Sunday, April 19, 2009

War Protesters and Whiners,

There's a discussion going on about whether the people who got out and protested the Iraq war, especially early on, were somehow "the same" or "like" the Teabaggers. I know that a lot of time has passed since the run up to the war but the amount of sheer forgetting that people are doing is just unbelievable to me. First--the protests only started after 9/11 and the Anthrax scare. That is to say they only started after many people were rightly feeling pretty much like we were at the start of an armageddon of massive proportions. Even people who opposed the war had those feelings--feelings of loss, guilt, fear, anxiety. Lots of people woke up after 9/11 and were wondering whether Nuclear war was next. After the Anthrax attacks people were practically hiding under their beds afraid of all human contact.

In a sense mere conventional war was the easy out--it gave us a target and it told us how the war was going to be fought. Most people didn't oppose the war (s) at all. They thought Afghanistan was totally justified and they thought that the war in Iraq was something too big for the Bush people to lie about. (Barney Frank, for example, dismissed all protest against Afghanistan by saying that the war was "overdetermined" and was simply going to happen.)
I had a near screaming match with a dear friend, a liberal New Yorker, who believed very strongly that we had to fight back, against whoever, because New York had been attacked. He simply couldn't believe what my father proposed fairly early on, which was that Saddam had no, repeat, NO, WMD at all.

It took a massive level of scepticism to see through the Government's tons of bullshit. A level of scepticism that was unshared by our national Democratic leaders who either abandoned us because it was politically convenient or abandoned us because they just couldn't believe that Bush et al would lie to them, personally, to their faces. I personally believe that lots of people, Kerry included, had such a high opinion of the Office of the President and of their own importance as Very Important People that they thought that lies at that level were out of the question. And these are people who had worked with Cheney. Shows how dumb they were. Stupider than the lowest unemployed housewife at the first of those United For Justice With Peace meetings.

Which brings me back to the question of the nature of the anti war protests. Over at Baloon Juice there are people saying they "didn't go to any" but they are sure that they were easy and fine and fun and silly. And other people saying they went and it was no big whoop. And still others saying--uh, no, it was scary and disheartening and you felt at risk. Its silly to say that there can only be one perspective on a huge, amorphouse, series of public events taking place in many little publics. I would like to bring a moment of clarity to this discussion, however, by pointing out that *of course* people are going to have had very different experiences and the experience of sheer loneliness that lots of people felt may have even been assuaged and changed by the experience of going to a rally. A movement from isolation to a sense of power and cohesion is itself the goal of rallies. So one guy who was frightened in his little Florida town can stay frightened and not protest, even verbally, but put him on a bus and send him to New York for a big rally and he sees that he's not alone. Thats.The.Whole.Point.Of. Rallies. Not to overthrow the government by sheer terror. Not to make the media guys go "wow! look at all those good patriots!" but to help people realize they are not alone, to help them get started organizing on the ground for electoral stuff.

I went to the big, big, NY Protest. Not my first, of course, I come from a protesting family. My parents were there too although the crowd was so huge that we could barely find each other. It was an amazing, joyful, solemn moment. The streets were filled with grandparents, children, grandchildren, college students. People who'd been to protests going back to Vietnam and people who had never imagined protesting. Sure, ANSWER had partly organized the damn thing and there were plenty of "free mumia" signs or "legalize hemp" but you can't stop those in a free protest--only in a police state protest. The police were hostile--I've seen friendly police and I know what that looks like--they weren't hitting people but they were under orders to surround and compress the march and to make it as difficult as possible. It was odd because the protesters were so uniformly generous, gentle, and talkative to the police. It was decidedly not an *anti* type March.

The march route was made torturous and complex. Subways were shut down. When you got to the "end" of the March you found Desmond Tutu and a few other people talking but no--NO--actual political figures from the Democratic Party or any other party. They stayed rigorously away. My parents and I met up on the sidelines eventually and took off--I had young children and had to get back on a train and get home and my parents are in their 70's. We went back to their hotel room and discovered that none of this was on the news. Zero. Zip. New York One showedn othing but graphics of traffic blockages for the sake of commuters. You would have thought there was a broken water main somewhere that was causing the traffic police to shut down half the city. By the evening news there was brief footage of one shirtless college aged guy wrestling with the Police with a hostile voice over from the media people. The implication was that it was a disorderly, teenage style, protest that the police had to monitor to prevent I don't know--shirtless protesting?--no interviews with the grandparents, Quakers, College Students, Organizers, Mothers, etc... who made up the bulk of the protestors.

So, was it a success? Well, no, not from some perspectives. But on the way back I found myself on a train stuffed with people who were energized, hopeful, and organizing. Was that pre-Dean? I think it was. But I remember exchanging information with people and talking about what to do next. And it wasn't long before I became a member of several anti war organizations and eventually became a Dean supporter and from that became more politically active than ever before in my life.

If the Teabag protests get that far, frankly, the Republican party has a problem on its hands. They are riding a tiger and they don't know it. But on the question of whether the anti war protests were as self indulgent and as easy as these Teabag protests. Uh. No. It was a scary, scary time and people who made any kind of fuss were made very aware that the Government and its local level allies were going to consider domestic protestors as the enemy. And the treatment of the enemy was something that was under daily discussion, and it didn't look pretty.


No comments: