D.C. Diary Anti-War Protests
The Capitol building
I’m late for the start of the protests, so I take a cab to the Capitol in order to make it on time. Looking out the window during the ride, I read the posters carried by the arriving protesters. Some are relatively tame – drawings of doves or cardboard pieces of paper saying things like “Grandmothers against the War,” or simply “Peace.” Others are more political – “Stop this racist war,” “George W. Bush: War Criminal” and various other posters making the obvious sexual play on words involving the names Bush, Dick, and Colin.
“Crazy people,” my cab driver mutters as we drive by. Eager to know his political standing on the protests, I ask him why.
“It must be zero degrees outside. Too cold to protest anything,” he responds.
He is right. The bitter cold is a constant factor during the protest though it does not seem to deter the crowd. People are packed in tightly all down the Mall and would be later walking down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Navy Yard. Taking a break to warm up (the desire to regain feeling in my fingers and toes outweighs my desire to hear another speech), I find many protesters resting in the nearby museums and coffee shops. After a few minutes, most of them get right back up on their feet and venture back outside.
After stomping my feet and rubbing my hands together for a few minutes, I too venture back out into the cold. Amazingly, Ralph Nader is standing on the corner of the street, alone except for one companion, waiting for a taxi. I seize the opportunity and run up to him.
“Mr. Nader, I’m a writer for a George Washington University student newspaper. What do you think of these protests? Could you compare student involvement in protests now with the student’s protesting in the ’60s?”
Nader looks at me, smiles and offers up his valuable wisdom.
“Aren’t they beginning to march now? You’d better go.”
He walks away to go look for a cab. All in all, I thought it was a wonderful interview.
I decide to find a group of protesters to attach myself to. I’m hoping to get a sense of what drives some people, both busy adults and busy students, to travel hundreds of miles to march out in the freezing cold.
I find a church group from Ohio that looked friendly enough to take on a curious reporter. This is where I meet Fred and Wilma (I successfully avoid making the obvious Flintstones jokes during our entire conversation). This couple is probably in their mid-50s, have been married for 18 years and first met each other during the Vietnam War protests. In between their singing of “Marching in the Light of God” and “We Shall Overcome,” I fit in a few questions. What did they think of the college protesters of today?
“Oh, they remind me of what we were like at that age,” says Wilma. “And their hearts are in the right place … marching for peace, standing up to government imperialism. It makes me proud.”
Fred chimes in, saying he “see(s) the same hunger for peace … and the same disgust over racism, government colonialism and wars fought for corporate profits” that he saw in the Vietnam protests.”
There is a strong ’60s protest mentality present in today’s demonstration. A majority of the protesters are either aging hippies – the veterans of the Vietnam War protest – or more mainstream adults like Fred and Wilma, who have come with their church groups. If one excludes the small sons and daughters the adult demonstrators brought with them, the average age of the crowd is probably about 30.
The crowd’s images and are often modifications of the same ones used in Vietnam protests. Peace symbols are everywhere and there is considerably more tie-dye than one is used to seeing nowadays outside a Phish concert or Austin Powers movie. Chants older than any college student, such as “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your racist war,” “Hey he, ho ho, fascist government has got to go” and “Hell no, we won’t go!” are some of the favorites among the protesters.
I sat down near a Metro stop around to rest for awhile before I left the protests. As the protesters march by, I see a 50ish woman standing on the sidewalk. She is decked out in “peace” paraphernalia – buttons with pictures of doves and slogans saying “make love not war” and “not in our name.” The protesters are chanting “George Bush, we know you! Your father was a killer too!” The woman is silent; it’s not one of the chants she is accustomed to. Someone starts up “Hell no, we won’t go!” The woman repeats the chant with feeling.