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SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2002
Just as I will never think of September 11 without remembering the horror of those unbelievable attacks, so I will never think of October 26 without remembering the wonder of being part of the reemergence of democracy in our nation's capitol. For this day 200,000 people gathered together in strength and oneness of heart and said "NO!" to George W. Bush's war on Iraq. Not only "no" to his militaristic regime with its bottom-line corporate interests, but a resounding "YES! to peace and unity and a shared determination never again to allow any politician to tell us what we think and what we will or will not do. This day, in my memory, will go down as the day that true democracy came back to life in America! And what a grace it was to be part of helping to make it happen. I am sure every single person who was there feels as I do. Hope no longer seems a "someday" thing; hope is our shared reality. How grateful I am to the International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) coalition organizers, members and volunteers for creating the container to hold such an enduring reality. Today's rally and march in Washington, DC, coupled with those in San Francisco and across the globe, showed what non-violent resistance can look like on a grand scale.
The rally was scheduled to start at 11 AM at Constitution Gardens between the Vietnam War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial with its reflecting pool. When I arrived at the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro stop at 9:30 AM, it was already filled with folks carrying signs. I soon hooked up with a woman named Cynthia from Colorado, and a couple from Richmond, VA. We walk/scooted the six blocks together to Constitution Avenue. I was touched by their sensitivity when we encountered an ungraded curb that La Lucha my scooter couldn't handle; they walked behind me in the street so I wouldn't feel so vulnerable. On the way, Cynthia and I got to know one another a bit and I learned that she is an experienced symphony conductor and a concert violinist. She was visiting her parents in Triangle, VA, near where I used to go to Camp Fire Girl camp in the 1940-50s. Today was her first large demonstration. We decided to form our own affinity group and stick together for the day. What an excellent choice!
Once we reached Constitution Gardens, it was like we'd been dropped into a new world, one in which everyone shared our values and politics, at least in relation to the Bush Administration and its determined push to go to war against Iraq. There were welcome tables put up by International A.N.S.W.E.R., information tables boasting a variety of progressive literature, people handing out all kinds of flyers, a drumming circle, the Rochester, NY Raging Grannies singing their wonderfully irreverent ditties, an Uncle Sam stiltwalker who chose me as a companion for photo ops, several Bush look-likes--one an oil-guzzling babe in arms and another with strings manipulating his every move--university contingents from places like Yale, Dartmouth and the University of South Carolina, and people of every nationality (including this older couple from Pakistan), age, religion and ethnic background. I saw so many wonderful banners and signs that I almost ran into people trying to take pictures. Here are photos of a small number of the signs and banners I saw during this very full day:
War, Cry Peace
Use Your Brains Not Your Arms and Don't Sell Out
Peace Is Right, Bush Has Left and Regime Change Begins At Home...VOTE
Hello Mother Earth
Hey Cowboy, Don't Rope Us Into Your War
See Our Hands (held by deaf students from Gallaudet University)
Professor of Literature Against War (group from New York City)
CIA Agents For Peace (friends of mine from Michigan)
a peace sign
RIP...How Many More? (with drummers)
The War On Freedom
Stop Ignoring Us (held by a sister in a scooter)
Talibans For Bush
It Takes A Village...Don't Raze It (dress worn by a Raging Grannie from NY)
Regime Change Begins At Home...VOTE (www.moveonpac.org banner)
Kill Not For Me (I unfortunately cut off the faces of Bush and his cronies)
Bu$h, Save Earth
No War Ever (little Maria's brother Jacob looked much more tired than she)
Just being among these crowds of people from all over the country was like a reality check. How I feel about a war on Iraq is not strange or unusual. For on this day, we were the majority. And deep down I know that, polls and media aside, that is the truth: we are the majority! The American people do not want this war.
Soon it was time for Cynthia and me to make our way up to the stage where the rally would be held. As is my habit, I used La Lucha my scooter to part the waters so we ended up in the front row right behind the media and press. The coolest part of it was that we were in the deaf area where there was to be sign language interpreting for a wonderful group of students from Gallaudet University. When I told them that both my grandparents had been deaf and my Great Uncle had gone to Gallaudet, they said that made me part of the family! Their enthusiasm, chanting and cheering helped me stay focused for what turned out to be a very long list of speakers. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It's not every day you have the opportunity to hear such inspiring people as Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, the Rev. Al Sharpton, attorney Lynne Stewart who has recently come under attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft for "violating" the Patriot Act in her defense of an Egyptian cleric who is currently being held in a U.S. prison, an Iraqi humanitarian, author Leslie Feinberg, an A.NS.W.E.R. youth organizer, Susan Sarandon, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the A.N.S.W.E.R. organizers, and the singer Patti Smith.
