Despite the increasing number of protestors willing to be arrested or risk arrest, not to mention the diverse composition of the anti-war movement, including students, workers, many from the liberal elite, and soldiers, the mainstream media continues to nourish apathy and pessimism about the democratic process and the strength of the anti-war movement. While it acknowledges lack of support for the war, it constantly dismisses collective actions with little to no coverage, let alone in-depth coverage, preferring to focus on every negative angle it can conjure up. The vitality of the anti-war movement and the increasing daringness and dedication of its members, however, has never been greater, as exhibited by the last three national protests which took place between September and October, particularly ANSWER’s September 15 march.
Most recently, on October 27, 2007, about 100,000 or more people took to the streets in more than a dozen cities including Boston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Jonesborough and Chattanooga (Tennessee), Salt Lake City, Denver, Rochester and elsewhere.
As part of the October 27 event 2,000 to 3,000 peace activists from Florida and nearby southern states including Georgia rallied at Lake Eola Park in Orlando. Activists browsed dozens of progressive tablers and listened to speakers including activist and Z Magazine founder, Michael Albert, Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Mike Gravel, and Florida CodePink organizer, Lydia Vickers, among others. After listening to the barrage of inspiring speakers, the antsy group, comprised of students, middle aged and elderly adults took to the streets of downtown Orlando armed with signs such as "give me back my constitution," "rich man’s war, poor man’s blood," and "torture is war crime." Minutes into the march a torrential downpour soaked protestors. While mainstream media reports almost always hone in on the indolence and indifference of the American public, nearly all protestors showed their resolve and stridently anti-war sentiments, slogging through the deluge chanting: "Show me what democracy looks like/ this is what democracy looks like" and "peace now!"
In a blog written after the march, organizer maTT De Vlieger wrote: "Well, we didn’t quite end the war on OCT27 but we certainly strengthened our movement in the region and proved that the Southeast has what it takes to put on a massive revolutionary one that was extremely peaceful and empowering." Interestingly, the event coincided with the Florida Democratic Convention, also being held in Orlando. According to the Associated Press, the convention was attended by 3,000 people. In a show of solidarity, several convention-goers played hooky from the event to participate in the demonstration. Some, like Palm Bay, Florida resident Michele Paccione, took their uncompromising anti-war agenda back to the convention, urging fellow democrats to become more involved in the anti-war movement. In his blog, Vlieger went on to point out the significance of an anti-war march drawing as many people out as a well-funded political organization such as the Florida Democratic party. "Does that tell you something?," he asked.
On September 29, 2007 thousands of anti-war protestors participated in the Troops Out Now Coalition’s anti-war march on Washington. The protest took specific aim at Congress, demanding that it cut off funding to the war and bring it to an end. The march was the culmination of a week long encampment in front of Congress, where protestors set up booths, erected a large billboard demanding that Congress to stop funding the war, listened to progressive musicians and speakers, and attended vigils and workshops.
Most remarkably, during the march a segment of activists broke from the main group and proceeded to audaciously take over a street around the corner from the Capital. Partaking in peaceful civil disobedience, hundreds of mostly student activists blocked an intersection around the corner from the Capital. Proof of the war’s unpopularity, a handful of inconvenienced travelers cheered on protestors as they turned around. In an attempt to ignore the disobedience, DC police blocked off area streets, simply making the action appear to be part of the larger march, which by then had long site. What followed was a chest match between the police and activists.
Upon realizing the police had cut off the traffic to the street they were blocking, half of the protestors were instructed to stand and cut-off an intersecting street on the same block. After sitting idle for several minutes, a frustrated semi truck driver was forced to back-up and leave the same way he came. Shortly thereafter the police stopped the flow of traffic to this street, too. Protestors responded by moving to take over a nearby six or more lane roadway. Silencing the recalcitrant activism, police merely blocked off the street pretending, once again, that it was just part of the permitted protest. Other than a couple of local TV reporters, no known national media outlets covered the event, despite repeated calls by activists to inform the Associated Press, Fox News, and other agencies.
One of the only national stories on the event came by way of the Washington Post’s story. Instead of a headline that might have conveyed the willful revolt against the war such as "Protestors Take Over DC Streets," the Post‘s headline read, "War Protest Draws Small Crowd: Participants Cite Public Apathy in Low Turnout for Rally at the Capitol." The paper reported that "hundreds" turned out for the event, a gross underestimation (Washington Post, September 30, 2007; A17). The focus of the piece was on the inability of the anti-war movement to generate support. The Post reported: "Several rally goers acknowledged that the size of the rally illustrated how difficult it is to get people in the United States to become activists, even though a majority of the public opposes the war, according to polls." In characteristic a-historical reporting, the Post made no mention that as many as 100,000 people had marched in a historically disobedient march in Washington just two weeks earlier.
