Sunday, January 28, 2007

Show Me What Democracy Looks Like (1-27-07)

Saturday, January 27th, at least a half-million people gathered in DC at the National Mall for the rally to end the war that preceeded the march.

Kim Gandy: "Show me what democracy looks like!"
Crowd: "This is what democracy looks like!"
Kim Gandy: "Show me what democracy looks like!"
Crowd: "This is what democracy looks like!"

And with no elbow room, a half-million people packed in tight, demonstrated a living democracy
with a diverse crowd including people who'd been to events to end the war before and new comers.

Ricky, 29, Virginia: "I came thinking a lot of people might not. I can't believe the crowd. I can't believe the turnout."

Ricky was speaking with Bob from New York (age not given). Did they plan to meet up here? "No," Bob laughed, "we just met each other. I'm going to be meeting a lot of people with this crowd."

And what did they hope for?

"I hope Congress is watching. This is a big, loud NO to the Iraq war, No to spreading it over to Iran, NO to sending more troops to Iraq," Bob declared.

Ricky counted, "Forget watching, I want them to hear! We just got Jim Webb [as our senator] and I think he gets it but [John] Warner? Forget it. He's going to be looking at the paper tomorrow morning, seeing all the faces and asking, 'What's got them so upset? I just don't understand. Maybe [John] McCain can explain it to me?' I want them to hear. I want them to hear what we're saying."

Bob pointed to two signs "OUT OF IRAQ!" and "Bring The Troops Home Now" being held behind them as he noted the signs would come across in pictures but Ricky wasn't so sure Warner "knows how to read. His office replies to my letter with the same form letter for the last seven months. And I'm not even writing about taxes!"

"We are the peacemakers"
-- Dennis Kucinich

"It's not about winning or losing -- it's about doing the right thing. . . . When they ask you, 'What's your plan?' -- tell them pass HR 508!"
-- Lynn Woolsey

"I'm not real pleased that Russ Feingold sent a message," said 34 year-old Nancy of Maryland. "I guess it's something but is any from the Senate even here? I saw [U.S. House Reps.] Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, John Conyers, and Lynn [Woolsey]. I didn't see any senators. Maybe Robert Byrd's too old for this sort of thing but where are the rest of them? Where's my senator? [Barbara] Mikulski? She talks a real good game but she keeps voting to fund the war. She's got some guts until it's time for a vote then she's basically doing whatever Bush wants. Where are the senators? I think that should be the big question today, just where are our senators? Why aren't they here?"

Zach, community member from California, "Kucinich is here and he's heading to the [San Francisco] Bay area later to speak with Barbara Lee and Carolyn Ho [mother of Ehren Watada] at the rally back home. That's committment. I was for [Howard] Dean last time, but, the way Kucinich is working, he's got my vote sewn up."

"Help," Sally, 41, asked. "What's the number of that House Resolution? I was repeating it with her, yelling at the top of my lungs, but I've already forgotten. If I don't know the number, I can tell you [Shelley Moore] Capito's staff's just going to trash my letter. She's already come out against cutting funding for the war. . . 508? What's the title of it? . . . . Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act? Why couldn't it be something easy like 409? Got a pen? If I don't write it down, 409, like Formula 409, the cleaner, that's what I'm going to remember. I don't think my calling or writing Capito is going to make a difference, not by itself. But I'll do it and just be praying others are too. If a lot of us are demanding it, maybe she'll listen? I don't know. I think Congress is pretty . . . depraved. That's the word I'd used. I'm not a party person. I'm an independent who makes up her mind at the last minute. I try to get an understanding of what's going on and sometimes I do and sometimes . . . I'm beating my head the day after the election. . . . No, this is my first rally. I'm here with three friends. I don't know where they are. I stepped to the back to get some air and I have no idea where I was before. Maybe I'll spot 'em in a bit or maybe in the march, but I do know the meet up place."

Sally fished in her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, "See, I wrote it down." She also wrote down HR 508. She said 2 of the 3 women were in her district and she was sure they'd write or phone Capito's office, "so I won't be the only one but we really need a lot of people doing it. I mean like hundreds. She is for this war. If we don't flood her with letters and calls, she's going to stick with Bush."

