Our nation's capitol was the site of a large anti-war
demonstration September 15th. The march began at Lafayette Park just north of
the White House and went approximately two miles down Pennsylvania Avenue to
the lawn of the Capitol Building.
The protest was peaceful; the only friction came from the
instigation of counter-protesters. Before the march began, a knot of mountain
bike-riding young men rode between the crowd and White House chanting pro-war
slogans and "USA . . . USA".
Alone, a veteran of the Iraq war wearing his desert
fatigues, stomped towards the bikers, proud and unafraid. Later on, Iraq
Veterans Against the War formed the vanguard of the march, wearing either their
characteristic black T-shirts or their desert camos.
A group of college student Republicans crossed in front of
the White House, only to be followed by a much larger, very animated anti-war
student group from George Mason University who merged into the crowd then later
into the march.
Speeches in Lafayette Park were really just brief rallying
cries declaring support for the march. A bouncing sea of protest banners, which
were available free to participants, surrounded the stage and made intellectually
stimulating speech impractical. The march, slated to begin at noon, began well
The march's organizers, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop the War and
End Racism), did well to keep the march flowing, forming a cordon in front of
the group as it made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I'd estimate about 30,000 marchers made their way down the
broad avenue. Counter-protesters waited in two areas, and shouted bitterly.
Occasionally they were confronted by solitary veterans who'd peeled off the
march and, rather than argue, postured defiantly and opposed their detractors
eye-to-eye before rejoining the marchers.
The pro-war demonstrators seemed far more agitated than the
protestors. It was as if they were a fringe element committed to a course of
action opposed by the majority. The so-called protesters, meanwhile, reflected
a more rational mainstream, representing not the counterculture but rather the
norm. It seemed that far more passers-by and ordinary tourists joined in with
the protestors, or at least tagged along, than went to the areas reserved for
The counter-protesters' position lacked clarity, focused
instead on the dubious presumption that we must fight them there rather than
here, or that leaving Iraq would allow jihad to win.
At the end of the march, protesters spread out on the lawn
of the nation's capital. DC police, who'd been civil to the procession, lined
up on the other side of a low wall at the base of the Capitol building.
Protesters had been told to expect arrest in the one part of
the Capitol grounds designated for a scheduled "Die-In", which
involved participants lying down to symbolize the death of a service member in
Iraq. ANSWER had been busily enlisting people for the Die-In, so when the space
reserved for the Die-In was sealed off, many in the crowd were disappointed.
Instead, demonstrators practicing civil disobedience crossed
the police line onto Capitol grounds to be arrested. One by one they were
escorted up and through the Capitol building for processing.
Typical of the mainstream media, coverage was limited,
although there were a Japanese crew and some local channels there only briefly.
Later, a Headline News ticker read, "Un-Peaceful Protest?" as a video
clip showed a protester writhing on the ground while being arrested. An older
counter-protester assaulted a protestor by bashing him on the head with his
sign during a heated exchange. He was pushed back, but the calmer group of
normative "protesters" surrounding the pair interceded and kept the
The absence of any violence or property destruction by the
demonstrators showed the non-emotional, purely rational roots of the antiwar
movement, which contrasted vividly with the catcalls and name-calling of the
The demonstrators were no wimps either. Led by tough Iraq
veterans, the protesters were willing to confront their opponents, whether
pro-war types or their representatives -- had they been present.
The protest wound down, punctuated with occasional outbursts
of support for people who had bravely crossed onto Capitol grounds and been
arrested. One break in the wall had been devoted by the police for that
purpose; behind the wall stood rows of police some in riot gear, who stood
patiently waiting for the crowd to disperse.
The protest may not have bought much national TV time, but
it did buy some, biased though it may have been. The confrontations may not
have been as volatile as Vietnam, but there'd been an underlying disharmony
brought to our nation's capitol. All is not well. Iraq is a big part of a
widely held and growing discontent with our government which is no longer
confined to a counterculture but has become wholly accepted and acceptable.
Peebles writes on domestic politics and international issues. He blogs at jbpeebles.blogspot.com.