View captioned images. Send comments or video requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. To read all previous narratives, including multiple marches in Washington as well as the rally in New York in February 2003, please visit The Peace Narrative and Picture Page
a narrative of the march by Jim Macdonald
Help I'm steppin' into the
The place is a madhouse
Feels like being cloned
My beacon's been moved
Under moon and star
Where am I to go
Now that I've gone too far
Soon you will come to know
When the bullet hits the bone
Soon you will come to know
When the bullet hits the bone
I'm falling down a spiral
Double crossed messenger, all alone
Can't get no connection
Can't get through where are you--from "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring
On Saturday, October 25, with approximately 50,000 other people, we did not enter the Twilight Zone of the peace movement, but we marched closer to it, perhaps. On a beautiful, sunny autumn day that had all the look of a successful demonstration, something creepy badgered me in those moments that I took notice of where I was. After more than 6 months without a major demonstration, I felt an eerie sense that we risked becoming what we hated. When worlds turn upside down, why are we still pretending that our world is the same?
Here is my report of the ANSWER (Act Now to Stow War and End Racism) and UFPJ (United for Peace and Justice) October 25, 2003, rally and march to end the war and occupation in Iraq. Despite my sense that our world of peace activism is slipping closer to paradoxical neverlands, I had a wonderful time witnessing and participating on it. Yet, right now, I have no interest in feeling good about myself or ourselves. So, let's focus on the darkness that made its way through the light--that tunnel at the end of the light.
For me, this march was unlike any other, but they all are. What is different in October as opposed to April is that I'm different. The particulars of my life are different. The pain in my life is more profound, and so are the joys. From what I share and fail to mention here, you can make conjectures based upon what you may have read in previous narratives. For those who have never read any of my narratives, the best thing to say is that what I write here rests within a context of a world that has changed dramatically. Yet, dramatic changes often seem hollow if we compare them to others. Look at the changes in Iraq, for instance, or Afghanistan. There is no competing with death, suffering, and environmental destruction on a scale none of us can imagine. However, for me, the world has changed, for the better or for the worse. And, what's more, it's NOT Bush's fault! it's not Halliburton's fault! It's not something the UN can fix! Or Howard Dean! Or even Dennis Kucinich! The march was different because I am different, but as we shall see, that's not entirely true.
I attended this march dressed in Halloween costumes with my new best friend Julie. Never have I met a more kindred spirit to me as Julie, and I cannot begin to tell you how influential Julie is in helping to give me color to my thinking. However, today, I helped give her color, but that amounted to applying green paint to her face. In any event, I thought it would be a clever idea, with Halloween approaching, to dress up for the march in costumes. We both have fond memories of traditional holidays, and so it was fitting for us to honor those traditions by starting a new one. In March, I dressed up in a Renaissance outfit, but today I dressed up as a zombie. Somehow, in 7 months, I went from being "reborn" to becoming "undead." Perhaps, the undead are the reborn. Really, if you think about it, they are. The only thing that changes is the connotations we attach to those concepts. One is viewed positively; the other, negatively. In March, on the eve of a looming war, I felt a need to balance that darkness with hope of a rebudding peace movement. In October, just as many activists believe they are getting traction in the public opinion battle on the war in Iraq, I felt a need to balance it with some analysis of the dangers facing that movement. Oh yeah, right! I wore the costumes because they were cool. Or, rather, the truth is something of both. In any event, I came dressed as a zombie, and Julie came as a witch.
This morning, I walked from my home on F Street NE over to Eastern Market Metro. Of course, I was dressed in a black tattered robe, black boots, black pants, and white and black face paint. For over a mile, I walked through the residential Capitol Hill neighborhood receiving many curious stares. More amusing to me were the people who did their very best to ignore me. Either because they did not like my politics or because they felt shy in my presence, these people did everything they could not to gaze in my direction. Of course, that would be normal for me. When I dress as I am, who notices? Who smiles? Who stops and talks to me on the sidewalk? Well, nobody does. However, it is amazing what a peace sign and a strange costume will do for breaking down barriers with your neighbors. I talked to more strangers in my neighborhood today than I have on all my days combined since moving here in June. What is the magic power of a costume to cause this? or a clever sign? Perhaps, wearing such an outfit shed light onto my soul? Maybe it said, "Here is a creative person." Or, it said, "Look at this bozo." However, it said something illuminated or shadowy, where normally my presence says nothing.