"Not only is it in our power to stop Bush, it's our duty to stop Bush."
-- John Conyers

US Rep John Conyers spoke of the need to keep applying the pressure "until our government gets the message out of Iraq immediately, bring the troops home!" In his speech, he referenced Maureen Dowd's "Daffy Does Doom" column (The New York Times, January 27, 2007, A31): "Has anyone in the history of the United States ever been so singularly wrong and misguided about such phenomenally important events and continued to insist he's right in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?" Conyers was a crowd favorite and when he spoke of how Bully Boy couldn't fire the people, couldn't fire the Congress, "but we can fire him" a chant of "IMPEACH" started up.

"You have come here today to save your country. . . . I stand firmly with you. My name is Maxine Waters and I'm not afraid of George Bush."
-- Maxine Waters

Tasha, 21, New Jersey, stated, "I'm here for the first time, first time doing anything like this. Can't believe how many members of Congress are here. Maxine [Waters] called Condi [Rice] out but good. On campus, the day after Condi does another stupid thing, I always have to tell my White friends, 'You can call her out. She's not my mother. She's not my friend.' Maxine called her 'a neocon' and that's what she is. Color doesn't even factor into it. She's a neocon. We drove in, actually. I almost didn't come because I didn't hear about it until the last minute. I was like: 'Hello, I care about stopping the war.' I really do think Condi provides cover for W. but I also think he provides cover for her. She's got her high position because she kisses his ass and, for a lot of people I know, non Blacks, it always seems like there's this, this hestiancy to call her out. Like, 'Is she a first? Is she a symbol? Is she a leader?' She's a neocon, just like Maxine said. Somebody start trotting out the n-word, then I'll get upset. But stupid knows no racial boundary and Condi is stupid."

Leland, 45, Washington (state) picked US Rep Waters as his favorite because "It really is important to say you're not afraid. That's how they work, they scared people into supporting their war or they scared people into not speaking out. They go after people like that CIA woman [Valerie Plame, the CIA agent that was outed by the White House] and it's not just because they want to get back at her husband [Joseph Wilson], it's because they want to scare you. They'd come up and hit somebody with a 2x4 in broad daylight if they thought they could get away with it and if they thought it would scare enough people. So saying 'I'm not afraid of George Bush,' that's really important. After Congress woman Waters, my favorite were the Hurricane Katrina speakers . . . but. I think the issue belongs here but I think, this is me, maybe just me, I think you have to tie to Iraq. You really have to do that and you have to do that in your first sentence, if nowhere else. I think Susan Sarandon did that, but I don't think others did."

Leland's last comment was echoed by four others including Gary, 30-ish, from Georgia who said, "The first sentence should have been X dollars have been spent on the illegal war, how much has been spent on repairing the areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina? You have to make that point. You have to make it because it drives home how much money is being wasted on this war and how we are suffering at home because of it. You have to make it, also, because otherwise it's like . . . Like open mike. Okay, here's an issue, okay, there's an issue, okay . . . And after awhile, everyone's wondering, 'Why are we here again?' These things are connected, look at who's doing security in Iraq and who got hired for the same thing in New Orleans, the mercenaries of BlackWater, but you have to provide the connection. It's like with Iran, okay? You make the point that this scare stuff is what George was doing before Iraq. You bring up how he's asking us to take him at his word after he lied about WMD, after he lied about a 9-11 link, after he lied about, what's the uraniumn thing? Yeah, yellowcake. Just lie, lie, lie. You don't just get up there and say, 'I'm against war with Iran.' You have to connect it."

Entertaining the huge crowd in song form were The Raging Grannies who explained Bully Boy attacked Iraq because "They tried to hit my daddy so I had to hit back."

He's got an urge to surge
He's got an urge to surge, oh yeah.
It's just some more of the same manure.
He's got an urge to surge
-- The Raging Grannies

"Those Raging Grannies make me laugh," explained Marlene (mother of community member Goldie and a community member herself, 34). "They've got a point to make and they make it but they get you laughing while they do. The line about how when his plan doesn't work 'just do it more and more,' I was laughing and nodding. That really captured him."

[Goldie's thoughts on the rally and the march will be published this morning in her column in Polly's Brew.]

Randi, 63, New York warned us, "You're not going to like my comment. I'm Jewish, okay? That rabbi, Michael [Lerner], he got on my nerves from the start. His talk about how we're going to meditate and that's never been done at a peace rally. I hope you'll include this because that is just not true. I was at rallies at the tail end of the sixities. Was he? That whole sitar period, Donovan, the Beatles, there were rallies in New York City that included meditations. Where's he from any way? The other thing. When we did them, the person leading it wasn't screaming in a mike. It was calm, it was soothing. You probably won't include this, but you should, but that's not a meditation. That's a cheer."