On September 15, 2007 between 50,000 and 100,000 people participated in an anti-war march sponsored by the ANSWER coalition, from the White House to the Capital. The second largest protest of the year, a large turnout by veterans and veteran families as well as mass civil disobedience on the part of activists signaled a turning point for the anti-war movement.
Early in the afternoon participants came streaming into Lafayette Park to find a festive atmosphere abounding with music and positive and peaceful attitudes. Before the march began thousands gathered in front of the White House and the ANSWER Coalition stage, set up in the park. Ken Hudson from Miami, Florida was among those gathered at the park to hear the slate of speakers. Hudson, his son Jeffrey and fiancée Christina all wore t-shirts mourning the loss of Iraq war veteran Christopher Hudson. "We’re here to protest the war," said Hudson. "My little brother got killed over it three years ago. We just think it’s senseless."
Hudson said his brother was a gunner and died after running over an IED (improvised explosive device) in front of Abu Ghraib prison. Proof that the war is mobilizing otherwise apolitical citizens, Hudson said he hadn’t been political involved until his brother was killed. "I was never political, ever. And then this happened to Chris. We actually campaigned for Kerry. We let Moveon.org take over our house on Election Day. We got really involved. And then he lost."
Among the speakers who most successfully stirred the passion of those at the rally was Rev. Lennox Yearwood. Yearwood told the crowd that war and racism are obsolete and said, "the revolution may not be televised, but it will be uploaded." Yearwood also referred to an unprovoked arrest by capital police that sent him to the hospital just days earlier.
On September 10, Yearwood, CEO and President, Hip Hop Caucus, was pulled to the ground and piled onto by capital police outside of the General Patreaus hearings. Video of the incident shows Yearwood being removed from the line without explanation. When he objected and attempted to keep his place in line, multiple officers pulled Yearwood to the ground. In his speech at the protest Yearwood, a former Officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, said that it was ironic that he was lying in the halls of congress while another officer was lying to congress.
"I went to the hospital on Monday (September 10) after I was beaten in the halls of Congress," said Yearwood in an interview after his speech. "I then went to the hospital, DW hospital, and then from there I was taken to jail; and then I was arraigned the next day. It was an amazing experience."
Yearwood said he sustained torn ligaments and a sprained ankle from the forceful arrest. "I was headed head-first into the concrete and my head didn’t hit, I actually hit my knee first. I hit so hard, it left a brush burn in my pants leg."
Video shows the police demanding am immobile Yearwood, held down under the weight of several officers, to stop resisting arrest. "[The officers were] outright lying," said Yearwood. "I’m just so glad that somehow, when I heard them say ‘stop resisting,’ I said, ‘I’m not resisting.’ Here I am with a bottle just laying there and they’re like, ‘stop resisting,’ I’m like, ‘I’m not resisting, what are you talking about?’ It was amazing because of the force of how they came down. They came and I’m like, ‘what am I arrested for? I’m just in line to go to the hearings. This is what I do all the time.’ So when somebody grabbed my shoulder I could actually feel like being surrounded. Then I could feel somebody kind of like pull me, I kind of like jerked to see if somebody pulled me and I turned around and I was down on the ground."
Renowned activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey Sheehan died in Iraq on April 4, 2004, also spoke at the September 15th event. In an interview after her speech, Sheehan said that the protest signified the American people’s refusal to buy pro-war government propaganda. "I think it’s so important and I think it shows there are so many people, here in this country, who aren’t buying the lies anymore, if they ever did buy the lies."
Sheehan also noted that many of those at the protest recognized that the Iraq war a symptom of a greater problem facing the United States. "We need to end this war, we need to end the Bush regime," said Sheehan. "But I think there are people here who are sophisticated that they understand that that won’t solve the problem. That’ll just be an immediate band-aid."
Sheehan said she plans to look at the bigger picture when she runs for election against Congresswoman, Nancy Pelosi, California, 8th District, in the next election cycle. "I think the unfettered crony Capitalism we have is a major part of the problem, if not the problem. So that’s what my candidacy is going to challenge. It’s really good because the people of San Francisco understand about capitalistic imperialism. And I think it’s a way to talk about these issues."