I hopped on the Metro, and it was more of the same. People smiled, were friendly, wanted to engage me in conversation to show that they too were against the war in Iraq. One woman on the Metro saw my signs, and after each one said, "Me too. I think so, too." I hid beneath a costume, and yet here I felt more at home, more myself, and ironically seemed to break down a few social walls. People were not afraid to approach me. They knew very clearly that I was having fun and was against Bush's war in Iraq.
Now at the Smithsonian, the smiles and conversations continued, and now tourists and protesters began taking my picture in large numbers. Nearby homeless men tried to offer maps in exchange for donations to tourists lost and looking for the Smithsonian; these same men each came over to express their admiration for my costume. Children politely asked to take my picture. Some tourists wished to have fun at my expense by having a picture, and I allowed them their fun. Even Korean War veterans stood next to me on both sides to have a picture with the "fearsome freak for peace," as my one sign read.
I waited for Julie and longed to see my friend come up from the escalator. As I waited, I noticed other activists working the tourists and protesters arriving on the Mall. Some were trying to educate people on vegetarianism; others on human rights. It crossed my mind that people seemed to flock to me, who had nothing particularly interesting to share as far as information, while trying to avoid the onslaught of paper from the dedicated activists. It is not clear to me what to make of that. In fact, it may be a good thing in some respects, in that paper and pamphlets do not educate so much as genuine interaction. On the other hand, I am not sure how many social movements could have ever gotten anywhere without pamphlets and people to do the hard work of delivering them. You see, beneath my face paint, my mind is always puzzling through an enormous amount of obscure curiosity. When it does not puzzle about these kinds of topics, it turns to other more personal things. Where in the sea of faces was my friend? Then, somehow, as clear as day there she was right in front of me.
Julie and I did not know each other last April when the last big march hit DC, but now I consider her my best friend. More remarkable things happen over 6 month spans, but sometimes things are more or less remarkable than they seem at first glance. Wars are like that, too. What seemed all that remarkable about the Iraq war 6 months ago when a banner behind George W. Bush on an aircraft carrier proclaimed "Mission Accomplished"? What was all that remarkable about the supposed threat of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction? What was remarkable about casualty totals of U.S. forces in Iraq? Of course, Iraqi casualty totals have always been remarkable, but they still seem to matter as little now to all sides as before. No, Julie's friendship with me is a very remarkable thing. This isn't the place to convince you of that, but it does seem like a good place to suggest that we have to be careful of what we are looking at right here right now. Many things in our lives and across the world morph into their opposites over time--like being reborn and being undead, like peace and war, and like reality and fiction.
My friend's mood was sour, but mine was buoyant. I hope that I helped her to float today. Anyhow, our mixed moods had no effect on our ability to puzzle and wonder at the spectacle that we were in and trying to be a part of. If I wondered about the health of the peace movement, or about the health of any number of things, I did not worry at all about the health of our interaction. In fact, narratives like this are the fruits of the interplay of the two of us and our puzzles, who also happened to be alternately mooded. In all this play, these dark moods and light moods, we found ourselves on the same page.
Around us was the usual sight of Washington, DC. There was the Mall, and there went the tourists. Oh, there go the protesters, and there go cameras all over the place. The planes fly from National, and the Washington Monument stands there like a castrated Roman god. Oh, and there is ANSWER and their rally. The speakers feel the same, the sounds feel the same, and the signs look the same. Oh, sure, UFPJ supposedly co-sponsored this march, but no one knew the difference. In fact, most people there probably are unaware of the politics of the peace movement, who UFPJ and ANSWER are, or the matrix of local activist groups under their web. Regardless of all that, the measure for success remained the same. Could we get 100,000 people or more? Would the press cover us correctly, or at all? How many attendees could we get at our next DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) meeting? Success is merely a quantum, a question of how much and how many, and that was what DC looked like today. It looked eerily the same. It did not matter that it was all different; the motions were the same, the speech was the same, and the spectacle was oppressively the same.
However, some things were different, but not all difference looks much better. As Julie and I approached the rally on a sunny, slightly breezy 62 degree day, some things looked different, and many things felt different. For instance, there sure were a lot of people campaigning for their favorite presidential candidate. One would expect to see signs for the former Senator from Minnesota Paul Wellstone, who died one year ago today; however, I was somewhat dismayed to see endless numbers of signs for Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean, presidential candidates for the Democratic nomination. I say that, and my car has been plastered with Kucinich bumper stickers and campaign signs, but something felt missing in the sight. The Kucinich and Dean signs suggested to me that people believed that the energies of the peace movement are best spent getting a candidate into office. In fact, some are so set against Bush, that they are working hard to get any candidate but Bush into office, thinking that this is a service to our world and the peace movement. You might guess that I think differently. Thousands of years of civilization, death, and destruction George W. Bush did not make. He did not cause thousands and thousands of years of increasingly sophisticated warfare. Industrialization and its evils did not begin under "W." Environmental destruction is not merely 2 years old. In fact, the scale of destruction under Bush is not even particularly remarkable by any standard of civilization. Species went extinct before Bush at alarming rates. My point is that as atrocious as Bush certainly is, we fix very little by overcoming the man if we cannot overcome the systemic problems that in a nutshell are human history. Those problems are bigger than political cults of personality, saviors that can somehow come in and fix the mess. In fact, we are the mess. It is we who have destroyed the earth, who have fought wars, who continue to fight wars interpersonally every single day. There is no politician that can save us. Our energies are better spent in each other, in our environment, in the unnoticed and unloved living and nonliving things of the Earth and beyond. One may wrongly call that idealism, but whatever one calls it, that is the difference I want to see.
Julie and I didn't listen to an entire speech, we didn't spend much time visiting a lot of tables, and in spite of having our picture taken several hundred times by curious onlookers, we never felt all that connected with the demonstration as much as we were on many of the thoughts I am expressing here. As far as speeches go, what we could hear sounded much like every speech we have heard 10,000 times at 10,000 different protests large and small. One exception to this rule was the booming voice of Al Sharpton. He got our attention, and he even had us cheering at one point. Yet, if you asked me what Al talked about except that Iraq was bad and was never good in the first place, I couldn't tell you a thing. In fact, constantly, Julie and I noticed that we were not listening, and occasionally we would try to no avail. So, instead, we walked, had our picture taken, walked, picture, walked, picture, bathroom break, picture, picture, sit down, picture, picture, got up, walked around, picture, talked to friends from DAWN, and finally more pictures. I can honestly say that I have never been photographed as often as I was today. People smiled, flashed me peace signs, and complimented the concept of our witch and zombie costumes. The irony, of course, is that even the scary creatures are scared of this war. It was more humorous than provocative, but it will look great in a lot of photo albums. I, of course, enjoyed the attention. It was fun to have my picture taken, to be showered with compliments, to have strangers warmly tell you that they appreciated the effort. In fact, all of that was comforting in a very profound way for me, in that I was happy that people I did not know were now interacting with me and vice versa. Nevertheless, as much as I was enjoying myself, I had the nagging sense that perhaps there was something artificial about the affection. Why not talk to the person who isn't dressed up? Surely, she has something interesting to say, too? I just made my point more loudly. Why am I unable to talk to people when I'm not dressed up? What is so empowering about putting oneself into a defined role and fulfilling it? In fact, that thought left me empty at times. On the other hand, it was a blast. You have to remember that this in some ways is a caricature. The day was sunny, light, and breezy, and my mood was buoyant and joyous. Yet, we are looking at the darker side to grasp something important, perhaps in another way more true of the event. Burning through the sun was a dark undercurrent, the undercurrent of a stale air blowing us who knows where, but perhaps somewhere mysteriously creepy. For many, the dark undercurrent was the tiny group of right wing religious fanatics who had signs so outrageously and explicitly hateful that you could not entirely ignore them. Yet, my sense is that this kind of dark undercurrent is much easier to deal with than the phantom I am trying to express in this narrative.