What stays with me is Ramsey Clark's urgent, passionate cry for peace, the mixture of pain and gratitude in the voices of the Iraqi speakers, Susan Sarandon's saying that dialogue is the opposite of war, Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's reminding us that it would take $8 billion a year to feed all the hungry persons in the world while Bush has asked for $270 billion to wage his war on Iraq, and my disgust when Jesse Jackson described the Gulf War and other military misadventures as "necessary wars" while he said this upcoming war on Iraq was "unnecessary." I wonder to whom he thought he was speaking? Many of these same folks were out on the streets in 1991 protesting the Gulf War he described as "necessary." But his was the only sour note in four hours of speeches.
As the rally continued, the crowds grew larger. First they said we were almost 100,000, then 150,000 and finally 200,000. The numbers didn't matter; what mattered was the sense of solidarity and peace that permeated everything. Even the weather cooperated. After a misty morning, the sun appeared and it became a perfect autumn afternoon. Everyone started stripping off layers of clothing and my face even got a little sunburned. It was hard to remember my concern over cold and rain.
By 3 PM, the march began. Since Cynthia and I were in the front at the rally, we were near the end of the march, but even there, Constitution Avenue and 17th Street going toward the White House were totally packed from curb to curb with smiling, chanting, singing folks. I started some songs and got a terrific response from the people around me. We sounded pretty darn good if I do say so myself. But I'll tell you who really sounded good and that was a man with a clarinet whom I dubbed the Musician For Peace.
When you're at such a mammoth gathering of people I guess there is a good chance that you'll see someone you know. I was kind of blown away by how many times that happened to me today. I saw a group of activists from Michigan, some of whom I've seen at demonstrations at home in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Then there were at least four women who recognized me from the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, the most significant of whom was the bodypainter Jayne from NYC who was painting faces here as well. But my most unexpected meeting was with Maria West, a woman I used to know in Detroit but had not seen since she'd moved away about ten years ago. We just happened to be marching near one another. Maria was with a wonderful woman named Mio (not sure of the spelling) whom she'd met on the Metro coming in from Maryland. From the moment we connected, the four of us stayed together until the end of the march. And I have Mio to thank for many of the pictures, including these of some fabulous street theater performers. For much of the time, we were marching in the middle of a large group of people from Vermont who had wonderfully creative banners of different kinds and a lot of pride in their identity as Vermonters.
Throughout the day I saw and connected with a good number of sisters and brothers in scooters and wheelchairs. Liz Fleet from Long Beach, CA was beside Cynthia and me at the rally, and I met Joanne from Springfield, IL on the march. It was good that we could be part of the action.
For me, the culmination of the march came when we got to the Executive Office Building where my father used to work. As my regular journal readers know, my Dad held a high level position in the government that meant he was privy to the machinations of power during Truman's and Eisenhower's administrations. He was also an important member of the U.S. intelligence community. My activism comes from that deep place where heredity meets conscience. It is a non-negotiable part of my being.
It's hard to know how the mainstream media will characterize this rally and march, but we do know that Pacifica Radio and CSPAN broadcast the whole thing live. And tonight I read an email from Margaret, a tireless activist friend of mine in Windsor, Ontario, in which she wrote:
I am writing while watching live coverage on Indymedia's streaming video of the speeches at the BIG peace rally in D.C. I JUST SAW YOU!!! I was thinking they might zoom in on you and they did! Good for you, you are representing so many of us who can't be there!! Ramsay Clark's powerful speech, Cynthia McKinney's, the youth from Vieques....I heard them all. This is a glorious moment for the American people as the Free Palestine Alliance speaker said. You are the patriots!!
Yes, we are the patriots, but we are patriots with a lot of work ahead of us. The next organized action proposed by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. coalition is to mount a campaign to get hundreds of thousands of signatures on a People's Anti-War Referendum. As we now realize, those persons whom we elected to represent us have fallen down on the job and it is up to us to represent ourselves. We will gather again for a Mass Demo and Grassroots Peace Congress here in Washington, DC on the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, January 18-19, 2003. In the meantime, we must work together to stop this war before it begins.
©2002 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.
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