This past Saturday, I “marched” in the D.C. protest against the Bush “surge.” A D.C. march is a different from one in New York: in D.C., you listen to speeches on the Mall (Jane Fonda, for example, trying to save her career; Tim Robbins, looking frighteningly orange, and saying everything you already know about the war; Susan Sarandon, speaking about the plight of the common soldier; Jesse Jackson, tired, past his prime, but when prompted, still able to shout, “KEEP HOPE ALIVE!”).
You cheer at a sign made with a Sharpie, which hangs from a Senate office building: US OUT OF IRAQ. That’s the high point. Someone inside that building, much closer to the vortex, understands the obscenity of the war.
Then you march, which means that you promenade toward the capitol, then around its back, ending up where you’d started in the first place. All the buildings are empty—the congressional members are off fundraising or playing golf, except for Maxine Waters and John Conyers who also spoke at the rally.
You cheer at a sign made with a Sharpie, which hangs from a Senate office building: US OUT OF IRAQ. That’s the high point. Someone inside that building, much closer to the vortex, understands the obscenity of the war. And that’s consoling.
Thousands are there with you, but they are shouting at empty buildings. The various Stalinist groups pass by in their matching tee shirts, mass-produced signs, and complicated chants. A number of older guys hand you fliers that say 9-11 was some sort of a conspiracy (an “inside job”), rather than yet another example of Hanlon’s Razor.
Ad hoc bands form, along with drum circles. The Raging Grannies sing sweet little tunes about the war; they bring forth images of little old ladies rehearsing together every night over bean salad and Jell-O. Families (DC is very much a family-oriented place, with polite children with good haircuts and dressed in nice clothes) pass by with strollers. College kids, seemingly most of them women in their early twenties, also pass, full of energy, excited about how it’s so “freakishly awesome” to protest.
Fellow traveler Stephanie and I said that there didn’t seem to be anyone around on the streets—that is, except for maybe twenty idiots in support of Bush. A Washingtonian—dressed in a parka that would be a week’s worth of my salary said, “That’s because they’re all disenfranchised!” She then ran off, embarrassed at her outburst. In New York, she would have stayed. In New York, we would have “discussed” the matter further. In New York, THAT’S what democracy looks like.
Marching in a protest in New York, especially under Giuliani, means that you are penned in to strict pathways. Sometimes harassed. Occasionally arrested. Under Bloomberg, desperate to kowtow to the Republicans, the police arrested dozens on trumped-up charges during the Republican National Convention.
But go. Go to the next march.It’s better than jury duty. If you go to the one in DC, you can stop by the Smithsonian. In New York, you can go to Bloomingdale’s, or Macy’s. Maybe Sak’s will have a sale. Really, it’s fine.
It only matters that you show up and be seen, because in democracy, it’s about numbers. In the street. Not in front of your TV. (But if you have to catch one of those cheap buses that are sponsored for these events, try to go on one sponsored by the Quakers. They tend to bring extra food, and God knows (their god knows) the Quakers are experienced in standing for peace.)
If you have Celebrity Worship Syndrome, I’ll quote Jane Fonda: Now is the time to speak out.
Bio: Meakin Armstrong is Guernica’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @meakinarmstrong.