The Antiwarriors

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Tina took it in stride. She's a Green. She's used to it.

Speakers gathered on the dais and soon were bellowing out speeches over the amplifiers. After maybe 30 minutes, Susan Sarandon, wearing a dark coat and dark sunglasses, took the stage and gave a speech in a rather grating voice. "Mr. Bush, you have hijacked our pain, our loss, our fear," she said. "I say to you, Mr. Bush, this is what democracy looks like... Let us find a way to resist fundamentalism of all kinds, in al Qaeda and in our own government."

Sarandon didn't need the coat anymore. The sun had broken through the clouds, and it was getting positively hot outside. Or maybe it was body heat: More and more people kept swarming onto the Mall. Most of the signs were homemade, and they ranged from the wonderfully absurd ("Broccoli! Not Bombs") to the pointed ("Democracy in Florida Before Democracy in Iraq") to the very, very pointed ("Bush is a motherfucker"). Signs offered bounties for Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman, who were wanted for cowardice and warmongering. Signs identified their holders as veterans for peace, the Yale coalition for peace, soccer moms for peace, farmers for peace, firemen for peace, even a little boy carrying an Etch A Sketch that said, "Toddlers for Peace."

A carnival atmosphere pervaded the proceedings, with a ghoulish-looking Uncle Sam walking around on stilts, a man in a bloody skeleton costume carrying an ExxonMobil sign, another protester gladhanding the crowd in a George W. Bush mask, and a couple of insane clowns running around screaming "Oil! Oil!" and "War is great!" A large group of Koreans danced in flowing blue, red, and yellow robes and played on beautiful, handmade wooden drums.

As speaker after speaker -- Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark -- berated Bush and his policies, people kept arriving, and the sun kept getting hotter.

Suddenly some protesters began walking back toward Constitution Avenue. The first to go was the Yale crowd, so I figured they must know where they were going. "It's time to march," Iglesias said.

Along Constitution were booths for Palestinian groups, socialist groups, environmental groups, anti-International Monetary Fund groups, vegetarian and vegan groups, animal-rights groups -- every feather in the left wing. Socialists sold and handed out the Independent, Worker's World, and the Militant newspapers. They were part of the professional protesters, maybe 25,000 strong. There were also lots of young people -- some looked barely 16 -- who carried backpacks with them. By their appearance, I suspected that soap wasn't among the contents of their packs. Somebody broke out a Hacky Sack, and a group of gypsy-looking teenage girls did a mock cheerleading routine: "Dissent, dissent, dissent-dissent-dissent!"

The majority of the crowd, though, seemed to be regular workaday folk -- although liberal-leaning regular workaday folk -- coming from around the country. I walked along the sidewalk beside the marchers to size the crowd. And kept walking and walking. Stacked 20 or more in a row, the line never seemed to end, and behind me, it kept growing longer. And there it was: the loyal opposition that's been missing in Congress.

While many of the marchers simply walked with their signs, a lot of them danced. Some pounded drums, and many chanted rhymes such as:

Hell no, we won't go,

We won't kill for Texaco.

No justice, no peace,

U.S. out of the Middle East.

Hey, Bush,

What do you say?

How many kids did you kill today?

The latter chant was a reference to one of the other major themes of the protest: the call to lift the economic sanctions on Iraq, which UNICEF estimates have killed at least 1 million civilians, most of them children. It was almost as prominent as the antiwar message. Although most U.S. officials blame those deaths on Hussein, the fact remains that the near-genocide is linked to our foreign policy.

Another big issue at the protest was ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian flags were waved en masse. Muslim emissaries walked through the crowd handing out pamphlets with titles like Islam at a Glance.

As I walked alongside the protesters, a sense of awe began to overtake me. After two hours of walking, I was convinced that more than 150,000 people had showed. The front of the march snaked for two miles around the White House and upon return ran into its own tail, which still stretched for several blocks behind it. It was peaceful too. The columns of policemen, most of them on horseback, barely had to work that day (only three arrests were made).

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman