Indeed, there may have been a few scuffles somewhere, but neither of us saw anything remotely threatening -- at least not from the protesters. This was a peaceful crowd that marched up a Pennsylvania Avenue that was lined with the meanest looking, full body armored, baton-wielding riot police I could ever in my darkest hour imagine. I hope someone managed to get a picture that shows this. I couldn't help wondering what was said or done to these people to get them 'up for the big game.' I cannot imagine how a face that ever kissed a child good night, said good-bye to a dying parent or cried over a lost pet could contain such ferocity. If faces like these confronted the protesters at events marred by violence, they were at least as provocative, if not more, than the demonstrators they would control.
Every imaginable kind of person was to be seen on Pennsylvania Avenue that Saturday. Mainstream and very young, green /purple/orange-haired and pierced, as well as old, grey-haired and bent marched past those new centurions. I will never forget the contrast of an old man, probably eighty or better, dressed in a dark suit and tie, obviously blind, with his guide dog on one side and a middle-aged lady I assume was his daughter on the other, making their way slowly past those darkly angry riot police. I remember thinking that at least his blindness spared him seeing their mean faces. One of his shoes came untied, and as we passed, someone had stopped to retie it for him. We were with three of Bill's friends, who were carrying a wide banner, and were more or less swept past him by the flow of people. I didn't see him again, but I hope he made it all the way, and wish now that I had stopped and told him how much I admired his courage, just for being there.
At the end of the day, after all the speakers finished, and the crowd dispersed, the five of us had planned to attend the VoterMarch vigil at the Capitol, across the street. Thinking we may have misunderstood which side of the Capitol the VoterMarch people had been granted a permit for, we walked around the entire circumference, and yet we saw no one. Was there an announcement that I missed? What happened to the peace vigil that was planned for Saturday night? I knew many had decided to sit it out, but still I was surprised by the absence of the pro-democracy groups from this event. I did see Jon Bexxel with a friend in Freedom Plaza, and know others were there, but in my opinion, it was a LARGE mistake to cancel these events, but one we share with Labor and Globalization groups, also absent from the scene. If it was out of fear that we would damage our cause, I only hope our absence wasn't more damaging, and that we know better now.
When it had become obvious there was to be no vigil, we began our walk back up Pennsylvania Avenue and back to the Harrington Hotel. Tired from the long day, we trudged down the street, earlier packed with people, but now almost empty except for a scattering of locals and tourists, and a street sweeper, picking up the day's debris. As we walked, a trim, casually dressed, but still somehow almost elegant man I would guess to be in his late forties approached us, smiling slightly, but never speaking a word, and handed each of us a small slip of paper, and silently continued on his way. On it was this quote:
"When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall... Think of it... always." -- Mahatma Ghandhi
After Saturday, I'll have to try harder.
There were at least 10,000 people at the main rally in Freedom Plaza and in the subsequent march up Pennsylvania Avenue. The energy was very positive. The speeches, delivered by representatives from a number of national and international groups, were compelling and heartfelt. They challenged the clumsy, frightening, arrogant actions threatened by the administration, and they called for a serious, serious look at the ongoing state of US foreign policy. One of the most moving speeches was by an EMT who was at the World Trade Center and who lost members of his team in the disaster. He urged us not to let George W. Bush use the death of his friends as an excuse for a blatantly opportunistic political agenda. There WERE "Bush Sucks" signs and other clear indications of rebellion. There were also speakers from US labor groups, Central American civil rights groups, Middle Eastern groups, Korean peace groups.There was delightful street theater, families, and a woman with a "peace"-decorated baby carriage. Everyone seemed excited to be there, exchanging ideas and energy. Everyone was taking pictures, filming, interviewing each other. None of this comes across in the news reports I have read. Apparently there were a few minor incidents at a smaller rally held in the morning, but the main event (from noon to 5:00, which I attended) was completely peaceful. We were jeered by a few Freepers at one point during the march but we also got raised fists and peace signs from other onlookers. At the conclusion of the march there was another smaller rally. During this rally representatives from the US colleges who had sent delegations took turns coming to the stage to announce what college they were from and how many students had come with them. These college students were very enthusiastic and apparently numbered in the thousands.
I heard there were other demonstrations around the country and around the world on Saturday. At the conclusion of the DC rally they announced plans for more local and regional demonstrations on Saturday, October 27th, and they invited people to start organizing for those.
In short - once again the media seems to have missed the essence of a story, maybe because the political overtones made them nervous. All I can say is I experienced Saturday as a breath of fresh air and sanity, in a world gone nuts. It was a very, very encouraging event.
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