Thursday, March 27, 2008

After Winter Soldier: War Anniversary in D.C.

Rituals of Protest
Original VVAW Winter Soldier testifier, and contributor at large. He and his wife Cathy spent their wedding anniversary at the 5th anniversary of the war demonstrations in Washington, D.C. this past March 19th,, as they traveled home from the Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan event held in Silver Springs Maryland, March 13th thru 19th.

Wednesdays usually don't allow much leeway for demonstrations. People have to get to work. Our vast war machine cannot stop dead over night...

That was the stupid part... kids on bicycles... at rush hour downtown.

Cathy and I stayed in Washington after the hearings against the Iraq War to join demonstrations downtown marking the fifth anniversary of our invasion. Shock and awe, remember that?

So let's stop traffic... about a dozen kids apparently thought they were making some kind of statement riding their mountain bikes into the middle of traffic. Why not do it at one of the busiest intersections on K Street, heart of the multinational lobby industry?

In downtown Washington last Wednesday, 19 March, most protesters against the Iraq war offered an amusing distraction from business as usual. The bikers were different. They got people mad and started fights. The action in the nation’s capitol against war on this business day were disappointing, but neither depressing nor futile.

One biker I saw almost got run over but for some guy in a pickup jamming on his brakes in the middle of K and 13th. The driver hopped out and started yelling at the kid who responded in kind... then shoving and pushing. Some of the motorcycle cops ran over to break it up. Lines of traffic waiting for the intersection to clear on a green light started honking. Marchers on the streets increased their chanting.

Cute secretaries and others all dressed up for another day at the office paused briefly to stare at the ruckus and have a sip of their steaming Starbucks.

This was about as much confrontation as we saw. It lasted only a few minutes. Exciting! Lots of aging counter-culture types were shooting video... at least they liked it.

Thank God there was more... lots more, not only in the Capitol but all over the nation.

Fortunately Cathy & I were able to visit Skip Roberts in D.C. for a couple of days after WSI 2. Skip served as VVAW national coordinator after John Kerry stepped down in '71, is still an engaged politico and advised us to visit a cafe near his place on 14th Street-- Poets and Busboys-- to find out what was planned for the 19th. Luckily this great politics-friendly bistro/bookstore had a copy of The Washington Peace Letter from the (For travelers, hard copy often is more helpful than the web.)

While the conservative-leaning Washington Post gave scant coverage to 5th anniversary protests, the Peace Letter showed an incredible array of public events planned for the Capitol for the whole week. We only saw the tail end. The best part of that seemed to be Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a marching band complete with drums, tuba and other brass which paraded around the business district, sites for civil disobedience such as the IRS and eventually over to the Mall to energize busloads of tourists.
Did this and the other diverse events make any difference? From my point of view, it was all entertaining but ultimately a distraction. Groups such as Code Pink wearing pink PJs can be clever pushing a pink four-poster bed around the Capitol with signs saying, "Wake up America!" and "Tired of War?" But sometimes creative protest becomes self-indulgent performance art best left to the pages of Art Forum.

One group wore green helmets and stopped passers-by to ask questions for a survey on Green Jobs, a seemingly useless exercise. Others carried gangly windmills that looked perfect for a grade school skit.

They reminded me of the so-called bad guys outside WSI 2, a group known as ‘The Gathering of Eagles’, a small bunch of super-patriots. They were said to be interested in messing up the hearings.

I felt sorry for them. They were sort of a pathetic bunch of old folks and perhaps a few disgruntled tourists who had brought along various family members or friends to counter protest the WSI.

They stood by New Hampshire Ave. outside the National Labor College and waved their flags and banners to passers-by. They were just enough of a presence to give the press and police an opportunity highlight this conflict of opinions in the grassroots.

Both protest groups showed how hard it is to inspire any anger or awareness of our public life. Just as the marchers downtown were mainly a silly sideshow so were the Gathering of Eagles. Both provided entertaining rituals in their own way.

During some of this protest for the 5th anniversary of this sickening war, I couldn't help but recall the more somber and serious testimony of the Winter Soldier Investigation we had just heard. This was truly the centerpiece of protest in D.C., but mainstream media has been distracted by the financial markets imploding. Soldiers testifying against a war they had fought is just too new and complex an angle for most editors. American media still follows pack journalism. They all tend to look over their shoulders at what the WSJ and NYT have to say and don't stray far.

Protest may be somewhat similar. It is tempting to follow the lead of the largest, loudest and best organized groups or candidates. Elective politics can often be tedious, so it's easier to follow the crowd.

But, like war itself, politics can be overwhelming and emotionally charged. Life-long commitments can be made and changed by the force of one experience.

WSI will be that way for all who testified and many who have listened to what these veterans had to say.

Innocent civilians have been targeted and died just as they were in Vietnam. We have not learned.

The only way that we can change this is by targeting Congress. Our elected officials need to know how this war has broken our military and foreign policy just as did the Vietnam War.

This time the war mongers have gone even further, their machine cannot be easily turned or stopped, a failure that is still unraveling...
And the beat goes on...

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