Visualize World Peace
9:37 a.m., en route. Bus captain Jeff Bigelow circulates a sign-in sheet and provides information about the drop-off/pick-up location at 21st and Constitution--"the same spot as all the other thousands of people from all over the country are being told," he adds with a grin. The short orientation shifts to rallying talk, and we imagine our small group joining with the passengers of all those other buses, coming together, as Jeff puts it, to make our message as loud as we can.
11 a.m., Washington, D.C. We ran into traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, but here we are, not a minute to spare before the event's official start. Constitution Avenue is lined with buses for as far as we can see. There's no room for ours along the curb, so it double-parks and we clamber out.
We join the stream of people crossing the street and make our way to the rallying area, the green swathe adjacent to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The field is mucky and roiled in places; it rained all through the night. But now the sun has emerged, and from the slight rise at the muddy meadow's edge, you can see the scope of the crowd, see the air bristling with posters, banners, puppets, and placards right up to the distant stage.
Over the next several hours, many speakers address the crowd. We hear eyewitness accounts of the effects of the sanctions on Iraqi civilians and impassioned addresses by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and actor/activist Susan Sarandon. The Rev. Jesse Jackson makes the point that Saddam Hussein's reprehensible record isn't a premise for war but an argument for an international criminal court--an entity to which the United States consistently refuses to subscribe. There is a moment of silence for the late senator from Minnesota, Paul Wellstone. Between speeches, members of International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the event's organizers, assess the size of the crowd. A hundred thousand. A hundred twenty, and rising. ("There are buses from New York still on the way in!")
At last, it's time to get moving. Everyone throngs back toward Constitution Avenue to start the looping promenade past the White House. The somber figure of an Iraqi woman, wielded by members of Paper Hand Puppet Intervention, towers over marchers' heads. Saffron-robed monks take measured steps in their "Peace Zone," and fuschia-wigged performers chant, "All war, all the time," and flourish a banner reading an absurd response to an absurd war. Along the length of the march, other chants and choruses go up from individual groups, shifting and fading and dying away. Then, somewhere just past the halfway point, a common cheer rises, spreading along the crowd's entire length and shaking the air. Later, we hear that the front of the march, on its long, circular route, had met the rearguard and had to wait for it to pass before proceeding.
5:30 p.m. After some searching, we meet up near the designated spot. (Bigelow, the bus-captain, was right--there aren't many other yellow school buses.) We're eager to hear the news coverage of the event, and our driver tunes in to National Public Radio's All Things Considered. We sit listening to the various top stories of the day, including a segment on the progress of the World Series. Finally, we hear the story we've been waiting for, but when it's over, we stare at one another, dumbfounded. According to the NPR reporter, "fewer than 10,000" had attended the event.
Although NPR later corrected its mistake, stating that protest organizers estimated the crowd at 100,000, it's still frustrating, incomprehensible. But in another way, it doesn't matter. We all know what we've seen.
Beyond the Front (12/16/2009)
Baltimore writer Justin Sirois collaborates with Iraqi refugee Haneen Alshujairy to tell a different story from Iraq
Walk Softly (11/25/2009)
Middle East scholar Juan Cole argues against sending lots of troops to Afghanistan
Iraq War Hits Home Hard (5/22/2008)
Peace Train (11/6/2002)
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