March 19th, the fifth anniversary of the war, started early for me, 4:00 to be precise. That is the time I needed to wake up so my friend and I could get to D.C. at a reasonable time. Though the trip started in darkness and rain, we made good time and got to the city without a skyline just in time to participate in what would be a smorgasbord of antiwar activities.
Our first event was IVAW’s, Iraq Veterans Against The War, march. This march proceeded to a small area of grass where we stopped and waited for a sound system so we could listen to Buffie St. Marie sing “Universal Soldier.” We then marched to the National Archives where some of the IVAW’s members engaged in civil disobedience-lite—four members from IVAW found their way to a ledge of the Archives building where they were forbidden to stand. The situation was resolved without any arrests.
My friend and I then split up for a while. He wanted to print some flyers while I was in search of food. Afterwards I found myself across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park where the march of the dead took place. The participants marched solemnly dressed in black, wearing white masks, and holding a small sign with the name of the person who had been killed in this war. Their message was clear.
Of course, the fun for me was about to start. I went to the Burger King on 16th and K Street and ate a second time. While eating, I saw members of SDS, Students For A Democratic Society, marching through and stopping to block an intersection. I called my friend so he could join the scene. In contrast to the Iraq Veterans, these kids were fun to watch. While it was raining, they formed a human chain expecting to be arrested. Meanwhile, they chanted, played music, and danced. When it became apparent that the police would let them be, some of kids talked with the police officers and tried to get them to dance. The kids were the better dancers.
Finally it was time to move on so we walked, with a full police escort, until we found ourselves outside a military recruitment center. Here we chanted and yelled and held up our signs as a couple of counter demonstrators stood across from us holding their signs high. The most memorable chant went something like this: “What are they recruiting for? Murder, rape, torture, war!” At first, this chant seems rude. But when we compile five years of news accounts, soldiers’ testimonies from both the movie “Ground Truth” and the Winter Soldier’s event, and the eye- witness accounts of Iraqi citizens such as those recorded in the website Alive In Baghdad (http://www.aliveinbaghdad.org/), the chant was not just true, it was required.
Afterwards, we continued until we stopped at the intersection of 15th and K streets. We stood and chanted for around 5 minutes when suddenly we felt pushed from behind. The police were shoving us and then told us to get out of the street. The pushing was not violent but it was forceful enough that I was afraid I would fall. The police were using those in back to push the people in front. So I found my way to the side of the protest where an officer merely took hold of my arm as well as that of a fellow protester and guided us off the street. I forgot to thank him for his consideration
Some tempers flared on the part of the students. Their reactions were understandable because these students had expected to block this intersection as they did when the policed accommodated their earlier escapades. The police action was also understandable because it was getting close to rush hour and the last thing they wanted was for this intersection to be blocked.
In short, if you want to have a fun time protesting, hang around SDS. But despite this recommendation, I do have a suggestion for them. SDS members should read Martin Luther King before interacting with the others. Why?
First, perhaps I have a personal problem with people who give the police too hard a time which some SDS members did. I see police officers as people who do a job that I could never do. In addition, police officers are caught in the middle between pleasing their supervisors and avoiding being harassed by the protesters. Also, we should be careful not to displace our anger with our government’s policies onto the police. Finally, if we were to share Martin Luther King’s passion, we would look at all who disagree as people to win over. Trying to win people over does not cause us to compromise our standards; rather, attempting to respectfully persuade others is a way of recognizing them as equals.
Certainly critics could legitimately label some in SDS as being spoiled kids. These critics would continue by saying that these kids do not appreciate the sacrifices made by our troops to guarantee their right of free speech. On the other hand, these spoiled ill-tempered kids are protesting to gain our troops' right to return home. Critics of SDS might try to shame these kids by comparing them with their favorite set of quiet, compliant, hardworking successful kids. But in today’s world, I prefer to associate with noisy dissidents than any set of conservative do-gooders because there is too much suffering to remain silent.