27
Sep
2005

Report From the D.C. Anti-War March

I’ve been SO distraught in my paying attention to politics this last 5-1/2 years that I just KNEW I had to slap down $200 for a plane ticket and go to the big Sept. 24th March on Washington. It was worth everything!

Since I used to live in Wash. DC, I was fortunate to be able to stay with friends. I flew in late Thursday night after work. Friday morning I trekked out to see what was happening on the mall in preparation for the BIG DAY Saturday.

First I went up to the Capitol. For a few years now the Bushies have turned the grounds into a huge pile of rubble. SO ugly. I used to go up there a few times a week and watch band concerts on the beautiful grounds. Now it is all construction site. I talked with a Capitol visitor guide who whispered to me that though they say they’re building a fancy underground visitor’s center, it is in reality going to be a bomb shelter for Congress … strongly similar to an airplane’s black box … impenetrable. The guide said I was the first person he/she (to protect the innocent) met who was going to the march and he/she hoped there would be a HUGE turnout. Said that things at the Capitol have turned so rigid and stifling under this administration. At the front of the Capitol they had cops … one carrying an AK-47 machine gun!

I walked down the mall, shuffling into Smithsonians to escape the extreme humid heat. I passed a book fair on the mall and then, down by the Washington Monument, FINALLY got to OUR PEOPLE! There was a big tent that was labeled “Camp Casey III” – Cindy Sheehan’s group. Outside of it, crosses had been erected to signify all the American soldiers who had died, as well as many pairs of their boots (Casey Sheehan’s boots had been stolen by a right winger the week before!). Inside the tent there was a big map that we all could sign on our states. People were so helpful inside, and excited.

I walked on to the Vietnam Memorial, but saw a lone middle aged man standing on busy Constitution Avenue with an “Impeach Bush” sign. I stood with him awhile and we got many cars honking for the concept. I admired his courage … reminded me of the lone Chinese man in front of the tank in Tianneman Square. An hour later, he was STILL there, so I stood with him getting cars to wave for another hour or so and drawing a crowd. We had lots of “takers” for getting Bush impeached.

That evening, about 250 of us gathered at the Sheehan tent in a circle and listened to speakers … mainly family members who had lost a soldier, family members worried to death that their currently alive soldier wouldn't return or soldiers who were recently returned and disgusted with it all. Murmurs emerged that some were worried the march hadn’t been very well publicized and we wouldn’t get a big crowd Saturday. WRONG! (I really do believe there were probably 300,000, as they say ... more than the amount of our soldiers in Iraq!) Then there was a candlelight processional to the Vietnam Memorial.

SATURDAY I woke up, as excited as a kid before Christmas. I donned my “I’m NOT with Stupid” (pointing to an idiotic looking picture of Bush) T-shirt and went downtown early to see the preparations for the big march. On the underground metro train, a few people excitedly asked if I was going to the march (DUH!). Though they liked my shirt, one guy said he believed Bush was more conniving, greedy and criminal than stupid. Interesting. Maybe he’s right, but I stand by my shirt!

Lots of people were on the downtown streets early, putting protest signs together and directing people and moving down toward the mall. I wanted to go by the White House first. Already there were quite a few cops and snipers on the White House and surrounding building’s roofs. I said to some cops, “Be nice to us today” and they said, “You be nice to us too.” One short, pudgy self-described “Marine” held a sign in front of the White House that said, “War, not Peace”. I walked by and said, “You’re kidding, right?” and he said “No”. The cops started getting nervous. I said, “You like war? ” and he said “yes”. I said I like diplomacy better myself. It was all quite friendly.

I talked with the elderly lady who has camped in her peace tent in front of the White House for 25 years, day and night, winter and summer (www.______). I said she must really be excited today, but she said it’s another day for her to preach peace. She seriously, as always, held up pictures of children deformed by depleted uranium to the bystanders on the sidewalk. I’ve talked with her for years and she’s wonderful and down to earth. She's also in "Fahrenheit 911".

I headed to the Mall and it was flooded as far as you could see with droves of people walking to the meeting place and tons of signs being assembled for people to choose from. I ran into some who had ridden all night busses. Two tired older gals said though their minds were drowsy, at least their bodies were there for the protest. My state of Wisconsin had 17 busses go!
(but I flew... can't take that anymore).

Though I hardly saw anybody I knew, I heard George Martin’s (from Milwaukee) voice rousing up the crowd over at the stage area. We heard that the train from New York and through Philadelphia had electrical problems(!) and that tens of thousands coming down from those areas couldn’t make it down in time but were having spontaneous demonstrations on whatever train platform they were stranded at. Of course, we were all greatly suspicious of who might have shut off those trains!

Suddenly, it appeared the march was starting. Thousands and thousands of us marched up to the White House, believing this was it! But, 1-1/12 hours later, as we all returned to the Mall, we were greeted with thousands more who asked why we were all going the other way. It turned out this second march was the REAL one! So we joined in again! And HUGE it was! An ocean of people of all ages and races … even dogs sporting “Beagles for Peace” scarves, Buddhists, Nuns, gay folks, many, many young folks, “Raging Grannies”, “Billionaires for Bush”, “Bimbos for Bush” sporting long missiles in “interesting” locations on their bodies. Signs stating the hope for a peaceful world to signs calling this administration liars, questioning God making this president with “intelligent design”, signs to “Bring the troops home now” and to stop the war, signs linking the need for hurricane relief and domestic needs to our costly war (“Make Levees, Not War”). There were folks in Bush/Rumsfeld/Cheney/Condi costumes … wearing prison garb, or Bush in a flight suit or Bush being manipulated like a manikin by a devil behind him. My feet hurt, so I stood in front of the White House watching it all go by. A man sported a Clinton mask and a dress and heels with a sign saying “Clinton for First Lady”. Even a tall, angelic, sandal-clad “Jesus” was there (could it be?!). I got my picture taken with "Jesus" who didn’t comment on my “I’m NOT with stupid T-shirt.” (By the way, my T-shirt was a big hit and about a dozen people asked to take my picture).

