This is your roving reporter, Mick Youther, bringing you a belated report on the March on the Pentagon and the protests that took place in Washington, DC on March 17, 2007.
Estimates of the number of protestors varied widely, from 15,000 to 50,000. Attendance was far less than expected due to a winter storm that hit the Northeast, causing bus and airline cancellations and preventing many people from driving. The weather on the day of the march was cold and windy.
Speakers at the rallies included Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark; Gold Star Mom Cindy Sheehan; Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson; Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto and Marine Sgt. Liam Madden (co-founders of Appeal for Redress); and former Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA).
Organizers scheduled the march to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the 1967 march on the Pentagon, which called for an end to the Viet Nam War. At that time, the Viet Nam War was only two years old, but 47% of Americans already felt that it was a mistake. Now, as Mr. Bush's War drags on into its fifth year, 59% of Americans believe it is a mistake, and 58% think we should withdraw within a year (The New York Times, 3/18/07).
From my vantage point at the post-march rally, I was only aware of what was going on around me, so I checked out the Washington Post and the New York Times the following day to see what I had missed:
The Washington Post seemed to give a disproportionate amount of coverage to the counter-demonstrators, describing their number as several thousand; while the New York Times described it as several hundred. Even so, there were more counter-demonstrators than usual at such an event-- probably due to an well-timed internet "rumor" circulated among veterans that we American-hating, wild-eyed protestors were going to desecrate the Viet Nam Memorial.
• "At one point before the march started, counter-demonstrators formed a gantlet along an asphalt walkway on Constitution [Ave.] and heaped verbal abuse at protesters who walked through on their way to the assembly area." --The Washington Post, 3/18/07
• "Crossing the bridge toward the Pentagon, the marchers met another group of about 50 counter demonstrators by the Arlington Cemetery, one holding a sign that said: 'Go to hell traitors. You dishonor our dead on hallowed ground.'" --The New York Times, 3/18/07
If the Bush Administration and these Super-Patriots have their way, we may someday be able to visit an Iraq War Memorial with 58,000 names on it. I am a veteran (like many of the protestors), and I didn't come to deface the Viet Nam War Memorial or anything else. A friend of mine's name is on The Wall, and I came to Washington because I don't ever want America to need another memorial like The Wall. Over thirty-six hundred Americans have already died in Mr. Bush's war, and that is thirty-six hundred too many.
While most protestors marched along the approved route and stood obediently in the designated "Free Speech Zone", a few didn't:
Police arrested an undetermined number of protestors on the sidewalk in front of the White House--evidently, for the crime of being on the sidewalk in front of the White House. On the previous night, over 200 protestors had been arrested for "standing and praying" in front the White House. So much for "the right of the people peaceably to assemble..." --as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The most interesting (and appropriate) event happened when several hundred protestors marched past the designated "Free Speech Zone" and on toward the Pentagon. They were met by a police barricade, manned by a double line of police and Virginia State Troopers in riot gear.
When the police found they could not hold the crowd back, they donned gas masks--then a firecracker went off and most of the crowd scattered, leaving 70-80 protestors, who sat down on the road. The police arrested a few of the protestors and threatened the rest with "Chemical munitions". It was then that the remaining protestors took a vote and decided to withdraw, which they did. No more arrests, no bloody heads, no chemical munitions.
That is the way it is supposed to work in a democracy. When the people vote to withdraw from a conflict, they withdraw. It is too bad it doesn't work like that in America.
When the day was over and I had thawed out; I had mixed feelings about the protest. I was glad I had come and added my presence and my voice to the protest; but I doubted that it would have any effect on the war or anything else. Sixty-two million Americans voted in the 2006 election, giving the Democrats control of Congress with a mandate to end the war and bring the troops home. President Bush responded by sending additional troops to Iraq--so what does he care if 50,000 protesters march where they are told, stand where they are told, and make speeches to themselves?
The Viet Nam War lasted another six years after the march on the Pentagon in 1967, and tens of thousands more American lives were lost. We cannot let that happen again.
So how do we make a difference? Well, we have already started. We took control of Congress away from Bush's Rubber Stamp Republicans. Now:
• "It's time for Congress to fulfill the promise of the November elections to stop the war in Iraq, and the only assurance we have that they will actually do that is if we CONTINUE to call and write them, again and again, until they finally realize we in fact expect them to do it. ...Call your own members of Congress right now, 800-828-0498, 800-459-1887 or 800-614-2803" --The Peace Team Action Page
• "Democratic members of Congress may tell you, 'this is the best we can do.' No, this is not the best they can do! The voters of this country didn't elect a new Congress to give us excuses; we elected them to use their power to end this war -- to stop the flow of money for war and to set a specific, short-term timeframe for bringing the troops home." --United For Peace and Justice Action Alerts, 3/22/07
According to journalist and commentator Bill Moyers, "The only answer to organized money is organized people," so we need to be organized. So, join a group. Get active. Get informed and stay informed. Speak up and make a difference. Instead of 50,000 protestors marching in Washington--let's make 50 million calls to Congress, demanding an end to Mr. Bush's senseless war. It is up to us to make a difference.
• "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation." --Robert F. Kennedy:
Mick Youther is an American citizen, an independent voter, a veteran, a parent, a Christian, a scientist, a writer, and all-around nice guy who has been aroused from a comfortable apathy by the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration.