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Thousands Protest in D.C...

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My associate Jennifer Hicks is in Washington DC for the antiwar demonstrations. Here is her report for today.

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...and Maybe Need a Clearinghouse
By Jennifer Hicks


The gray skies hung overhead, casting monochrome silence among the crowds. Dispersed over about a mile, thousands of anti-war protesters had gathered, but the feeling was more of performance art than protest: tie-died t-shirts were clothing du jour among the aged; chains, spikes, and purple hair the uniform of the young Even as the disparate groups came together, the guy with the bullhorn was the only one chanting, “bring the troops home now” and “no blood for oil.”

Maybe it was that most of the people there had traveled far and long to get to the Ellipse on the Mall in Washington DC. Maybe it was because most of those who were there were older. Maybe it was because there were too few – particularly since it was announced that trains from New York and Boston, carrying even more protesters to the scene had been cancelled because of “electrical difficulties.”

Maybe it was because as Jim Converse of Ohio who was here with his wife and their Vietnamese granddaughter said, “Those chants just don’t grab me; we need to relearn the culture of protest.”

Or maybe it was because nothing was going on. Some folks held signs and talked quietly among themselves; others sat on the damp grass and listened to the rock ‘n’ roll music blaring over the loudspeakers. Some hawked t-shirts commemorating the protest or folding camp stools to make the wait more comfortable. Others, with more energy perhaps, were across the street, looking at the white crosses made famous by Camp Casey, and at hundreds of pairs of boots– each with a flag and candle – bearing the name of one who had been killed.

The biggest ruckus occurred when Jesse Jackson walked into the corral set aside for the media and hundreds started moving with cameras outstretched, upstretched, and flashing on and off. Kind of like a photo op announcing, “I was there; I saw him.”

By 11, the announcer still saying more people were coming, tried chanting again – and again with no effect. By 11:30, a few reporters were on their phones saying, “well, we can’t get an answer as to when the march will start. I think they’re still waiting for people. We’ll try to catch up with them later.”

The good in the protest came from the hundreds of organizations participating. The Vermont Says No to War group was there, as were Vote No War; FCNL; Code Pink; United for Peace and Justice; ANSWER; Impeach Bush.org; Bartcop.com; Iowans for Peace; FIST.cc; No We Won’t Go; Coloradoans for Peace; Campus AntiWar.net; Democrats of Napa Valley; Anti-War Committee of Minnesota; Backbone Campaign; and hundreds of others. A well-dressed couple strolling amidst the torpid crowd carried a sign that read: “Conservatives Against the War.”

The bad is that in very large part those protesting were white and middle-aged or better. Another bad part is that there is no clear leader to help all the individual groups coalesce and form a workable plan. With so many disparate groups – even though all are against the occupation of Iraq – there are differences in how to exit, who to blame, etc.

On one street corner, Phil Farnham of the WorldCan’t Wait.com movement used his bullhorn to urge passersby to “drive out the Bush regime,” and not do and see nothing, which he equated to the vast human response to the Nazi regime. Across from him were Buddhist monks, quietly chanting as they marched down the street. Between the two were hundreds of people, mingling, working their way to the Ellipse – most carrying homemade signs with no printed affiliation to any group.

Although Converse, a peace activist since the Vietnam era thinks that so many groups allow “many flowers to blossom,” I’m left wondering if the flowers will just grow wild, scattered among the evil, towering trees, and then wither and die.

To avoid that, perhaps a clearinghouse of sorts is needed. An organization that would compile and disseminate information about all the various peace groups – and their various missions and goals. Spread the word… work together to create a unified vision, a progressive vision, and from that instill energy that will last and goals that will be met. An organization led by a kind of kind, humane anti-thesis Karl Rove (but who also posesses his strategic prowess) who can get people on track and focus on strategy to end the war and rebuild America.