The signs that struck me the hardest and probably most expressed my feelings were the ones that said, “Ashamed of my country” or “Ashamed to be an American”. Very tragic to see and to feel.

Reuters news service interviewed me on why I was protesting. I said, “Where do I begin? But got off a few good sound bites about not having ever believed in the weapons of mass destruction, the tragedy of our low standing in the world because of our policies and how these policies have bankrupted our nation... and our infrastructure. I was also filmed by many other crews and I jokingly/nervously asked some if they were with the CIA, though one fellow protestor laughed and said he didn’t mind “updating” his CIA photo with his latest likeness.

Of course, the Gold Star Families were the most touching, as they carried pictures of their lost loved ones around their necks. They were the sad ones who weren’t reveling in releasing their angry feelings like the rest of us, I thought. When their group stalled in front of me, I asked a black mom if she had a loved one in the war and she said her daughter is now home but suffers from tremendous Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and “Survivor Guilt”. She hurt her wrist one day and another person went on patrol in her place. That person was blown up and killed. The mom wants the daughter to get help but the daughter doesn’t trust anybody. I felt so sad for that teary-eyed mom.

Around 40 young soldiers marched too … one rough guy with lots of tattoos said he wanted to stick it to Bush and that this war didn’t make sense. Lots of older Vietnam vets marched, as well as vets from other wars. One VERY old man walked painfully and seriously alone, determined to make his statement nonetheless. I won't forget him, though he seemed lost in the crowd.

I had wanted to carry a “Worst President Ever” sign, but they had run out so I carried one with an evil looking Cheney and a dumb looking “W” that simply said “LIARS”. 2 different bystanders on the route asked me who the “Cheney” picture was!

Since I was standing in front of the White House (Bush had flown off earlier on Friday to "oversee the operations for Hurricane Rita” … RIGHT!), I saw quite a few marchers “go haywire” in front of the (by now) hundreds of cops (some with machine guns) standing next to us, blocking us from the front of the White House. Some protestors would just lose it and shout at the cops that they should be facing the other way and attending to the “real criminals” behind them – asking them how they could defend such people. It was unfair, I thought, because they were just doing their job. Actually, the police were on their guard, but taking it all in stride nicely, I thought. They seemed to loosen up as the day went on, even though lots of drumming started up and many of the younger people got into some frenzied dancing in the park across from the White House.

As we marched back, there were 4 guys, one with a bullhorn nervously telling us that all the problems aren’t Bush’s fault but our own sinful natures. That didn’t go well with many who really told them off. I saw one guy on the sidewalk with a sign saying “Hippies, go to Hell”. I guess there was a pro-war contingent of a few hundred? who confronted our group at some point, but it didn’t amount to much.

After the march there was a big concert with rappers, Joan Baez, speakers, etc. (I missed a lot of the speakers I would have wanted to hear… the march went till about 5:00 for me).

I went back to the Cindy Sheehan tent before going home and THERE SHE WAS, off by the “cemetery”, standing 2 feet from me and hugging whoever wanted to come up. Cindy smiled so warmly at each and was so down to earth. Of course, my film ran out just before I got to her.

An older guy sitting in a chair in the “cemetery” got talking with me a bit. It turns out he’s one of the “keepers” of it -- helps put up the crosses in towns across the country. He also knows actor and peace and justice advocate Martin Sheen quite well. He told me something astonishing… He said, “This might be the last march of this size that you will ever see in your lifetime.” I said, what?! … Bush has 3-1/2 more years, but the guy thought Bush was on the downslide now and that people have finally started to put their feet down on wars like this. Hope he’s right.

Lastly, as I was about to go home, a sad, lien, quiet, handsome Hispanic man came up to me and others and gave us crisp envelopes. He said that his soldier son’s last letter was inside and he felt that if we read it, it would help keep his son alive. His son was Lance Corporal Arredondo, killed in Najaf in a gun battle. The letter talks about how after he signed up (after 9-11), his whole life changed “in an instant”. The next thing he knew, he was dressed in full combat gear. He was proud to serve his country and walking the “path of a proud warrior” but also wished he was back home with his girlfriend – wondering if he’d made the right decision to join up.

Well, that was it. I didn’t quite know why I went … to help support the other activists, to help make a statement to the country… but it wasn’t until I was flying back on the plane last night that I realized the biggest benefactor of my being there was ME. After sitting by myself swearing in front of the TV set and reading and fretting about how blind our citizens are, I was able to live for awhile in a crowd of hundreds of thousands who were just as outraged and adamant that I am about the direction this country we love has taken. I wish you all could have been there.


Debbie
Milwaukee,
Wisconsin


Dare to be a hero
Dare to stand alone
Dare to find a purpose
Dare to make it known


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