Saturday, February 15, 2003

I attended the anti-war demo in New York, briefly. It wasn’t a march, as you probably know; the city insisted that a procession past the UN was unacceptable. I’m somewhat baffled by that, and sorry that a judge agreed. The result was that some demonstrators were penned into blocks of First Avenue, unable to see the speakers, and able to hear them only if someone nearby had a radio tuned to a live broadcast; meanwhile, other demonstrators made slow (or no) progress down Second and Third Avenues because they couldn’t find the cross streets kept open by the police that provided access to First, and yet others wandered cross streets or the avenues west of Third because they’d given up trying to get to First. All this meant that instead of being in one orderly line, we were spread across a fairly large expanse of the city -- surely we couldn’t have been less of a burden for the cops that way. This also meant that when you hear the crowd estimates, you’re not getting a true sense of how many people wanted to be part of the main demo.

In the wake of the last major anti-war demonstration, much was written about the moral responsibility of demonstrators to have subjected the organizers of the demo to a complete background check. I argued at the time that demonstrations are about what demonstrators think they’re about; people show up to make their own case and not to sign on to the oddnesses and quirks of organizers’ agendas. Stuck on a First Avenue block in at 66th Street, nearly a mile from the stage, and barely able to hear the speakers as their words were broadcast on a radio nearby, I realized that this demo belonged to the demonstrators even more than others I’ve attended -- it was just us there; our presence said, We’re here and we’re against this war and there are a lot of us. That’s pretty much all we can say in large numbers; we can write letters and maintain Weblogs and do many other things on our own or in small groups, but when we make a show of our raw numbers, the message inevitably becomes a simple, basic one: Turn on CNN. See all those people on First Avenue photographed from the helicopter? All those people oppose the war. That’s it. What else do you want to know? Read books and magazines and blogs if you want more details -- and remember that our individual lines of reason won’t agree in all particulars.

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