Soon, there were lines of horse trailers for the mounted police, and many more cops walking around. The vendors arrived to sell buttons bumper stickers, tee-shirts, and alternative newsletters. They were far outnumbered, however, by the people who were handing out free literature and other miscellany.
We decided to head up towards the front of the growing crowd, looking for a good spot to view the stage. We scored a good location about forty feet from the front just as the speakers began, so we could clearly see, hear and feel everything going on.
It started with Chumbawumba playing two quick and heartfelt protest songs to get everybodys attention. Many speakers came forward, but the ones who were most memorable for me were former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Jessica Lange, Born on the Fourth of July author Ron Kovic, Rev. (and now-declared presidential candidate) Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Clark garnered much support from the crowd, delineating the impeachment possibilities for (P)resident Bush, and laying out information for everyone on the petition that will soon be available online toward that pursuit. Lange was another standout for me, not only because she gave a big Thank You! to those of us from Northeastern Minnesota who rode the bus for 24 hours to get to D.C., but also because of her earnestnessnot being there to play the fame card, but standing up to oppose the war as a mother to her children. Kovic was not only a great speaker, he was also an important reminder. As he sat in his wheelchair, paralyzed from the chest down, he represented the casualties of war. It might have been another war, but its a past we should never forget. Sharpton and Jackson were two of the most powerful speakers I have ever heard, both eloquent, able to pull at the heartstrings with their words, but in different ways. Sharpton has a loud, proud, in-your-face delivery that no one can ignore, and Jackson is soft-spoken, possessing a manner that pulls from deeper within. His words are almost subliminal in their effecteven if you dont hear them, youll feel them.
By this point, the crowd had swelled as far as the eye could see. Despite the very cold wind, the number of people was actually melting the snow on the ground.
And then the march began. Getting to the front of the march was a futile battle, the throng was so great. The streets in Washington are wide, and there was more than enough room to hold a parade of floats or anything else down them, but the crowd was far too massive. Signs, drums, chants of end the madness, no blood for oil, and Hey Bush, we know you! Your daddy was a killer too!everywhere. People were smiling, dancing and marching down the street, almost like a huge army had invaded Washingtonexcept without weapons and only interested in peace. Crowds were orderly, and incredibly diverse. At what other time could I be walking down the street with a punk drum corps in front of me, the unions behind me, a Jewish group on my left, and a Palestinian group on my right? I saw things that both inspired me and disgusted me. When we walked by the Republican headquarters, there was a group of people on the lower balcony with a Hippies Go Home banner, yelling at us. But in the same building, on the top floors which are rented by Amnesty International, there were banners of support hung from every window.
The official line was that 30,000 people had marched, but from being there I can tell you that the real number was probably closer to 200,000. The march reached its terminus at the Navy yard an hour before everyone was able to filter out of the mall!
Despite the miles-long hike, being cold, hungry, dirty, and more sore than Ive ever been in my life, I could not wipe the smile off my face. It will be weeks before the euphoria wanes. If the opportunity ever arises again for a protest, I will be thereas long as I can believe, and I can move, I will be there.
SUBHEAD: My First March on Washington: Lessons Learned
If it were not for the spirit of protest and the ability to tell the leadership of our country that they are wrong, this land of ours would not be the same. Without it, in fact, our country wouldnt exist in the first place. I have had many people try to discourage me from my beliefs and tell me that I am un-American for wanting to protest. But isnt protesting the most patriotic thing I can do? Theres another multitude who will tell me there is no point to protest anymore, because no one will listen. But isnt that in itself false, because if nobody cared, wouldnt no one have marched?
The only way one can understand the power of protest is to participate. By participating, one can be a part of the process that drives this country. It does not really matter what side of an issue youre onnothing will ever change if all you do is shake your head while watching TV. Telling someone else you disagree with them is a courageous thing to do, and telling millions of people you disagree with them is monumental. One of the most disturbing trends that seems to be a part of the whole anti-war/pro-war argument is that some people are advocating the destruction of property, like anti-war signs. Destroying signsor even worse, public propertywill bring no good end, and whatever message is intended will be lost in the outrage caused by the damage.
If you want to register your discontent, send a letter or email. Tell someone what you believe. Put a sign in your yard, put a bumper sticker on your car, or wear a button. These are the kinds of protest that do not cause pain or damage. These are the kinds of protest that make this country great.
Sometimes our leaders seem to forget who they are working for, and it seems the only way to have a voice is to be rich or a CEO. I would be happier than anything to have somebody prove me wrong on this point, but I dont see it happening. I joined a protest, and it turned out to be far larger than I imagined it would be. Is anyone listening?