Lerner also received low marks from Ted, 21, who "scraped together all the money I could to get here from Tennesee and I really didn't need to hear that b.s. about 'red states.' That was b.s. If I'd heard that from another speaker, I probably wouldn't be thinking about trying to come back up here in March for the thing at the Pentagon. There he was, supposedly Mister Peace, going to bring us all together, and he tosses out 'red states.' It was just an insult. That really rubbed me the wrong way. He needs to deal with his own issues, Mister 'Unifying Message'. Mister 'Thank you, universe, thank you.' What was that? Was he trying to be Alanis [Morissette, "Thank You"]?"

"I haven't spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years because of lies about me that were used to hurt the anti-war movement. But silence is no longer an option. . . .
Thank you so much for the courage to stand up to this mean-spirited and vengeful administration.''
-- Jane Fonda

Could she do it? Could she move a crowd again? Yes, and Fonda's speech was the most cited favorite speech after Bob Watada's. It was popular with first-time attendees who noted it as reflecting why they were here. It was popular with women of all ages and with men 24 and under and men over 40.

R.C., 59, who said "say Hurricane Katrina survivor because I stand with my brothers and sisters who are still suffering even though I've had to give up on returning for now" cited that speech "because it gave me hope. Fonda stood up for people. She stood up for the Panthers, she stood up for the troops. And that all got rewritten and changed and, really, erased. So that had to take gumption, to get up there knowing 'I'm about to become a target all over again.' She's been through it, she knows what it is. But when even she's saying, 'Forget it, it's more important that we end this war,' that just gives me hope that this war isn't going to go on for ten years. I think we can end it. I don't know about that happening this year, hope, hope it does, but it's not going to last a whole lot longer. It's going to be over before Bush leaves the White House. Less we do the right thing and impeach him. If we do that, he may be out of the White House first."

Sue, Alabama, "52 and thank the Jane Fonda Workout for that. I don't look it. I never broke a sweat in my life until the Workout. That really changed me. I started doing simple things like carrying my own groceries out to the car, no more tipping the young man pushing my cart to the car, I started doing all these steps and actions I would never have done. I was against the Vietnam war but I never did much about it. I never went to a rally. So to have Jane Fonda here speaking just made my day. That Workout showed me my power, it showed me, it taught me, it taught me how to own my experiences. I was shy and I had this really high voice until like 1984. This little, tinkley voice. Like a little girl. Listen to me now, I sound like Bea Arthur. But that's what the Workout did for me, it taught me to accept myself. And once I did that, the bird was out of the cage and not going back in. This is the sixth or seventh thing I've done. I was here last year, but this is only my second time coming to DC to protest this war. After the war, my biggest issue is corporations and I think the two are connected, obviously, who's getting rich off this war? So yeah, that was my favorite moment. I applauded like crazy. I hooted and hollered. And let me tell you, 1982, I wouldn't have done that. I wouldn't be here but even in my home, even alone in my home, I probably would have just smiled in response to a speech like that. I was living in a shell."

Stan, 17, high school student in the suburbs of DC judged the speech "totally cool. I like her and I like what she said. I think, if this is your first thing, I think something like that was like a welcome to all of us first timers. Totally cool."

And if anything was clear in the half-million people it was that, as we've long pointed out here, students are not apathetic. High schoolers, college students and even some middle school age children (like our own Goldie) were out in force. The newly thriving and emerging SDS of today was there. Not "Eisenhower Democrats" that some publications cover, but much more interested in social change and much more committed to more than being lackeys for candidate staffers. Young Democrats, young Communists, young Anarchists were there. It was a broad range of the student left and we didn't observe any yawns, we didn't hear any questions of, "When does this thing end?" We saw cheering, we saw activism and before the next desk jockey dusts off another "Kids today, Oy vey" column, they might try getting out in the real world.

