Special Reports
Marching to end the war
By John Peebles
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 19, 2007, 00:34

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 after.

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 counter-protesters.

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 incident controlled.

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 counter-protesters.

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.

John Peebles writes on domestic politics and international issues. He blogs at jbpeebles.blogspot.com.

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