We demonstrated today to protest the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq and to bring the troops home now. Julie and I felt somewhat cynical about the latter sentiment. Personally, it disturbs me inside that I have a tendency to abstract people into stereotypes even when I don't want to. So, those who know me, know that I spend a lot of time worrying about how the Iraqis are doing in Iraq. More than that, I wonder how the animals are doing in Iraq. How is the land doing in Iraq? Yes, I want the troops home now, but it isn't because I have a special love for the troops, but it is because I have a special hate for all that our troops have done in Iraq. Nevertheless, I have a love even for the people we objectify as "troops." They are people like us. Some are awful, like those marines who threatened my life after the demonstration last March. Some are the warmest people you could ever hope to meet. Others are victims of the system; however, many of them really want to be there and believe wholeheartedly in their cause. Julie and I have no hatred for "our troops" (though perhaps some dislike for calling such things "ours"), but what we dislike is the deification of the troops to mythic proportions. They are people, and the Iraqis are people, and what's more, they are only people. Other living things have value, too. Who cries at night for the lost animals of Iraq, not to mention destroyed landscapes, polluted air, and the true infinity of beings that occupy Iraq? As we dominated ourselves with these thoughts, it became easier to feel alienated from the stated reasons for the demonstration. We both felt silly and cynical, which also at times disturbed us since we believe in peace so much. I am against the ongoing war and occupation in Iraq, and I want the troops home now. So, I demonstrated, too. Still, that it became a silly caricature of a much more compelling reality was sorely disappointing. We could really make our expression of what we are about as peace activists amazingly compelling. Instead, we engage at the bottom of the barrel when perhaps we should skim along the top.
Eventually, we marched to protest against the liars and the lies they told to convince enough people to support the war and occupation. It was a bright, cheery day, but sometimes when you take pictures into the sun they come out all dark and wrong. That we had the truth that they lied all along about their intentions about Iraq, about weapons of mass destruction, about oil contracts, about connections with September 11, about a million other things besides is an extremely clear and brilliant truth. We were right, and they were definitely wrong. We knew it last October; we are validated today. Yet, when we stare such a dazzling truth in the face and wish to express it, it is a remarkable thing that darkness penetrates our light. We see it in photographs, but we rarely recognize that the same principle holds for any clearly true thing. You see, when the difference between the truth and the false is so obvious, so black and white, be very careful when you proclaim your black and your white so loudly. Without context, without a frame of reference, the entire canvas fades into a single color. It is either all white or all black, and such canvasses always unsettle us. They unsettle us because we never actually see anything without giving it some kind of context. If you imagine in your head something that's all black, you immediately put it in some kind of background that is not black. Now, what am I saying here in more concrete terms--now that I've dazzled you with nothing but metaphor and abstraction? I am saying that when we say that we are right, and they are wrong, and nothing else besides, then we run the risk of becoming what we hate. We run that risk because no truth is ever expressed without context. Yes, Bush lied to us about Iraq. Cheney keeps telling the same damn lies he told before, even the ones repudiated by the rest of the Administration. This war is unequivocally wrong. Yet, what if we stop there pat with that truth that we're right and they're wrong? What if all we do is boldly announce that truth over and over and over again? It loses its meaning, its context. We say the word "liar" over and over again, but we have forgotten what makes the truth true. We have forgotten, in this case, that what makes our truth true is that peace is a profoundly better idea than war no matter the justification. We have also forgotten what peace is, and how varied and diverse and creative it is. We have forgotten that it is a unified canvas of contrasts. It is not a party line, it is not a single voice, it is not simply many voices or an independent voice either. It is the working out of this. It is you talking with me, not liking me, and yet finding a way to work with me anyhow. It is a kiss between lovers, or between non-lovers, at a certain time and a certain place. Now, how is it that? Let's talk about it and find out. Watch out for twilight in the middle of the day; when it happens, do your best to march on.
