Sunday, September 25, 2005

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Tomgram: Voices from the Frontlines of Protest, Washington D.C.

[Note to Tomdispatch readers: As you read many of the interviews with protesters below, you can click to their striking portraits by photojournalist Tam Turse, who walked the demonstration with me, camera in hand.]

"No Iraqis Left Me on a Roof to Die" - Katrina and Cindy Blow into Town
By Tom Engelhardt
Photos by Tam Turse

George was out of town, of course, in the
"battle cab" at the U.S. Northern Command's headquarters in Colorado Springs, checking out the latest in homeland-security technology and picking up photo ops; while White House aides, as the Washington Post wrote that morning, were attempting "to reestablish Bush's swagger." The Democrats had largely fled town as well, leaving hardly a trace behind. Another hurricane was blasting into Texas and the media was preoccupied, but nothing, it seemed, mattered.

Americans turned out in poll-like numbers for the Saturday antiwar demonstration in Washington and I was among them. So many of us were there, in fact, that my wife (with friends at the back of the march) spent over two hours as it officially ! "began," moving next to nowhere at all.

This was, you might say, the "connection demonstration." In the previous month, two hurricanes, one of them human, had blown through American life; and between them, they had, for many people, linked the previously unconnected -- Bush administration policies and the war in Iraq to their own lives. So, in a sense, this might be thought of as the demonstration created by Hurricanes Cindy Sheehan and Katrina.

It was, finally, a protest that, not just in its staggering turnout but in its make-up, reflected the changing opinion-polling figures in this country. This was a majority demonstration and the commonest statement I heard in the six hours I spent talking to as many protesters as I could was: "This is my first demonstration."

In addition, there were sizeable contingents of military veterans and of the families of soldiers in Iraq, or of those who were killed in Iraq. No less important, scattered through the crowd were many, as I would discover, whose lives had been affected deeply by George Bush's wars.

This was an America on very determined parade. Even though the march, while loud and energetic, had an air of relaxed calmness to it, the words that seemed to come most quickly to people's lips were: infuriated, enraged, outraged, had it, had enough, fed up. In every sense, in fact, this was a demonstration of words. I have never seen such a sea of words -- of signs, almost invariably handmade along with individually printed posters, T-shirts, labels, stickers. It often seemed that, other than myself, there wasn't an individual in the crowd without a sign and that no two of them were quite the same.

The White House, which the massed protesters marched past, was in every sense the traffic accident of this event. The crowds gridlocked there; the noise rose to a roar; the signs waved, a veritable sea of them, and they all, essentially said, "No more, not me!"

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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