A BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
I Heard America Singing (and Dancing and Yawping in the Streets): A20 Highlights
April 23, 2002
By Dwayne Eutsey
Washington, DC, April 20, 2002 -- I heard America singing and shouting and even dancing today in the streets of DC at the massive anti-war mobilization around the nation's capital.
At least 70,000 Americans (perhaps even as many as 100,000, by some estimates) came together at various rallies throughout the city: the IMF protest at the World Bank, International ANSWER's anti-war/anti-racism rally in front of the White House, and the Stop the War rally near the Washington Monument.
The three demonstrations converged later in the day to march together to the Capitol building, exuberantly refusing to exercise their right to remain silent about the Bush war machine.
The demonstrators consisted of a broad diversity of citizens that would have challenged Walt Whitman's descriptive skills.
Black, white, Latinos and Latinas, Jewish, Arab, Palestinian, babies pushed in strollers by parents, students, senior citizens, gay, straight, women, men, veterans of every American war since World War II, people with disabilities, anarchists, communists, Greens, socialists, Democrats, punks, suburbanites, trade unionists, Buddhist monks, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, atheists, Unitarian Universalists, pot-tokers, experienced activists, first-time protesters...the list goes on and on.
Despite these differences and the varying agendas of the protest organizers, we were all united in protesting an unelected president's undeclared war that threatens to rage on unendingly.
Contrary to the foreboding events of Friday evening, when Indymedia reported that 40 bike-riding protesters were arrested during the Critical Mass demonstration, the day was amazingly peaceful.
I attended the Stop the War rally and was one of the first to arrive as organizers of the event were setting up. As early as 8:30, groups began milling around the Sylvan theater area, carrying signs promoting peace, anti-Bush placards, banners condemning the "War on Terrorism," large American flags.
As a rebuttal to those who dismiss pacifism as naive, one group brought a gigantic banner, requiring a number of people to unfurl it, with the likenesses of four pacifists (the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Jesus, and Gandhi) above block letters spelling out their world-transforming strategy: "Wage Peace."
As increasing numbers of people began milling around the area, hugging, laughing, connecting, a young woman distributed large sticky buns from a large plastic bag.
"I'm feeding the peace machine," she laughed as hungry protesters, many just arriving after long bus rides from around the country, gratefully took what she offered.
Wasting Away Again in Freeperland
Hearing martial music blaring in the distance, I ventured over to the site where an alleged "counter-demonstration" was happening. Organized by the rightwing Free Republic (Freeper) crowd, the "event," at the time I went over, anyway, consisted of Sousa tunes or Springsteen's "Born in the USA" (I know) played entirely too loud as two or three sour-faced people wandered around an area decorated by large American flags.
Meanwhile, bus after bus after bus continued to arrive right down the street, unloading more and more anti-war demonstrators.
Back at the Stop the War rally, police helicopters circled above as the crowd continued to swell. As emcee Amy Goodman told the gathering they were being broadcast around the country via Pacifica radio, a group of Japanese Buddhist monks from Hiroshima and Nagasaki sat chanting and drumming near the Monument in the increasingly overcast skies.
The rally's speakers and entertainment were as eclectic as the crowd of demonstrators. There were too many great moments to recount here, but among the highlights were the hiphop group Division X, a group of anti-war grandmothers calling themselves the Raging Grannies, Martin Luther King III, and relatives of people killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks imploring Bush to stop using the death of their loved ones to justify causing more violent death.
Before leaving the Monument area to take to the streets, there was a moment of silence among the crowd as the Buddhist monks chanted and drummed on stage. Although the sky was threatening rain, during that brief moment the sun broke through the clouds and shone brightly.
Dancing in the Streets
The scene was raucous, joyous, angry, exhilarating as all the various groups hit the streets together. Drumming throbbed continuously like a pounding heart, people chanted slogans ("Peace is patriotic, war is idiotic," "Bush must go," etc.) and we filled the cloudy sky with resounding whoops and yawps.
A personal highlight for me during the march was watching a group of Koreans in cultural attire ecstatically drumming, banging cymbals and gongs, and dancing in the street. Two Middle Eastern men in suits, a young white man and woman, a black activist, and others all danced in celebration with them, as the group around them cheered.
That was a fitting symbol for what the day was like for me. Individuals from different cultures, different backgrounds, races, genders, joining together to dance to the music of a vibrant, pulsating democracy.
As I was thinking about this on the way home, these lyrics that Woody Guthrie wrote came to mind and seemed an appropriate summary of the day:
wouldn't spread such a rumor around
And Mr. Bush, Mr. Ashcroft: We're still mixing.
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