Rev. Graylan Hagler, President, Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice echoed Sheehan’s concern for United States policy beyond the current Iraq war. "It’s up to us to turnout to want to bring an end to this war," he said, "to bring an end to the kind of adventurism that continues this war; to bring an end to the kind of colonialism and the neocolonialism that is really the foundation of adventures like this; and to really begin to try to rebalance the country in an equation of justice."
Other speakers included Ralph Nader, Ramsey Clark, former U.S. attorney general, Adam Kokesh, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Medea Benjamin, Code Pink, and Gloria La Riva, National Committee To Free the Cuban Five.
Before the last speech had ended people began pouring onto Pennsylvania avenue where the demonstration snaked for numerous blocks. Numerous choruses of voices erupted throughout, chanting: "this is what democracy looks like," "impeach Bush," "support the troops, bring them home," "1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your fucking war." Whereas the stereotype of the Vietnam War is that people spent much of their time passing joints, here people were passing bullhorns, amplifying one another’s cries against injustice. Above all, the protest echoes with a defiant air.
But the single most definitive portion of the protest did not take place until the march had ended. During a die-in before the Capital steps, protesters showed a new level of dedication to their cause by participating in mass civil disobedience that resulted in nearly 200 arrests.
At the end of the permitted march route several thousand protestors overtook the grounds surrounding the Capital building. In a scene reminiscent of a military siege, activists of all ages climbed over the cement and iron fencing that usually funnels traffic down the Capital’s cement sidewalk. At least 5,000 people swarmed both the cement walkway and the grassy surrounding area to participate in a Die-In purposed to represent the lives lost in Iraq.
Upon realizing where the stream of people had led, many protestors were clearly uncertain about participating in the die-in. While some left, many remained despite uncertainty about whether police would or would not descend onto the crowd and begin making arrests. Protestor Brendan O’Connor said he hadn’t planned on participating in the die-in. "It just sort of happened. We just kind of fell in with it. We’re here to show a presence, to add more people," he said.
Adorning a camouflage jacket and sun glasses, New Yorker Zach Hasychak lay reclined on his elbows, facing the Capital. "Something needs to be done and nobody else is doing it," he said when asked why he had come to the march. "I’m definitely willing to get arrested." Protestors frequently chanted: "Our house, our house, our house, our house."
In one of the more iconic examples of civil disobedience, an otherwise ordinary man stepped up onto a waist-height barricade baring him and the many thousands behind him from the Capital. In a non-threatening but nevertheless determined voice he shouted out, "what do we want?" to which those behind him replied, "peace." Thrusting a sign that read, "Support the troops, bring them home," he called out: "When do we want it?" "Now," they shouted.
Wearing a pink crown and looking something like a 21st century Christ, the man jumped down into a pit of swarming officers. It took four to wrestle his non-resistant but formidable body to the ground. And still he held his sign and called out, "what do we want?" Even when they ripped the sign from his grip and put a knee in his back, his voice persisted: "when do we want it?" His nose stood just an inch from the pavement and still his voice carried, as if through some megaphone of conscience. "Peace now," replied his fellow protestors.
Meanwhile a subset of marchers scolded the police chanting: "the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching." Two-minutes later, his hands were adequately tied together with plastic cuffs and the police carried him up the steps of the Capital, his shoes dragging along the ground. He was just one of as many as 190 nonviolent anti-war activists who were arrested after committing civil disobedience to express their outrage over the war in Iraq.
Despite its failure to properly express the immensity of the march, the New York Times nevertheless was resigned to write that the demonstration "evoked the angry spirit of the Vietnam era protests of more than three decades ago" ("Antiwar Protest Ends with Dozens of Arrests," September 16, 2007). The AP noted that the number of people offering themselves up for arrest far outweighed previous Iraq war marches. In March, five people were arrested during ANSWER’s protest outside of the Pentagon, and none were arrested at the United for Peace and Justice’s January protest, reported the AP.
While many gage the success of Washington demonstrations by their size, Youth and Student Organizer with the ANSWER Coalition, Chris Banks said he looks at it differently. "I think the size of demonstrations is one way to measure its impact, but it’s not the only way and it’s not even the most accurate way. This demonstration, like the demonstration on March 17 at the Pentagon, was a very important step in the anti-war movement because these two demonstrations had enormous participation from veterans, from veteran families, from active-duty soldiers, from Iraq war vets. In March 17 they were about a third of the entire demonstration and in this demonstration they led the march the whole day. It speaks to a growing resistance, within the military itself. The military resistors are one of the most important anti-war forces."