Among the students showing up was a young Muslim woman who didn't want to give her name.
"I was just asked for a comment," she explained, "and I just smiled and walked on. I don't trust that something I say won't end up being turned into something different and one more reason to target Muslims. I'm 16. I'm first generation American. I live an hour drive away from here. I only talked to you because of his button. [She was referring to Wally's "NO BLOOD FOR OIL button.] I don't think you'll change my words up or make me sound angry or stupid. I feel like the only time a Muslim gets on TV now is if he's shouting. And we're the bad guys on every other episode of that show that ticks down the clock. [24.] Those things hurt. And it makes me think that another roundup, like after the Twin Towers were destroyed, could happen again real easy. I'm against the war. This is my first protest. My mother asked me not to go but I told her how much I wanted to be here, and what it means to me, so she finally said yes. She even said if she was 10 years younger, she probably would be here too. I'm against the war. I'm against all this blaming of Iraqis. People say things like they're dogs, just stupid dogs who were given some wonderful gift and smashed it. Invading Iraq was not a gift. War on the country was not a gift. And Muslims are not idiots. There wasn't this hate between Shia and Sunni before George Bush's war. He created it. I think if the soldiers came home that the people of Iraq would work out their differences. I don't think that would happen in a month or even two. But I do think that within a year, there would be peace. And I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. I'm here because I want the killings to stop. When I get home, I'm going to tell my mother that people in Congress were here and Jane Fonda and Sean [Penn]. And I think, next time, when I come, she's going to come with me. But, you have to understand, it can be really hard to be a Muslim in the United States today. People look at you funny. Before the Twin Towers, I was only 11, but before that, I did not feel scared here. I felt like I was any other American kid. Now I feel like people expect me to prove that I am American, to say, 'I love America.' And what they really seem to want is for me to say, 'I hate Muslims.' It feels like they want me to denounce my faith. And like the only way I can fit in is if I change my name to Jill and become a Christian and, since that won't happen, I'm always under suspicion. One of my best friends is Christian and we were at the mall Tuesday and she said, 'I see what you are talking about.' Because at every store, the women were smiling at her and asking her if they could help her and they just kind of stared at me. I don't think I should have to prove that I am a good American. I was born here, this is my country. But since 9-11, it seems like people look at Muslims and don't really think we belong here anymore. Thank you."

Did she feel welcome at the march? "Yes, people here were very nice. They smiled, they nodded. The press, I do not know. I feel like they see me and think, 'Muslim!' That's why I did not talk to that woman who asked me for a comment. But the people who are to here to protest the war, I felt very welcomed. There are a lot of different people here and it looks more like America than what you see on TV. It gives me hope that someday things will change. Not just that the war will end, but that all the hatreds and suspicions will stop."

"Today, we must challenge ourselves to take this nation back."
-- Bob Watada

And then there was Bob. Bob Watada, father of Iraq war resister Ehren Watada, the first officer to publicly refuse to deploy and facing a court-martial on February 5th in Fort Lewis, Washington. Clearly the most cited speaker by people we interviewed. To his declaration of, "We are a civilized nation, we need to bring an end to a war for blood oil" the crowd began chanting, "Say it! Say it!" He spoke of "enough is enough" and how that message needed to given to Congress. And, of course, he spoke of his son.

"The military commanders want to punish him -- and punish him for saying the emperor has no clothes . . . The truth is a danger to the Bush empire," he explained. He recounted the lies Bully Boy used to sell the war including WMDs, chemical weapons, al Qaeda training camps -- "All lies." He spoke of how Ehren Watada is standing up and trying "to give a voice" to the ones in the military "who no longer have a voice to the troops who can't speak out," to the Iraqis suffering under the illegal war. He quoted Abraham Lincoln, "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."

Of his son, he asked that we all, "Tell Congress to listen to that voice. Tell Congress that people, you and I, are more important than corporations."

Rosa Sakanishi, Ehren' step-mother, also spoke, noting, "And you know, you and I know, that we have to live for peace and justice and that is what Ehren's doing . . . Bring the troops back home now!"

Other speakers included Jesse Jackson (calling for "new priorities and directions"); Gold Star Families for Peace's Carlos Arredondo, who son Alex died in Iraq in 2004, and who asked that those who lost love ones stand and cried out, "This is the cost of war!"; Garrett Reppenhagen of Iraq Veterans Against the War who noted those who had served in Iraq and were present at the Saturday rally; Noura Erakat spoke of the need to end the war in Iraq and also to end the decades long occupation of Palestine; and many others.

