"People Rise Up!" A Protest Photo Essay
There were actually a whole two news reports about the protest, one from Washington Post. Of course, what wasn't fair is that it was on page C-5 of the Sunday paper, but hey, I expected nothing. There is also video available here, from an ABC affiliate.
There was a 30-foot effigy of Bush made from wire and huge printouts of his ugly head.
The energy was totally focused. The message was consistent with each speaker: Bush is dangerous, no one is going to be our savior, we must take matters into our own hands. This was the place to ponder and give voice to the unthinkable, the thing that everybody in the ÂrealÂ (faith-based) world cannot or refuses to fathom. They are the Âpeople passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined,Â according to WCWs call to action. Randi Rhodes said it well the other day: America is not only headed down a bad road, weÂre at a major fork.
As I proceeded from the Metro station to the Ellipse (I did stop by the Caribou Coffee where some folks were supposed to meet up but I was so very late that I stayed for 15 minutes and left), the streets were empty of protesters until I got to the northwest corner of the Mall. This was somewhat deflating.
There was a stage with a pretty good sound system set up, and a few tents to coordinate volunteers and sell the usual merchandise at dissent gatherings: ÂRibbons for the Rest of Us,Â ÂRevolutionary Books,Â bumper stickers, pins. But I grew even more deflated as I walked toward the front of the stage. There were a few hundred people on the Mall. I was pissed that people would let the rain (or other things, keep reading) keep them home; but as my sneakers slid in the mud and water crept in through the seams, I thought, Âwho can blame them?Â However, lots of people, like this guy, did a great job of keeping people's spirits high:
The WCW organizers came prepared with colored plastic whistles and noisemakers and plenty of bullhorns, in addition to hundreds and hundreds of their bright, urgent green signs with the slogan ÂDrive out the Bush Regime!Â They mounted the signs on cardboard tubes, but after half an hour the signs became soggy and folded over, and most people just tossed them in the refuse bins.
For folks who have a problem with the Âfreaky lookingÂ crowd, 1) I donÂt know what you think you look like, but I bet someone somewhere thinks you look like a freak! and 2) you canÂt come out to a protest against an evil regime with that attitude. If youÂre more comfortable in front of your keyboard than having to be exposed to people different from you Â fine, please stay home. As I have said before, many of my best friends have been freaks, and at this protest, punks, goths, queers, hippies and the like abound. As Michael Franti sang: "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world." My guess is most of them were college students as WCW is particularly focused on growing the student movement. The crowd was colorful, diverse, and energetic despite the circumstances. When I got there, a DJ was spinning Public EnemyÂs ÂDonÂt Believe the Hype.Â
Here are some of the signs from the rally:
The first two speakers, whose names I am sorry I didnÂt catch (didnÂt take many notes because I was bogged down with an umbrella, a humongous digital camera, and a purse, and plus pens do not work on wet paper), read WCWs call to action, which is here, and it really riled up the crowd. One by one, speakers approached the mic and the crowd constantly roared back. People were really angry and perhaps even more so because it was cold, wet and muddy.
One of the best speakers was Rebecca Shaefer, one of the Georgetown Law Students who turned their backs on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She said that many of the students who stood up and turned their backs weren't even in on the protest plans - they just stood up and joined.
When I say the energy was focused, I mean it. I saw one Free Mumia sign, one Palestine sign, one ÂNo war for IsraelÂ sign, and a few general antiwar signs. Everything else was something about the Emperor or King George or wiretapping Â something specifically directed toward the Bush administration. I have heard some people say they donÂt want to be associated with WCW because it is a ÂcommunistÂ organization. I can guarantee that it is not, there are people of all stripes involved in World CanÂt Wait. One of the main organizers is Sunsara Taylor who is a writer for The Revolutionary newspaper and a follower of Bob Akavian of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I will let WCWs FAQ speak for itself:
Q: But aren't there communists in World Can't Wait?
A: Yeah, there are. Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party helped initiate it. They have said they're in it because they think it's absolutely urgent to get rid of this regime, that it would both lift a huge burden from the world and would also give people a sense of their own potential power, and they think all that would open up avenues to get to the society they want. Same as a whole lot of other people in World Can't Wait - which, by the way, includes Greens, Christians, Republicans, anarchists, Muslims, Jews, feminists, Democrats, pacifists, and people who claim no affiliation - who also think it's urgent to drive out the Bush Regime and who also think it can help lead to bigger changes that they want in society, coming from their own viewpoints.
But to turn the question around, if you refuse to pitch in to building this movement to drive out the Bush regime, when you know that this is what has to be done, just because there are communists in it, then you need to think about how well that worked back in Nazi Germany (when the many forces opposed to Hitler could not find the ways to unite). And how exactly would you explain your particular brand of "abstinence only" policy to a prisoner at Abu Ghraib or a teenager in Tennessee who desperately needs an abortion or someone whose mother was killed at a checkpoint near Falluja? And then after you think about that, you need to actually start working on driving out this regime. To stand aside at this point is really unconscionable.
So anyway, onto the fun stuffÂ speakers, speakers, speakers, more rain, more mud, more speakers, even more rain meant that eventually the electricity had to be shut off. With six speakers left and only a couple of megaphones, the organizers tried to finish their program but they ceded to the groaning audience. By this time, my jeans are soaked to the knee, my sneakers are covered in mud and my socks are soaking wet. Before we set upon the march to the White House there was a Saddam Square-style toppling of the wire Bush effigy accompanied by the burning of the flag of the United Corporations of America (thatÂs the flag that looks like the American flag but has corporate logos instead of stars). I have never been in the presence of a burning flag and when I felt the heat across my face I was grateful because it was so cold but I also felt like I was in Palestine or Pakistan. It was very exciting and edgy and I felt as if I should remove my sneaker and start beating myself with it, or at least beat the effigy. Then when the effigy of Bush came down, it came toward me. As I backed up, people descended upon it and kicked it, stomped it, beat it and screamed at it. I gave it a weak kick, but I kept my sneaker on.
We queued up:
and moved along...
When we got here, everyone stopped and basically had a freak out session. Everyone was screaming and chanting and jumping up and down. The police looked on - did I detect amusement in some of those faces? Empathy? Hmmm...
In the meantime, another protest raged across the street:
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! HA HA HA! What a bunch of pathetic losers. Didja know that's Karl Rove's extended family?
As the march carried on from the White House back to the Mall, Sunsara Taylor, flanked by two rather handsome men, and the crew from WCW did an awesome job. (Hey, if this is what commies today look like - sign me up! j/k) They all got in the bed of a pickup truck with a microphone, two megaphones, and a few drums. They had good chants such as:
"Bush step down, people rise up!"
"Killer in the White House, time to get his ass out!"
"Join us, join us, the World CanÂt Wait! Drive out the Bush Regime!"
All in all, the day was a gathering of people focused on one goal. The speakers, the organizers, the attendees all come from different places geographically, ideologically, ethnically, nationally, but we have this one thing in common. It's more important than ever that we learn to set aside our differences to get this task accomplished.
My one problem with the event is that while the energy was organic, the formation was not. There was the march route, and my guess is that the organizers were probably told that we could spend a predetermined amount of time in front of the White House. We were really far from the White House, and Bush wasn't even in there. I want to storm the gates and make him come out and answer to his crimes, then shackle him and send him to Guantanamo. But hey, this is a start and at the least, it keeps me energized enough to keep going to my local Dem meetings and trying to get involved from the inside. I just can't fathom another three years of this. It's going to reach a critical point very soon.