Reflections on the September 24 march in DC
Joe Courter
October 2005

September 24, 2005 marked another mass gathering for peace in Washington, DC. These rituals of peaceful resistance to the war policies of our government occur as one of the options for citizens to express themselves against war.

That they occur at all is a somewhat haphazard, decentralized process; some group or groups have to set the date, gather the support, make the arrangements, craft the message, negotiate with the authorities, and rent the stage(s), sound equipment, porta-johns, tents, and tables--all while rolling the dice that the weather will cooperate and that enough contributions can be gathered to offset the costs.

This is "the movement," a decentralized effort at play in countless communities ranging from motivated individuals, to church social concerns committees, to groups whose scope includes the ability (and the nerve) to call for a mass protest. There is no one party line, just a collective outrage at the horror and waste of war, and a call for justice and peace. What people who watch C-SPAN see is the speaking from stage, but the real value of these protests is the multitude of experiences and connections made in the course of planning, traveling, participating, and returning to rehash and share the experiences with others. For each person, it is a different event, based on what they bring to it and what they do while there and afterwards.

A little over a week after the DC protest, a report-back was held at the Civic Media Center. Among the people there were folks who drove to Washington in a van, others who were on one of the two buses out of Gainesville, and others who took the train. Also present were people who stayed in Gainesville and were part of the hundreds on Gainesville street corners the same day hundreds of thousands were in DC.

We all brought back our own experiences, mental snapshots, and more from the protest. Allissa, who went up on the bus, expressed her joy and relief to be in DC to protest the war. She had worked as an intern in DC over the summer, and being there but feeling voiceless had been frustrating. Being there and hooking up with a CodePink contingent was a great release. While many felt the speechifying went on too long, George Galloway and especially Cindy Sheehan stood out to many of us.

The Treasury Building was the scene of anti-globalization protests earlier in the day, and saw one of the larger police presences during the day (besides of course the White House). Miriam mentioned that the police holding their shields and clubs were serenaded with "Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield" and subjected to good-natured ribbing about guarding an empty treasury because the country is so deep in debt. Brenda noted the very strong Quaker presence with their signs and T-shirts. She and others all noticed the great mix of ages in the crowd: lots of teens and twenty-somethings as well as older folks and families.

I volunteered at a table for Military Families Speak Out, and right next to our table was a busy table for the Iraq Veterans Against the War, dozens of them in desert fatigues. Folks said the Iraq vets received a great response on the march too. The moment that got to me involved a woman and her teenage son who came to the Military Families Speak Out table. Her first words to us were, "My son was killed in Iraq, and I hadn't heard of your organziation. How do I sign up?" She was a working-class woman with a hand-lettered white shirt that read, "My Country Right or Wrong." It wasn't til she left that table that I saw the hand lettering on the back of her shirt: "My Duty to Dissent." Nothing else all day--music by Joan Baez or Steve Earle, the hundreds of various information tables from organizations from all over the country on every progressive issue you could think of, the creative and wonderful signs and puppets--could displace from my memory her face, her sincerity, her humility, and her obvious conviction that this war is wrong and must be stopped.

Bill Gilbert and Dave Henderson here in Gainesville deserve huge praise for being the organizers of the two buses that took folks from Gainesville to DC. They got on it early and made it happen. Credit goes too to Rev. Jim Wright of the downtown Holy Trinity Episcopal Church who spearheaded the Gainesville presence at intersections all along 13th Street. And thank you to all who went or donated money to help others go as we raise our voice against Bush's horrible folly of the war and occupation of Iraq. Stop the occupation--US out--UN in--pay reparations.

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