One of the great things about living in DC is that occasionally a progressively-minded acquaintance from college will give you a call and ask if you want to attend an anti-war march that weekend in your city. I was one of the 10,000 (or tens of thousands, or hundred thousand, depending on who you believe) who marched from the White House to the Capitol chanting anti-war slogans on Saturday, dodging anti-peace protesters’ verbal assaults and steely glances.
I can’t say I agreed with all the protesters — their views varied too much for that. Immediate withdrawal is unrealistic; support for the Iraqi resistance is…let’s just say off-message. But it seemed like the group of protesters, contrasted with the counter-demonstrators along the marching route, were a little too representative of the way our democracy is currently (dys)functioning.
For the first few blocks, the streets were lined mostly with supporters, but when we hit Pennsylvania Avenue the scene changed dramatically. Police barricades separated the marchers from the counter-demonstrators, but could block the offensive and inflammatory gestures and words thrown in both directions. Signs on both sides of barricade and issue were occasionally thoughtful, and many were oversimplified, but some were downright mean-spirited (“Traitors,” “Cindy Sheehan is Osama Bin Laden’s Best Friend,” “Hippies Smell” — and those were just from the other side). When the signs on the sidelines got nasty, many marchers started holding up a peace sign – oversimplifying our/themselves. Some people participating in the peace march became, ironically, violently angry. I asked a man in front of me to calm down at one point when he started screaming expletives and epithets at the Vietnam vets we encountered as we approached the Capitol. (He didn’t respond well.)
We all were there trying to make a point about the course our country should take in the future, but there was little unity within opposing factions and little dialogue between them. This is understandable – the crowd consisted of thousands of people with no real plan to rally behind. When our leaders can not communicate and work together to come up with a plan with potential that can be expressed concisely (and thus not by Sen. John Kerry), they give the people nothing to rally behind. That’s not to say that any or all factions of the stop the war movement would be contented with a proposal in Congress; our nation is too diverse and, I would like to think, too skeptical to blindly support whatever plan comes along. But if our leaders don’t take a shot at real dialogue, we will just be stuck, in the middle of the street, shouting at each other in hoarse voices and not hearing a word.
All the Nelson Mandelas were killed in Iraq before we even got there, President Bush lamented in his press conference earlier this week. Now that we’re there, though, all those who could potentially unite our country in its future action are silent in our own, established, self-congratulatory democracy. That’s why I’m also ambivalent toward all the presidential candidates – they are so focused on campaigning with their various messages of change and hope that they fail to foster either in their current roles. If one of them were to stand up with 66 or 67 senators behind him or her, and propose a workable solution that could withstand a Presidential veto – that might get the Democrats a little excited.