Washington, DC, on April 20, was not only the site of a variety of protestsin support of the rights of Palestinian people and an end to the brutal Israeli occupation; against Bush's seemingly unceasing drive to militarism and war; against the destructive policies, corporate greed and attendant widening of economic inequality promulgated by the global institutions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund; against US military aid to Colombia, aid inflaming a decades-old civil war in which thousands of civilians have died; in support of peace, social justice, and the possibility of another, better worldit was also the site of many young people's (including my own) first major protest. I rode the second of two Greyhound buses which the Syracuse Peace Council sent down to the nation's capital on a cool, extremely early Saturday morning. I was sleepy but excited, and sat next to a retired schoolteacher with whom I chatted briefly, before proceeding to sleep almost uninterrupted until we stopped for breakfast somewhere near Baltimore.
The bus was quiet, dark, and most surprising and heartening to me, filled with all sorts: parents, children, teachers, students, people from the United States, people from Jordan, people from Turkey, long-term activists, first-timers, friends, strangers. My images of protests stem almost entirely from Sixties-era photos and newsreels of Vietnam War resisters, the vast majority of whom appear to be college students. Yet this certainly was not the case on the bus or at the demonstration. Though I sincerely wished even more of my fellow students were there, I couldn't help but fill with hope at seeing so many people so desirous of change and so willing to act to effect that change.
"I want, in some wayeven if it's a small wayto try to get the attention of the nation and its people about the issues of globalization and Middle Eastern policy," Jim Weidman, my busmate, told me when I asked why he was going. "It makes me feel good to do something instead of just watching TV and gnashing my teeth and being depressed." I suppose that's why I went down, too: to feel like I'm doing something, to feel like I'm not offering tacit consent to destructive US policies. And I was overwhelmed and energized by the number of people who feel this way, too.
When we stepped off the bus near the Washington Monument, crowds were slowly forming for one of the three large rallies being held before the unified march to the Capitol Building. Groups wandered with bright banners, giant puppets, signs of all sizes and slogans, T-shirts pleading for peace, newspapers and flyers, bags of buttons, and a hundred other emblems proclaiming anger, hope, and dissent. At the risk of sounding sappy, I've really never before felt like I could see my constitutional rights at work like that. It felt amazing.
Carol Anne Kozik, who brought her five children with her to the demonstrationand whose husband, she informed me, was disappointed he couldn't make itsaid that one of the reasons she enjoys going to demonstrations is the chance to be around others like her, people who share similar concerns and hopes. And it's trueat least, for me. I felt incredible community as I crowded the stage at the morning rally to "Stop the War at Home and Abroad," danced to Division X, cheered for union organizers and student radicals and Raging Grannies, and for Amy Goodman, when she announced the support of thousands listening to the live broadcast on the Pacifica Radio Network at that moment, and thousands of others marching in San Francisco and in cities around the country.
The feeling only overflowed when we took to the streets. Even before marching, I could sense the swell of excitement as groups edged in semi-lines toward the march's starting place. When the march was declared officially underway, I stood behind Kanat, who swung the Peace Council banner like a revolutionary, and looked back at the ground surrounding the Monument. Rivers of people poured across it, heading to meet marchers from separate rallies against the World Bank and IMF, and in support of Palestinian rights, everyone heading together to the Capitol. We marched to demand our voices to be heard, to demand an end to the training of terrorists at Fort Benning at what used to be called the School of the Americas, to demand an end to the bombing of an already war-ravaged country and the killing of innocent civilians, to exercise and protect democratic rights, to voice opposition to policies that promote profit at the expense of people, to call for greater governmental support of education, housing, and social welfare programsnot war. There were chants of "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!," of "Ain't no power like the power of the people `cause the power of the people won't stop," of "Hey, hey, ho, ho! This racist war has got to go," and of dozens of other slogans that I can't remember now and completely forgot to write down in my poster-waving excitement. All the way to the Capitol and at the final rally of the day, it was like this: thousands (I've heard most estimates around 75,000) chanting, marching, dancing, playing instruments, and singing, all peacefully.
I asked Carol Anne Kozik to describe the differences between this demonstration and some in which she participated earlier in her life. She said the April 20 march was more organized and in-tune, had more artwork, and hosted a greater variety of people, one of the things she found particularly encouraging. She also called it more meaningful, that a demonstration of this size was taking place right nowthat is, at a time when Bush is experiencing a wave of "patriotic" support in the wake of September 11 and a stance against war is not a particularly popular one. But definitely not so unpopular as we might have thought, based on the numbers who turned out in Washington. Jim Weidman, the teacher I rode beside on the trip to and from Washington, echoed some of her distinctions. He found the mixture of young and old "impressive," and added that the young add humor, energy and enthusiasm.
Back on the bus, after some shaky attempts at singing songs in rounds, someone shouted out, "So did we stop the war?" I was excitedsweaty and bleary-eyed with sleep, but excited. Upon returning home I was infused with the memory of tens of thousands of people uniting to present a solid front opposed to war and injustice. Some small part of me actually thought I might open the paper later in the morning and read, "Washington responds to demands of demonstrators," followed by any or all of the following: ceases aid to Israel to protest occupation, ends sanctions on Iraq, unequivocally shuts down the SOA, recants decision to increase involvement in Colombia, uses proposed $48 billion increase in defense budget for social welfare programs.
Instead, I found a tiny AP article in the Post Standard, close to the back of the first section, quoting a police officer who estimated the crowd at 35,000 to 50,000, with no mention of the large demonstration in San Francisco or in other cities. I was disappointed and frustrated at what seemed to be the local media's decision to ignore what many called the largest anti-war demonstration in years. But then I remembered the kinds of things people told me when I asked, "Do you think that this, here, today, will have an effect?"
Pam Dahlin has two daughters, one of whom is in the Army Reserves and whose safety served as the immediate impetus for Pam's travel to Washington; she didn't want the administration to sacrifice her, or anyone else's, children, she said. In response to my question, she also said, "It's one step at a time." And Carol Anne Kozick assured me, "I believe every voice will make a difference." She said it travels person by person, and "that's the way we build peace, by treating every person with love." I remembered her oldest daughter saying how excited she was to come down. I remembered five-year-old Noah, on his mother's back as we marched, shouting out of nowhere, "We want peace." I remembered how, on the way to Washington, Jim woke me just once and pointed at the sunrise through the windows. So, though I suppose it's a worn symbol, that's one of the pictures I want to take with me of the demonstration: this bright orangeball shining
just above the horizon, lifting.
Amy is a student at Syracuse University and a member of the newly-revived SU Student Peace Action Network.