Being too exhausted to post these past couple days has given me time to digest the events of this past weekend here in Washington, D.C., and I'm quite glad of it.
I guess I want to ask those who have bemoaned various aspects of the weekend, most notably the ANSWER agenda, perceived as having muddied "the message..." just what exactly they expected from this march?
I'm not big on dressing like a clown. Halloween isn't a favourite holiday. So, not surprisingly, I don't paint my face and dress thematically when marching in a political protest. I guess in some people's estimation, that makes me a "grown up," "normal," "middle class," "bourgeois" or some combination thereof. And, conversely, I suppose we are to assume that the protestors who engage in street theatre, or dress like Uncle Sam on stilts, or paint themselves from head to foot with anti-Bush slogans are somehow "lesser" than those of us who dress "normally."
Well, I think that's horseshit. I'm not just marching against a war, you know. I'm marching for a way of life, for principles, values, standards, morals and ideals, goddamnit. None of which add up to a world in which dressing exactly as one wishes is proscribed should one's wishes deviate from what some minor majority has decreed to be the "norm."
I know, what the fuck does this have to do with the events of September 24, 2005, with the anti-war protest, with George W. Bush and his fucking war? Stick with me.
By far, the most oft-repeated complaint I've heard about the 9/24 Protest is that the co-organisers co-opted the "message." ANSWER, to many, tried to hijack the anti-war coalition to pimp their over all agenda.
Yeah? So? I was there. ANSWER did what ANSWER always does. But there were 300,000 of us there, man. Most of us didn't give a shit what ANSWER did or said. WE were there for one reason and one only: to make our dissent against the political agenda of the George W. Bush Administration, embodied in their illegal and immoral war, known to the world.
I can almost HEAR the protestations of some: "But they diluted the message! The rest of the world sees the loonies and the "normal" protestors get lumped in with them! We're going to be perceived as FREAKS! The media seizes on photos of nutjobs with Free Mumia and End Israeli Occupation of Israel -- and middle America sees us all as anti-American weirdos!"
Yeah? So? Dude, lemme let you in on a secret: it doesn't matter if we're wearing Birkenstocks and patchouli or Ann Taylor and Arpege - there will always be a contingent of Americans who see a war protestor and see a traitor, or a hippie, or a freak.
Fuck them. And fuck the media. Because, and I can't believe I have to tell you this, this protest march wasn't about the media, and it wasn't about convincing anyone of anything. Seriously, come on, what did you think? That George and Dick would look at the numbers and then at each other and say, "Wow, we didn't know so MANY people were against us..." and end the war?
THIS MARCH WAS FOR US. Anyone who says differently is deluded.
We haven't had a real protest march in D.C. since 1991. And until someone, somewhere, takes the lead and up-ends the paradigm, these marches as we experience them now will continue to be toothless, politically speaking.
They're fabulous, though, in terms of encouraging each other and everyone else out there who feels as we do. Nothing like seeing a few hundred thousand kindred spirits in a mile long throng to give you a boost, you know? And if we only change one mind...
Yeah, that last bit is bullshit.
So, in that sense, it was a wonderful and productive experience. And while I'm no great scholar of the Vietnam era, it seems to me that the political effectiveness that so many of us see a missing from our protest march was also missing from each individual protest against Vietnam. The true influence and volume of the "sixties" came as a cumulative effect.
We ask too much of ourselves, collectively, with unrealistic expectations of events like September 24... and disappointment and disillusionment the result. For what it was, it was lovely and sweet and fulfilling.
That's the good news. Here's the bad news:
If you want political relevance and influence out of a war protest, you're going to have to do better than a few hundred thousand people, in this day and age. And you're going to have to get some real political and notable muscle behind you.
Look, it was terrific to see Sheehan and Jackson and Sharpton and McKinney on Saturday. But let's fucking face it, people - we didn't have a heavy hitter on the marquee, And to those who would curse our so-called allies in Congress and demand to know where they were, I join you in your demands.
Why wasn't Dennis Kucinich at this march? I'm really, truly curious about this. All the rest of them, while I revile their rationale, actually have a note from their mothers excusing them from gym class. But Kucinich? The man who coined the term "Department of Peace?" The man who couldn't further marginalise himself from the "mainstream" if he submitted a bill demanding that only vegan items be served in the Congressional cafeteria? Where the fuck was HE? For that matter, where were the rest of the loony left? Hmm? Michael Moore? Sarandon? How about Conyers?
Didn't want to align themselves with ANSWER, comes the answer. Well, pardon me, but that's fucking bullshit. You go to protests with the leaders you have, not the leaders you wish you had. You don't think if it were politically beneficial that we couldn't have got a dozen or more big name Democrats at this march? And where were the movie stars? Why were the bands on the bill Saturday night... totally unknown outside of their tiny fanbases? Someone fucked this up. Big time. And I ain't talkin' `bout the stupid speeches.
Does it sound like I'm simultaneously saying ANSWER isn't the problem and ANSWER is the problem? I am.
As soon as I realized that the biggest "celebrity" at this protest was Jesse Jackson, I knew to lower my expectations considerably. This protest was "marginalized" the minute it was clear that none of the "names" would be there. No Democrats save McKinney? No movie stars or rock stars? Why on EARTH would they cover it? No one is impressed by less than half a million people if there aren't movie stars and big shots.
That's the fact, Jack. We can yell and scream all we want about principles and doing the right thing, but we're dealing with a world so benumbed and insensate that only shiny objects in the grass catch its attention any longer.
ANSWER, we thank you for your commitment and your ideals; we may disagree on tactics and specific causes here and there, but no one doubts or disparages the energy and time and money you have poured into fighting this battle.
But now it's time for someone else to grab the reins. Someone entirely new. Not MoveOn. Not any of the usual suspects. We need a fresh, powerful group leading our procession now. Someone who can make things happen the way they ought. Think outside the box. Shatter the paradigm.
Sorry, folks, but we're trying to change the world with tools that are rusted and rotted. Get a PERMIT? For a Saturday, so no one's life is disrupted? Follow a predetermined PARADE ROUTE?
The angriest people I saw at the march were the wingnuts on the sidelines. WHY they were angry is a rich subject in itself, but that's not germane right now: where was OUR anger? Christ, I looked like I was going to a garden party. Don't get me wrong - we had a BLAST. It was... fun. A LOT of fun.
And maybe it's time to stop having fun at protest marches. Maybe if I had any courage at all, I'd have done something a little more radical than carry a big orange flag for a few yards. I guess I want to know... is it just not BAD ENOUGH yet?
I have a lot more to say, but no time to say it right now, and I want to post this before I begin making my way back to Los Angeles. I also have a ludicrous number of pictures, and I'll post them later, too - why not drag this out a little longer? : )