The Peace Demonstration in DC on Sept. 24: A Peaceful Assault on the Epicenter of Evil
Arriving home on Sunday from the peace and social justice rally in Washington DC, my mind sifted through the barrage of information that came at me over the course of the weekend, and I began to reach some conclusions and connect some dots.
My first conclusion was that the weak coverage of an event of this magnitude was further evidence that the mainstream media is merely an instrument of its obscenely corrupt corporate and government masters. The Washington Post underestimated the number of people at the demonstration and provided relatively limited coverage. The Washington Times relegated their coverage to the bottom of the front page and grossly exaggerated the impact of the pro-Bush counter-demonstrators. And this was an event that happened in their own city! I felt even more disgusted by the Kansas City Star article that awaited me when I returned home. It consisted of about ten short paragraphs on page two of the front section, and included one small photograph. Beyond the print media, I struggled to find even minor mention of the event on television news.
Obviously these "sacred purveyors of the truth" and members of the Fourth Estate determined that the best way to frame this political issue was to minimize the fact that hundreds of thousands of people descended upon Washington DC to protest the illegal US occupation of Iraq and to demand social justice. The mainstream press could not summon the courage to provide a realistic amount of coverage of a significant challenge to their corporate masters and the Bush regime.
I was there for the march on September 24th. Based on what I observed, the Washington DC police chief's estimate of 150,000 people was extremely low. My wife and I marched at the end of the procession, which followed a 1.4-mile course passing in front of the White House. We carried a mock coffin draped with an American flag, one of about 150 such coffins which enabled the public to finally see at least a representation of the Americans who have died in Iraq. It took us six hours to complete the march. We moved quite slowly due to the number of people joining the procession along the way. The people leading the march actually got to the White House before we even started to move. Along the route, I saw throngs of thousands of supporters lining the streets. The Ellipse, the area surrounding the Washington Monument, and several adjacent parks were filled with demonstrators before, during and after the march. ANSWER, one of the demonstration's organizers, estimated that there were 300,000 participants. Truthout.org put the number closer to 500,000. Based on what I witnessed, I estimate the number fell somewhere between the two.
As for counter-protestors, I saw a mere handful. To state there were over two hundred would be a very generous estimate. Yet ironically, their signs and shouted rhetoric indicated that they were "the majority." I struggled to understand how they arrived at that conclusion. On September 25, the pro-Bush, pro-war faction staged their own demonstration in DC, involving about 400 people. It boggles the mind contemplating how they could truly believe themselves to be in the majority.
The crowd on Saturday was diverse, including the elderly, the disabled, minorities, military veterans, families of military personnel in Iraq, social activists, Methodists, Quakers, Buddhists, people of Middle Eastern descent, and many other groups. Joan Baez, Cindy Sheehan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and two Congresswomen spoke and marched. On the flight home, I met Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who represents a district in Kansas City. He told me that he had not participated in the demonstration, but that he was part of an anti-war coalition in Congress. A broad spectrum of Americans want peace and social justice and are eager to see Bush and the corrupt politicians who dominate the US government out of office.
One of the articles I read in the mainstream media stated that there were no police wearing riot gear at the demonstration. I beg to differ. I counted at least seven men wearing black pants, white, generic-looking shirts with what appeared to be cloth gold badges stitched to them, and military boots. They each had riot helmets with visors, riot shields marked "Police" (though their uniforms bore virtually no resemblance to those of the DC police), and truncheons. As I marched by them, I wondered if they were Blackwater security people, hired mercenaries like those the Bush administration has used in Iraq and now in New Orleans.
Despite his absence, Bush's fortress was heavily defended by police on the street and by snipers on the roof of the White House and surrounding buildings. Bush exhibited his usual spinelessness. He spent part of the day in Colorado, where he would not have to face the hundreds of thousands of his constituency who were calling for peace, social justice and his impeachment. He was also well out of Hurricane Rita’s danger zone. Later in the day he did find the nerve to travel to San Antonio, but even there he was still well out of harm's way.
Before the march began, I spoke with a woman with the Friends Committee on National Legislation and signed a petition to lobby members of Congress to pass a resolution for the US military to withdraw from Iraq. This group is not asking for a specific timetable. The Friends Committee simply wants a commitment that our multi-trillion dollar war machine will leave Iraq once the situation there has stabilized. I agree with those who have stated that it would be irresponsible for the US to pull out of Iraq immediately and leave the country in a chaos that our military-industrial complex created. However, Iraq is a sovereign nation, and at some point in the not too distant future the US needs to withdraw. I gladly carried a sign on behalf of this Quaker organization as I bore my half of the mock coffin adorned with the American flag.