We were going through the crowd, interviewing people. Reppehhagen spoke with another member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, but we didn't catch his name. We didn't catch Reppenhagen's name either, but C.I. recognized him. We missed Sean Penn and we're sure we missed Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice (whom Elaine especially wanted to hear speak). We lost hearing when Tim Robbins was speaking as the crowd, in agreement, broke out into loud cries of "IMPEACH!" It was like, in the Jane Wagner play The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, when Trudy, the bag lady, tries to teach the aliens about art by showing them the Warhol screen of a Campbell's soup can and then showing them a Campbell's soup can, then mixes them up to see if the aliens can now determine what is art and what is soup. Later, at the end of the play, Trudy explains what happened when she took the aliens to a play:

We were at the back of the theater, standing there in the dark, all of a sudden I feel one of 'em tug my sleeve, whispers, "Trudy, look." I said, "Yeah, goose bumps. You definitely got goose bumps. You really liked the play that much?" They said it wasn't the play gave 'em goose bumps, it was the audience. I forgot to tell 'em to watch the play; they'd been watching the audience! Yeah, to see a group of strangers sitting together in the dark, laughing and crying about the same things . . . that just knokced 'em out. They said, "Trudy, the play was soup . . . the audience . . . art."

And that's really what it was. For all the talk of apathy (student apathy, American apathy), a half a million people turned out in DC (with other actions to end the war taking place all over the country as well). They listened, they participated, they shouted, they applauded, they were motivated, they were hopeful. And we think what happened in the crowd was as important as what happened on stage.

Someone (Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times?) can play it off as "Bush haters". But, the truth is, calls for Congress to be accountable to the people, to hear the message from the November elections, to do their job, got just as great a response. A few weeks back, Cindy Sheehan noted there were no free passes -- pleasing sound bytes from Democrats with no actions to back it up were not going to cut it. This wasn't a group of people who foolishly believed that electoral changes meant the war ended (though many tried to sell it to the people that way). This was a group who is owning their power and demanding change. Watching them was far more inspiring than the horse race handicapping so much of independent media seems to determined to do for the 2008 election. (And if you think it's gotten bad already -- it has -- just wait until 2008.)

They had courage and determination, whether it was their first event or they'd been at many before. They weren't going to go pleading, "Do you think, Congress member, that maybe, kind of, you could do a little something about Iraq?" They are going to demand that Congress do something. And if Congress refuses? That's not going to be end the end of it. Silence will not be the response.

"I will amp it up and amp up, I'm not going to say, 'Oh you just are comfortable with a symbolic action? Thank you for that at least'," declared DeShawn from Chicago. "It's time to take the country back, like Ehren's father said, and it's time to make sure Congress knows they work for us, not the other way around. If they think we can be patted on the head and sent skipping down some daisy trail, they don't understand that street protests are next. The war is going to end and we're not going to settle for anything else."

It was a marvelous cross-section of America proving how far the peace movement has gotten in this country. And it's done that due to the organizations like United for Peace for Justice, CODEPINK, A.N.S.W.E.R., Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, NOW (peace is a feminist issue and we didn't all hear them, but we all saw Kim Gandy and the Feminist Majority Foundation's Eleanor Smeal), Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, war resisters saying "NO" to the war in Iraq, Courage to Resist, Not In Our Name, World Can't Wait, many more organizations but, most of all, because of the people who turned out. They didn't buy the line about "apathy." They didn't buy the line that vote-vote-vote was the "answer." They didn't buy anything of the lines or lies that media (big and small) spent most of 2006 selling them. They trusted what they saw with their own eyes. They have faith in their ability to make change happen. As the aliens tell Trudy, the people were the art.

[We are firm believers in letting people speak for themselves. In September of 2005, we offered, "'Why Are You Here' and 'What's Changed'" and in March of 2005, we offered "At the rallies, we ask, 'Why Are You Here?'" Community members interested that style of a feature should check out the special edition of today's gina & krista round-robin and Monday's special edition which is a two-parter we did for them in that style. We're not doing it here. We're concerned about how the DC action will be covered by the media -- and we're talking small -- so we went with this approach. Doing interviews and helping edit this piece down, discussing it, included many people. The credit goes to: The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man (Rebecca couldn't come to DC due to her pregnancy and Betty decided to participate in a house party Rebecca threw which involved screening and discussing The Ground Truth and handing out information on HR 508), C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Ruth of Ruth's Report and her grandchildren Tracey and Jayson, Wally of The Daily Jot, Trina of Trina's Kitchen (also Mike's mother, or Mike is the son of Trina), Gina and Krista of the gina & krista round-robin, and Francisco, Miguel and Maria of El Espiritu. And Dallas, we always forget to include Dallas! He was a sounding board and much more.]
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