D.C.'s Second Massive Antiwar March—Populist Enough for the Heartland

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Just maybe the zeitgeist is beginning to shift. This week a Pew poll found that only 42 percent of Americans believe that President Bush has made the case for war—down from 52 percent in September. Last week, a huge Chicago local of the Teamster's—one of the unions that's been cosiest with the Bush White House—hosted the launch of a national labor antiwar coalition. Republican business leaders raised concerns about a war with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal. Chicago, the nation's third-largest city, joined a list of 38 city councils that have passed antiwar resolutions. And despite freezing temperatures that never topped 24 degrees, more than 100,000 demonstrators took over the streets of Washington, D.C., on Saturday in the second massive national antiwar protest in three months.

If the last march, in October, was the largest antiwar protest since the Vietnam era, Saturday's march was easily as big—or bigger. The networks nearly ignored October's demo, while several liberal critics, such as David Corn, called it "a pander fest for the hard left" and expressed concern that the organizer of both marches, the International ANSWER Coalition, would "prevent the antiwar movement from growing." But this time the buzz was undeniable, with the Washington Post running half a dozen pre-protest stories and Nightline giving a platform to antiwar rabblerouser Representative Dennis Kucinich on protest eve—undeniable, and well-earned. Sure, one heard flashes of tone-deaf rhetoric blaring from the morning stage in front of the U.S. Capitol, as a few speakers threw out terms like "cryptofascist" or stumped for Mumia Abu Jamal. But the march was huge, with a tone as populist as they come.

Placards equating Israel with Nazism, so common at ANSWER's first big march last April, were nowhere in sight—in fact, few signs strayed far from the antiwar message. The seemingly endless river of protesters carried aloft hand-scrawled cardboard placards and homemade banners bearing peace slogans at their most basic: "War Is the Problem, Not the Solution" and "Peace Is Patriotic." Saturday's march would have played well in the heartland—and not so surprisingly, since that's exactly where many of the signs were made. As protesters from Alaska and Vermont, Iowa and Ohio, strolled through Washington singing "Give Peace a Chance" and "We Shall Overcome," they flirted more with banality than fringe ideology.

The biggest surprise was the march's sheer youthfulness. Despite the occasional contingent of aging Quakers, old enough to have sung "We Shall Overcome' back in '64, most of the marchers sported rosy cheeks, braces and adolescent pimples. Bundled up in their handknit caps and down jackets, they could as easily have been on their way to freshman orientation at some liberal arts college in Maine. Nearly 100 traveled from St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, according to Rachel Hogan, 16, who said, "I don't think any of us would be able to live with ourselves if we didn't speak out against the killing of civilians."

Another 50 boarded a bus from Yellow Springs High School in Ohio, including freshman Gigi Davis, 15, who said she found the antiwar march in October so exhilarating that she rounded up her friends to come along for this one. Davis may not be a pacifist (she and her friends watched Fight Club on the 10-hour bus ride), but she sees the administration's motivations for war as too cynical to support—"we think it's just Bush trying to get back at Saddam for threatening his father, and of course, there's Iraq's oil," she said.

There were antiwar girls in blond ponytails from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and antiwar punk kids from D.C. with their hair dyed black. Nathanael Secor, 21, one of two busloads of students from Northland College in Wisconsin, helped to carry a giant cloth dove the students had crafted. "I'm here because I don't want a war in my name," said Secor, "especially a war that's just cover for a bad economy."

Organized labor, too, showed up in greater force than it has to any peace protest to date, with 20 buses from the New York City hospital workers' union, 1199, and six from Chicago's teachers union—perhaps the fruit of the dozen or more antiwar resolutions union locals have passed in recent months.

A handful of college Republicans sipped cocktails on a balcony overlooking the march as it wound its way from the Capitol to the Navy Yard to the south, forming a meager counterprotest whose main message was "Hippies, Go Home." But it wasn't '60s leftists filling the streets—the only protester sporting that classic Vietnam-era message, "War Is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things," was a teen who liked its retrochic charms.

There was a good share of Christian pacifists, asking "Who Would Jesus Bomb?" But they rubbed shoulders with black-leather-clad gay men, in town for the annual Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend; young women calling themselves Powerpuff Girls for Peace and assuring bystanders that Buttercup was for "books not bombs"; and military veterans, such as Bert Napear, 76, of Long Island, who fought in Okinawa during World War II but calls a potential invasion of Iraq immoral.

At the late morning rally, Rev. Jesse Jackson's chant of "It's peace time. It's hope time" may have sounded like just another worn-out attempt at inspiration. But by the time the swelling crowd reached Avenue M and turned the corner to pour downhill to the Navy Yard, the rosy late afternoon light made the sea of marchers glitter, and the massive scale of the gathering suddenly became visible to the protesters themselves. Hogan was shivering in the cold and facing a 26-hour drive home, but with the sun glinting off her braces, her face looked, well, full of peace and hope. "I think we can stop this war before it starts," she said.

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