The Sunday rallies have almost become a fixture in the Plaza landscape by now. They're nothing new; people have gathered at the JC Nichols fountain for over two years, to protest the Iraq sanctions and then the war in Afghanistan. But, what was once a handful of people has steadily grown to hundreds.
There are the regulars, the folks whose face, dress, or clever sign stick in the memory after a couple of encounters. Then there are new people who look a little awed or bewildered. One girl I spoke with from St. Joseph just kept repeating "this is so cool". And there are the organizers, who for all their rules and seriousness do manage to give good speeches and put on a very orderly show.
The first protest I went to was in February, and it was
frigid, but still 400 people and 16 "puppies for
peace" showed up. Most of us just stood there silent
and grim-faced, the task at hand being to keep our
signs erect in the brutal wind and snow. I would have left were it not for a Food Not Bombs tent giving away free hot tea and pasta (thank you!!).
The protest I went to on March 16 drew 2000 to 3000
people. It was very festive, kids everywhere, bright colors, drums beating, like a carnival. The crowd cheered as an announcer read of protests around the world: two million in Rome, a million each in London and Barcelona, a half million in Berlin, 300,000 in New York City. There was hope in the air: maybe overwhelming world opinion would tip the balance, maybe our President would listen to us.
The protest on Thursday, the day after "surgical strikes" in Baghdad that were anything but, was huge. The air was electric, people had sadness but new resolve. As one of the speakers said, "This is an illegal and immoral war, just because it has started doesn't suddenly make it right". We marched around the Plaza. A large group was angry enough to take to the streets, but the police soon swooped in and oneprotester was arrested as he scrambled to the curb. An organizer I spoke to later said "we had not supported it".
The protest Friday was a smaller version of the Thursday one. I felt that people were really lining up rank and file behind the President, so our demonstrating against his war was now unwelcome (to put it mildly). Like, one gentleman at the Cheesecake Factory screamed at us that we were communists and we were committing treason. I thought, wrong, cretin, listen to what we're saying. "This is what Democracy looks like!"
The protest the following Sunday, the 23rd, was a first in that there were protester protesters. I saw a big bundle of American flags, which is nothing new for our protests, until i read a sign nearby that said "Bush 2004". They were about 1/10th the size of our crowd and collected on the opposite corner, but some cross-pollination occurred between corners, causing quite a bit of tension. Eventually one little pocket almost came to blows and had to be dragged apart (the TV crews probably wet their pants at that). Many of the counter-protesters were loud and noxious, but others I debated were intelligent and basically well-meaning, people I wouldn't mind having a beer with after this crap is done.
The cynic in me wonders, are these protests doing any good? Are we wasting our time, as many a spitting finger-wielding motorist has suggested? But, I have hope, that doing something is better than doing nothing, that maybe my government will start listening, and at the very least, that I can look back years later and be proud of opposing this brutal and needless war.