Living

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

by

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.

Most Popular