Friday night, I had dinner with friends. One, a self-described newshound, was astounded to hear that I was going to a big antiwar protest in Washington the following day. “I read four newspapers daily,” he said. “How come I didn’t hear about it?”
Jeanhee and I woke up early and slipped onto the streets before 6 AM, armed with water, sandwiches and snacks. It was like the morning of a beach volleyball tournament, but it was dark and raining. We got on a charter bus at 14th Street. It was 1 of 40 that left Manhattan. More were leaving from Brooklyn and Long Island.
The bus ride there and back was a bit rough. Small space for that many hours will be. I had a book and an iPod and a sweetheart to keep me company, though, so it wasn’t so bad. Our bus driver was entertaining, using the loudspeaker to inform that person in the lavatory, “That is the emergency assistance button, not the flush button…”
The scene of the protest, the Constitutional Gardens, near the Vietnam Memorial, was mobbed. Many streets were closed off and the crowd was too thick to even see the stage, much less locate Liz and Anthony, who were in its midst. I did manage to catch up with Melissa and met some of her law school friends. Lots of people had signs and costumes. Extremely diverse crowd. Lots of students. Many Muslims.
I found a few speakers particularly powerful. One turned out to be Jesse Jackson. Another was a Congresswoman named Cynthia Mcsomething. She went through a staggeringly long list of the nations in which the U.S. has troops at the moment and lamented the poor care given to our veterans. Other speakers were less compelling, hurling personal insults at the administration.
Later, we marched through the streets of Washington. The numbers of people were large. The organizers put it at over 100,000. NPR had it at 10,000. The New York Times put it at “thousands.” It’s impossible for me to estimate, though I’m surprised that there isn’t a way to get an accurate estimate. It impressed me that the protest drew so many people, considering that it was against a war that hasn’t started, and came on the heels of Bush back-pedaling statements about cooperation signaling a change of regime as well as the a**hole snipers that until recently had DC on the low end of most people’s must-see lists.
To me, the event signals that there is a large constituency that is already mad as hell, and eager for an outlet to express their dissent. If our current leaders go through with an invasion and occupation of Iraq and otherwise usher the U.S. into an imperialist phase, the protests will become larger, and these leaders won’t be our leaders for long.
I managed to take some pictures before my batteries gave out… This is what democracy looks like.