David McReynolds' assessment of Washington march
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jan 20 06:30:20 MST 2003
The Joy of Freezing for Peace.
David McReynolds, staff emeritus of War Resisters League, Socialist Party
candidate for President, 2000. (Feel free to use in whole or part)
I don't know how many people were at the rally in Washington on Saturday.
organizers said a half million - that seems too large. But certainly over
Maybe the best thing to be said is there were "enough" - more than enough.
As a veteran of demonstrations, including the March on Washington in August
1963 (where I heard King's historic speech), this demonstration was one of
the largest I've been to. And not in spring or autumn, when the weather is
pleasant and the marching is easy, but in the dead center of January. I had
thought I might skip this one, telling myself that age must surely have some
advantages and if, at 73, I could go to movies for a cut rate, maybe I could
skip the long ride to Washington.
But in the end I went and am delighted I did. Those of us going from New
City had to be up by 5 a.m. if we were to catch our buses leaving at 6 a.m.
The sky was bereft of any touch of dawn, the streets empty, and the
temperature somewhere in the teens.
We got to Washington by 11 a.m. and it was chaos of the happiest kind. There
was a speakers platform on the "mall" near the capitol building and the
speakers were speaking when I arrived. The sound system wasn't first rate,
and I caught little of the speeches. But I wasn't interested in who was
speaking - I was interested in the crowd. The sheer numbers were
overwhelming, filling the mall, swirling in little freezing groups, some
beating drums, most carrying signs.
Of course one expected New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania but
Mississippi was there. And South Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana,
Vermont (the folks from Vermont said the weather was a bit warm). I'm only
taking note of the few signs I jotted down that indicated the states - I
think almost every state in the Union was there. Including Alaska!
I ran into Ellen Barfield, a veteran who joined the War Resisters League
she got out of service, and had just gotten back from five weeks in Iraq
where, she said, it was very hard to leave, as the people there were
terrified of the coming war. Two of Phil Berrigan's daughters were there,
handing out antiwar tags.
Thinking about the demonstration as I came home on the bus, what struck me
first was the goodwill of the crowd. Then, the wide range of ages - with the
majority being quite young. The youth we have told are not into politics
there by the tens of thousands. And those of us who have seen many marches
were there, bald or gray haired, with our wool caps and mittens. There were
an unusual number of handicapped there, some on their own motorized
others being helped along in their wheel chairs by friends. There were dogs,
often wearing special banners of their own. And carefully bundled babies.
Black, white, brown - all were there. Some of us had questions about the
organizers of the demonstration, but our misgivings proved irrelevant. The
primary organizer, ANSWER, is pretty much run by a small group of
Marxist/Leninists who belong to the tiny Workers World Party. This fact has
been used by some, including such pompous nitpicking academics as Michael
Walzer, coeditor of "Dissent" and at the moment the Establishment's favorite
"leftist," as a reason not to take part. (Workers World was set up in 1956
a split from the Trotskyists - to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary.
Later it supported the "coup" against Gorbachev, and the Chinese suppression
of students at Tiananmen Square). Workers World probably wouldn't have had
the success it has had without the help of Ramsey Clark, a former Attorney
General, who has acted as the public face for ANSWER. But, for the tens of
thousands of people who came, including me, the issue wasn't who did the
backbreaking work of organizing the demonstration - it was who was in the
White House! And I want to say, for the record, as a long time opponent of
the politics of Workers World, they deserve a lot of credit for the work
put in, and their key public figure, Brian Becker, has certainly earned his
right to be heard. (Many peace and justice groups, including War Resisters
League, not happy with ANSWER's monopoly of the organizing, have formed our
own coalition - United for Peace and Justice, with a website:
www.unitedforpeace.org. This coalition is planning a major demonstration in
New York City on February 15th - If Washington is any indication, the
will continue to surge).
There were nuns, priests, rabbis. Various religious orders had their own
banners. Peace Action, the Green Party, all the various socialist groups,
But most people seemed to be marching to their own drummer, with their own
very individual signs. It was almost as if there was a powerful "central
committee" which had issued the order: "Appear spontaneous". Yes, there were
the standard black and white signs, machine made, from one left group or
another. But they were lost in a sea of banners and handmade posters. Here
are a few: Regime Change Begins At Home // I Love This Country, I Won't Let
This Happen // Who Would Jesus Bomb // Get The Empty Warheads Out of the
White House // Axis of Evil - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld // Dissent is Patriotic
// and, from a young member of the Socialist Party, No War but the Class
Several people were seen carrying nothing but olive branches.
There were strange white birds made of cloth, which floated above us, held
high on stilts. At one intersection people were taking turns lying on a
spread of white cloth while someone painted a black line around their
so when they stood up, you could see the outline of the victim.
The tens of thousands spent from 11 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the
afternoon in weather which, while sunny, never once got as high as freezing.
At one point, when our line of march was going down Pennsylvania Avenue, I
heard a burst of shouting "It's Our Flag Too!" and walked over to see what
had happened. A group of Republicans in an apartment building across the
street had put up signs mocking the marchers, and, of course, a large
American flag. After the firm chant of "It's Our Flag Too" the group
continued marching with the chant "Dissent is Patriotic."
For those of you in other countries, you should know that peace
demonstrations have been occurring steadily, and in increasing numbers, even
as the members of Congress have been afraid of opposing Bush. In my lifetime
I have not seen so massive a divide in "active public opinion" between those
in the government, who continue to announce their plans to invade Iraq, and
the people in the small towns and the larger cities all across this country.
Washington DC is a world of its own, and it may be that Congress doesn't yet
understand how deep is the active opposition to this war. Many of us expect
some "Gulf of Tonkin" incident to help try to sell the public, but distrust
is very deep. People remember this President was not elected. The media is
finally beginning to cover the demonstrations - a coverage that reflects a
genuine division within the Establishment. Never has the White House been
more deeply isolated as it is today, with world opinion profoundly opposed
this military adventure. Tony Blair may speak, but he no longer speaks for
Great Britain, nor even for the Labour Party. Bush may speak, but he has
his mandate to speak for America.
We should take hope that our actions will reinforce each other. The war is
not a "done deal." Bush is on a serious collision course with the moderate
ordinary Americans that turned out on a bitter cold day, not only in
Washington, DC but in San Francisco and cities all across the country. (And
across the world). The hope of ordinary people around the world rests in
demonstrations such as those we have seen. Those in power need to take note,
or the acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, which have already begun, will
deepen and spread as Bush's illegitimate abuse of power faces a serious
confrontation from the citizens.
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