As for the details of the march, it too felt strangely redundant. We marched a rectangle from 17th and Constitution around the White House, down Pennsylvania past the Justice Department, and back along Constitution Avenue. For those of us who have protested, we have done that same march before. Yet, there was a different feel. People seemed to be more quiet. The signs seemed to be fewer in number and less interesting. Spontaneous shouts of applause happened with lower frequency than past marches. We barely noticed the cops, except perhaps the suffering of their horses. Here is where talk of the Twilight Zone started in earnest. We actively wondered if we could as peace activists become our opposite. Yes, people do talk about big things in the throngs of a mob! Forever, the crowd stretched marching almost aimlessly. Perhaps, I have it all wrong, but this was not New York in February where activists shut down midtown Manhattan and occupied every street from the East River to the Hudson. This was not January in DC where we felt bonded with each other in a frozen environment we could not ignore. In fact, it may be that the weather is partially to blame. It was sunny and comfortable, and maybe it put us to sleep. There we are in a dream world where the creatures of the night lurk around. These are all too ordinary. Indeed, what would make it special? Anyhow, the march ended all too quietly with people meekly yelling "100,000", no one quite knowing why. Only the delusional would believe we had 100,000 people there. We had about 50,000, I believe.
Julie and I finished our day laying on the grass continuing our perpetual conversation and wondering out loud much of what I write here and so much more besides. Eventually, we went to the Metro, and after a few more random encounters on my way home that were entirely due to my costume, I began the usual mission of expressing the usual sorts of things I express here.
I have painted what I take to be darker than the event I actually experienced in order to highlight some uncomfortable and subtle thoughts about the peace movement, but now let us shine a path inside the darkness that penetrated our light. We have hope. Put abstractly, that hope is revolution of the most profound scale. That hope is not found in overthrowing the Bush regime, but in overthrowing that which makes nation states like ours even possible. Our hope is only in working to undue the very fabric of civilization itself. Now, that is abstract, indeed. There must be great puzzlement of what I mean, and I must disappoint you and ask that you not expect me to defend this apparently astronomically impossible hope here. You see, this is not as big a project as it seems. The grandiose interpretation of problems and solutions is part of what gives rise to our whole problem. In truth, the hope we have is in those noisy moments we have with loved ones and friends. We have to be ever mindful of those noisy moments and realize that they are the very same moments that play out in every facet of our existence. A war against Iraq is inconsequentially different than our alienation from each other. If you want to fight Bush's war, find the strength to find the noise of peace in your life. That is so much easier said than done. We often lack just that strength, which is really just as true in our lack of resolve in fighting empires. We lack the power and the energy to make things right, and so little of it is in our control. And, that is the point. It's not ever entirely in our control. Give up that pretense, if you can. And, if you can't, then we will do our best to bring you home. Fights and wars, whether with spouses, loved ones, enemies, or nation states are extremely messy affairs. Knowing how to be peaceful is even harder, and yet so much of the worst of all those things would disappear if we could only realize that no matter what we do, we are on a ride. The only question is whether we are going to choose to be on this ride or not. Whatever train we are on, we go past the same town over and over again. If we fight it, if we let it happen, and if we embrace it, the whole mess of interaction still happens. We are born, we breathe, we screw around a little, we fight, we hurt, we laugh, we cry, and then some day we die. Our hopes and dreams are dependent on so many things. We do our best with them, but they aren't for us to achieve on our own or simply as a group. But, if we give up that need for control, if we give up our need to have that, if we are fortunate to have that strength, then I think through all these dark and murky and scary words, there is light and hope and peace and freedom at last.
Can you imagine that?