Yesterday, I took my small sign — “Lies!” — out onto the streets of
Heading downtown, the first hand-made sign I noticed, though, was on cloth attached to the back of a backpack toted by an exceedingly young woman. It said plaintively: “Dad come home,” and when I asked, she admitted that her father was indeed in
In between, I noted, among so many other, lovingly produced, hand-drawn signs: “Morning in America” (with a red “u” in the process of being slipped between the “o” and “r”); “Give Martha’s cell to Cheney”; “Unmanned Drone” (with George’s head looming over the White House); “Bring Em On — Home”; “Our boys died for Halliburton”; “The point is Bush sucks!”; “Elect a madman, You get madness”; “Hey New Yorker!!! Commit to a swinger!!!” (with swing states in which to work against Bush listed below); “Regime change now, impeach Bush”; “We support our troops, we don’t support their mission”; “It’s not collateral damage, it’s 10,168 dead civilians”; “If you’re not outraged, you’re not listening”; and so many more — all indicative of the fact that, in the year since the last major antiwar demonstrations, no one’s creativity or verve had fallen off greatly.
My personal home-made favorite was a tiny sign, hardly bigger than your hand, attached to a tiny stick. It said on one side, “The emperor,” and on the other, when twirled, “has no clothes.” The woman twirling it assured me: “It’s a happy sign. People always smile. It’s in its third demonstration.” And then she smiled winningly and walked on.
When it came to “Lies!” (one of the reported cries of Spanish demonstrators after their government tried to blame the
Giant puppets seemed to be a dime-a-dozen in my neck of the woods, ranging from a huge, garlanded Ma Nature (“stop the internal combustion of earth,” it said a bit mysteriously) to the row of enrobed, masked mothers holding charred grey (ragdoll) bodies and backed up by a line of dark-suited men, all in blood-stained white gloves.
In our vicinity, along with a set of vigorous drummers, we had a band of cheerleaders, who called themselves “the Syracuse System Shakers,” and vigorously shook their pompoms for hours while performing robust numbers with lines like “Cheney is an oil hog.” Passing us were the members of R.E.V.E.R.E with their mounted-rider signs labeled “The Republicans are coming.” I asked one, dressed in a Salvation-Army used-clothing version of colonial garb (“And I have no idea where my friend got the hat”) what their acronym stood for, and he confided that it meant “the Revolutionary Ensemble Vanquishes Evil Republican Extremists,” which wasn’t, he confessed, really an organization, “just a group of friends.” Then he returned to banging out a rhythm on two not-so-colonial (imagine perhaps Herman Melville in the
That sign and the button I noted a young woman wearing — “still against the war” — seemed to catch something of the moment. In the media, the marches, organized worldwide from
The crisis moment before the war began brought huge hunks of the world piling into the streets, hoping against hope somehow to stop a war that the Bush administration — we know now oh-so-clearly (though many of us knew it then) — had no intention of letting anything on earth stop. The world was to be an audience for our global dominators; the people of the planet, or their “ineffectual” representatives at the United Nations, were to watch and ratify, but certainly not to vote against. When it looked as if the vote at the UN might actually go against the administration, despite the bribing, bugging, and imperial arm-twisting, as if there might be governments not capable of being stampeded like our Congress by fear, then the resolution was simply withdrawn and the die cast anyway.