Throughout the die-in Banks manned a bullhorn urging protestors to participate in the die-in. Others on bullhorns led chants such as: "Show them your courage, lie down" and "they can’t arrest us all, they can’t arrest us all."
Banks felt that the arrest of Iraq war veterans and the treatment of citizens at the protest are telling of the way in which the administration views soldiers and democracy. "For everybody here who had the experience of seeing how the troops – who are treated as cannon fodder in Iraq – are speaking out as veterans and soldiers are then arrested and treated like criminals it’s a good experience here for everybody to see that."
Banks also complained that police used excessive force in dealing with protestors. "I think that the police used pepper spray when they didn’t need to use pepper spray," said Banks. "I think they use excessive force when they don’t need to use excessive force. And the cops are used to arresting hundreds of demonstrators and organizers who are here trying to deliver a political message and they barricade the doors of Congress, which is supposed to be the people’s house."
Mainstream media coverage
Two days before tens of thousands of activists, somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000, took over the streets of Washington DC, NPR’s "Talk of the Nation" did a segment titled, "War Opposition Fails to Gel for Antiwar Movement." The story questioned the effectiveness of the movement to end the war, and the dedication of the American citizenry. Ironically, NPR failed to broadcast live or in-depth coverage of the September 15 march. The only coverage it offered was in a separate story which, in a 30 second introduction, featured just two short quotes from activists, and demeaned the size and magnitude of the event by reporting just "several thousand" demonstrators had participated.
While the mainstream media took every opportunity to inundate its audience with the pro-war voice of General David Petraeus during the much anticipated hearings on Capital Hill, when it came to a mass anti-war march on the Capital it was business as usual. Predictably, most media outlets downplayed attendance. USA Today, for instance, went so far as to run an Associated Press story that reported "several thousand" were in attendance, but decided to omit a line later in the piece that relayed "tens of thousands of people" appeared to be in attendance ("Scores arrested at Iraq war protest," September 16, 2007).
The Washington Times downplayed the significant turn out reporting that "thousands" participated. The one bright spot was the paper acknowledgement that the group included "a large group of military veterans" among them. ("Protestors slam war," September 16, 2007). Like most media outlets, The New York Times reported that the protest was made of "several thousand" rather than the tens of thousands that clearly participated. The Times followed the Washington Post’s lead in giving as much space in its reporting on the march to counter-protestors who numbered an absolute maximum of 1,000. No mention was made, however, of counter-protestors frequent and well documented belligerent and even violent behavior ("Antiwar Protest Ends With Dozens of Arrests," September 16, 2007). The Chicago Tribune’s only mention of the number of protestors was found in its title: "Thousands hit streets of D.C. to protest war" (September 16, 2007).
Coverage of the recent upheaval in Myanmar/Burma gave a stark contrast proving how mainstream media suppresses local democratic dissent, but happily broadcasts a barrage of reports on foreign upheaval. Whereas media outlets make every effort from giving more specific crowd estimates at anti-war protests, a survey of recent articles in the New York Times ("Police Clash With Monks in Myanmar," September 26, 2007) and Associated Press articles that have run in USA Today ("Burma issues warning to 100,000 protesting monks," September 25, 2007), shows the tendency is not the same when covering foreign protests. Indeed coverage of the September 15 mass anti-war protest pails in comparison to recent coverage of the Myanmar protests.
Despite the mainstream media’s lackadaisical if not purposefully lack of coverage of the event, activists have utilized U-Tube, photo sharing sites, myspace and more to widely publicize the event. It seems the more convicted, energized and aggressively opposed to the war the anti-war movement is, the more traditional channels of power wish to convince us that it is all but dead.
Protestors have realized that national marches are not vacations, but acts of defiant revolt. No longer is the anti-war movement asking for peace, it is demanding an end to war. As protestors chanted on September 29, "If they won’t give us peace, we’ll take it ." Armed with bullhorns or ready throats, Americans are giving up polite chants for abrasive demands. End the war now!
"The world is kept alive only by heretics: the heretic Christ, the heretic Copernicus, the heretic Tolstoy. Our symbol of faith is heresy. Today the world needs heretics more than ever." – Russian author, Zamyatin
Jeff Nall is a writer and activist. He is a graduate of Rollins College, Master of Liberal Studies (MLS) and is currently pursuing his PhD in Comparative Studies at Florida Atlantic University. Two of Jeff’s essays appear in Howling Dog Press’s new activist anthology: "Cost of Freedom." His work can be viewed at JeffNall.com.