As we passed the US Treasury, a man riding a bicycle was using a portable PA system. His message: “Pay no attention to this building. It is the treasury. It is empty. It has been looted.”
With the volume of money flowing into the coffers of corporations with incestuous ties to the Bush regime and a $7.5 trillion deficit, it would be difficult to dispute his contention.
Saturday's march for peace and social justice and against corporate dominance, imperialism and tyranny was powerful for several reasons. The sheer number of people—I'd estimate 300,000—who participated in the demonstration reveals that many in the United States have made al wathbah, or "the leap." In Bush in Babylon, Tariq Ali wrote about “the leap” of mass consciousness the Iraqi people made in 1948 as they realized that their puppet leaders had sold out their interests to British imperialists. Slowly, many Americans are overcoming the lies they have been "programmed" to believe ever since they were able to fashion conscious, coherent thoughts. While the 300,000 demonstrators represent a small minority of the US population, Bush's abysmal approval rating provides evidence that the 300,000 were but a fraction of those ready to dissent against the perverse regime "leading" the nation. Ali called the British proxies who ruled Iraq during the early and mid-twentieth century "an oligarchy of racketeers." America's lackeys in the newly formed Iraqi government are more than capable of assuming that mantle.
Speakers at the rally called for increased rights for blacks, women, gays, Hispanics, and other minorities. They decried the US military's use of torture and indefinite imprisonment of suspected "terrorists" with no legitimate trial. They decried the excessive power of US corporations here and abroad, and called for renewed government restraints to squelch their excesses and abuses. Several made strident demands to end the government’s blatant racism and neglect of the poor, highlighted by hurricane Katrina. They called for support of Hugo Chavez and Castro. Bush may not have been listening, but his constituents were talking to him in large numbers, and will continue to do so. If he and the US aristocracy continue to ignore the will of the People, things will not end well for them. In the non-violent tradition of Martin Luther King and Gandhi, We the People will take our government back from the plutocracy. The wealthiest nation in the world has moral obligations to be a world leader (rather than a bully) and to care for its poor, and if the incumbent administration is not willing to fulfill these obligations, it needs to be replaced.
Frequently throughout the march, I heard and read the slogan "power of the people." The unfortunate reality is that for now, the ultimate power in the US rests in the hands of a select few aristocrats, as it has in varying degrees since our nation's founding. I saw ample evidence of that fact as my wife and I toured the Smithsonian’s American History Museum the day before the march. The decadence in which many of the presidents and first ladies engaged was truly disgusting to see. I saw the outrageously expensive clothing, china, jewelry, art, and White House furnishings and realized that I was witnessing evidence that the US is as much an aristocracy as the monarchy from which our founding fathers severed themselves. Further fueling my nausea, I saw that Barbara and Laura Bush were enshrined in the section of First Ladies who have made significant contributions to social justice in the United States. The Bush wives honored alongside Eleanor Roosevelt, a giant in the pantheon of social justice? The Smithsonian curators have a very sick sense of humor.
Mr. Bush, good luck selling your fairy tale of democracy and equality to the victims of Katrina, to many others in America, and to the rest of the world. Your criminal neglect of New Orleans and the poor in general, your lies, your theft of the 2000 election, your numerous violations of the public trust, your hiring of incompetent cronys like Michael Brown causing thousands to suffer or die, and your war profiteering combine to make you the biggest felon ever to serve as President of the United States. (Note to Bush: as an "elected" official, you are merely a public servant, not a monarch. You belong in one of the many penitentiaries of the prison-industrial complex.)
In skimming the 120 emails I received while I was away for the weekend, I discovered that ANSWER, one of the demonstration’s organizers, has apparently been accused of being Maoist Communists who are virulently anti-US and who advocate supporting any group which opposes the US government (i.e. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Khmer Rouge). My response to that is that I do not care. United for Peace also sponsored the event, and to my knowledge, they have not been targeted as “anti-American.” I am not a member of either group, and regardless of how extreme their positions may be, this event served a valuable purpose. It demonstrated the strength of the movement in the United States for peace and social justice, and the depth of the desire among Americans to remove the avaricious, tyrannical, and criminal Bush regime from power.
Jason Miller is a 38-year-old activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He works in the transportation industry, and is a husband and a father to three boys. His affiliations include Amnesty International, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at firstname.lastname@example.org or comments on his blog at civillibertarian.blogspot.com.
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This story was published on October 1, 2005.