Now, the antiwar movement is back. As the recent impressive Spanish vote indicated, it never fully demobilized (and in the
All this despite the fact that today we’re at a murky, quagmire moment, not one of absolute, immediate crisis as we were then. The war has happened; Iraq is a mess and the Middle East possibly almost as bad, but casualties remain limited, if horrible, and for most of us (though not the demonstrating military families) still far away; policy options are unclear; neither presidential candidate is for withdrawal; protestors are sure to disagree about what’s to be done; a presidential campaign (much influenced by the last round of antiwar demos) is just gearing up; and terrorism is clearly on the increase and the world, a distinctly less safe place to be, but the United States has not been attacked at home since September 11, 2001. These demonstrations, at least here in
Think of Saturday’s demos as a calling card at the door of the Bush administration and its “coalition” of un-democracy, led by leaders all of whom voted against their own people’s wishes on the matter. (Democracy, it seems, is basically something you only hand over to oppressed peoples elsewhere, and then only if they’re willing to follow your wishes.) In any case, the general feeling in my two blocks of protesting
These were, I believe, demonstrations largely for us — and we are, by the way, a distinctly variegated lot. They were, first and foremost, a reminder and an encouragement that we’re still here, still a force, still ready. There is, I have to say, something about that moment when you find yourself surrounded by a mass of people in something like your own spirit that does make you feel better — especially in a crowd like the
There were ominous aspects to the
You might say that there was an urge, in the Psy-Ops lingo of the moment, to “dominate the environment.” I couldn’t help but be reminded of all those Pentagon-embedded reporters who struggled in their partially penned-in state to pen reasonable accounts of the Iraq war from our side, while a few brave reporters like Robert Fisk of the British Independent struggled to do the same in an unembedded and so distinctly more vulnerable state.
I recently attended a conference on war coverage at the Journalism School of the
I listened, for instance, to the foreign editor and a panel of journalists from the Los Angeles Times describe what gearing up for war meant for them and became aware that such news organizations actually had to mobilize for the coming invasion of Iraq in a fashion not so dissimilar from, and in distinct coordination with the Pentagon. To the largest, best-funded mega-outfits, whether the Pentagon or AOL Time Warner, what can most “reporters” be but little units, little “medias,” squirming as they are fit into their places in the bigger picture.
Once you have giant organizations, whether media or military, whose aims are to “dominate the environment,” you’re bound to end up with a bunch of little “medias” and then you have to ask: Who exactly are we, when we read or watch? I suppose we’re just the “eyeballs.”
Counting heads/delivering calling cards
Here’s just a little sampler of headlines and first paragraphs to choose from, beginning with the starting paragraphs of that Times piece (
“Marking the one-year anniversary of the invasion of
“Coming 13 months after millions took to the streets in the weeks before the war last year, yesterday’s demonstrations were markedly tamer and smaller as they sought to send a message that the troops fighting in
Newsday, out on
“Anti-war protesters turned out nationwide Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the U.S.-led war on
“‘It is time to bring our children home, and declare this war was unnecessary,’ said the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, addressing the crowd at the
Under the headline “Thousands Worldwide Demand Troops Pull Out of Iraq,” Reuters (
“Thousands of antiwar protesters poured into streets around the globe on Saturday’s anniversary of the
“From Sydney to Tokyo, Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, protesters condemned U.S. policy in Iraq and said they did not believe Iraqis are better off or the world safer because of the war. Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through
While the San Francisco Chronicle — oh, those West Coast liberals — ran its
“Thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched across
For those wanting a bit more on all this, check out, at the Nation magazine website, Peter Rothberg’s always informative blog Act Now! (One year later — not feeling safer) from which you can get to the magazine’s quickie demo rundowns on London and Spain as well as an account by the magazine’s editor Katrina van den Heuvel of a demo in, of all places, Moscow.
Thought of another way, the Saturday demonstrations were really the second calling card of the global antiwar movement proffered in the last week. The first was delivered in
Just a small sign of this fragility under the pressure of popular demands is to be found in a comment by Rocco Buttiglione of the Christian Democrat Party. It represents a small post-Spain but pre-Rome-demonstration warning to the Berlusconi government which has been about as gung ho as it’s possible to be in support of the Bush administration in a country where polls indicate that two-thirds of the populace opposes its
“In office for barely hours [Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero] distanced himself from
“If that was the first indication that the coalition would mark this first anniversary of war by fragmenting, more was to follow. Last Thursday in
Stay tuned. CNN is global, but so are we and there’s more to come.
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]