some quotes that I caught: “We will be the checks and balances on this government” and “We do not torture. We have to reclaim our humanity”. I liked her a great deal.

Several other speakers from different organizations came in between, but at this point, after several effective speakers in a row, I was more interested in following along with the speeches – chanting, yelling, and participating, in other words, which is very, very unusual for me when I’m in “journalist” mode. I finally got myself together as George Galloway came to the stage. Folks went nuts for him, too, and I can see why – what a great speaker. He brought a message from the Londoners who were rallying, and highlighted the importance of bringing the religions of the world together. It was nice to hear someone say that Christianity does NOT want war, and that Islam and Christianity can co-exist peacefully. Very fiery, very eloquent.

By the time he finished, it was close to 2:00, and the passion that had been stirred up in me was ready to move – not to continue to listen to speeches, so, as Ramsey Clark took the stage, I slipped toward the back to rest my feet for a bit and prepare to march. Unfortunately, this means that I missed quite a few speakers that I had wanted to hear, but I forgot at that point: I was ready to go.

Marching to Freedom

After resting for a bit, I went to join the march, which was already queuing for several blocks in every direction. I ended up behind the Iranian-Americans to End War in the Middle East, who hoisted a huge banner and led chants, including “No blood for oil”.

I chanted along with them for some time, waiting for the speeches on the Ellipse to end and the march to start. Eventually I got antsy and decided to move further up in the line and see what was going on. The sight that greeted me…well, I was glad I jumped out of the line. Here is what I saw:

At last I slipped in behind a student group that stood behind the Veterans Against War and waited for the speeches to finally end. And end they did. At last, we marched down 15th and turned onto Pennsylvania. On the way, we passed a rather pathetic throng of counter-protestors who asked “how dare we” and “how do we live with ourselves”, but they were pretty much a joke and not worth bothering with. I followed the march route down and past the White House. We moved very, very slowly, but we did make it. As I finally extricated myself from the march, I saw that the people snaked along EVERYWHERE. I had never seen so many people in one place, and I took a great deal of pleasure in that. One pathetic counter-protest to our massive throng. I do believe the tide is turning.

Why I Cried

And so, last night, as I began to write my story, I wondered why it was that I, who is not given to public displays of emotion, cried several times with very little provocation. I thought about it all night. I dreamed of seas of people with banners, signs, and flags, dedicated to change in the U.S., and yet I still did not quite get what made me cry. Was it the eloquence and passion of the speakers? Partially. Some of the speakers were quite moving on their own, but I am always able to hear a good speaker without tearing up. Was it the sight of so many generations in one place, dedicated to the same cause? Again, partially. It was a beautiful sight to behold, but that would not, on its own, have made me cry.

I thought about it and thought about it, and this morning I was reading Alice Walker’s Meridian, and a passage within the book answered the question for me:

It was a decade marked by death. Violent and inevitable. Funerals became engraved on the brain, intensifying the ephemeral nature of life. For many in the South it was a decade reminiscent of earlier times, when oak trees sighed over their burdens in the wind; Spanish moss draggled bloody to the ground; amen corners creaked with grief; and the thrill of being able, once again, to endure unendurable loss produced so profound an ecstasy in mourners that they strutted, without noticing their feet, along the thin backs of benches: their piercing shouts of anguish and joy never interrupted by an inglorious fall. They shared rituals for the dead to be remembered.

But now television became the repository of memory, and each onlooker grieved alone.

For the past year, I have lived this life in complete isolation, and I suspect that a great many other of us do, as well. Sometimes I feel like a hostage, surrounded by a community that is either apathetic or downright hostile to my ideals and dreams, surrounded by sleepers who are content to carry on their day-to-day lives and figure that the government would not rule if it was not just, that a man who has made it to head of this nation must, by default, be a wise man, or, counter to that theory, that a President should be like the guy down the street who would pop by for a beer after the sermon.

We are surrounded, in many ways, living in islands in cities and towns across America. Some islands are larger than others, but living in a Red State, I have felt this pain acutely, along with the fear of speaking out that comes with the threat of physical harm. It does not help when someone is already naturally withdrawn from the beatings that come with life. So it was that stepping onto the Metro and riding down to the Ellipse was a great act of will for me, a very conscious act of defiance. For a long time, I felt like I still didn’t belong, despite all the friendliness shown to me.

It was when I was in that crowd, chanting along with the ideas that I’ve never been able to voice anywhere aside from here, that I was seized by the beauty of what we were doing. And in retrospect, it was a form of grieving, of community that has been denied to us by the American lifestyle. I think it’s a beautiful thing that many people do have an outlet for what they have to say; I envy those who live in areas where they can have large groups and regular demonstrations, but for me and for many others, we are spread out, and feel forced to live this lifestyle, we have to live through the media, through the TV or the Internet, and it loses the immediacy and sense of community. You can share ideas on the Internet, but it’s not the same as looking around and seeing large numbers, of knowing you have the camaraderie and support of the people around you.

And that’s why I cried. For once, I was able to break out of the bubble and see the beauty and spirit of the American people and its system. We may live in defiance of those who run our corrupt government, but we do so because the system was built that way, and it is we who fight to keep it that way. Already they are eroding the freedoms that allow such demonstrations to happen. We must fight to get that system back before we’re all forced to live in that bubble forever.

That is why I cried, and that is why I marched.

Posted by crimnos @ 6:02 PM

Read or Post a Comment

It is the sense of hopelessness that I feel when I see so many people just like me--frustrated because our government treats lives as if they are expendable for the sake of a dollar or more power--that makes me cry.

Posted by Blogger Mikey's Momma @ 10:56 AM #

Amen. Of course, it all gets played down and we don't get listened to...and told we "don't exist"

Posted by Blogger crimnos @ 11:00 AM #

Tears welled up in my eyes reading this post. I too am an island of blue in a great sea of red. It is nice to at least know that I have friends and allies online.

Glad you had such a beautiful break-through!!

I will always stand next to you my friend.

Posted by Blogger james @ 1:36 PM #

Thanks, was definitely a major breakthrough. I know just how you feel, believe me, and I take great comfort in the friends I've made here.

I stand next to you as well.

Posted by Blogger crimnos @ 1:55 PM #

As the mother of crimnos, both his father and I are very proud of him and the courage it took to do this. We both grew up during the Viet Nam war and where we live you did not dare protest a thing. Even now, we are looked down on and yelled at because we have a Democracy Now bumper sticker, so imagine us being in an antiwar demonstration here. I cried when he called me from the march and my spirit was right with him.

Posted by Blogger tallulah @ 6:51 PM #
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