Tuesday, January 30, 2007
America the Beautiful
Anti-war protest in downtown Los Angeles, January 27, 2007
There was a march and rally in downtown L.A. to protest the war in Iraq and the escalation this past Saturday. I had heard about the D.C. march earlier in the week, but heard about the L.A. event for the first time around one in the afternoon that day, in the car on my way home from a haircut. It had started to drizzle, and I wasn't sure if I should go. The event started at noon, and was supposed to be over by four.
I got home and looked up some information about the event: the march was going to go by the Democratic Party headquarters, past City Hall, and end in front of the General Services Administration Federal Building downtown on Los Angeles Avenue. By that time, it was raining pretty steadily; I was pretty sure no one would be there. And I wondered what a protest in L.A. would look like: there would be the obstacles of widespread apathy, a fragmented city with no real center, and a populace not accustomed to gathering in large numbers in public spaces.
After a cup of coffee, I threw on a raincoat and a hat and drove the Intrepid the twenty minutes from Eagle Rock to downtown. There was no sign of any mass protest as I drove down Temple toward the Federal Building. As I got close to City Hall, I started seeing some protesters, carrying wet, somewhat limp signs, looking like they were heading home. Most of these people seemed to be smiling and happy, as if they were returning from a vigorous and satisfying day of cross country skiing. The march had clearly ended, but I could hear the voices from the rally coming from down the hill.
I found a parking spot and made my way down to the rally. There was the usual and somewhat depressing assortment of t-shirt, button, and bumper sticker stalls, the chickenhawk card decks for sale, etc. I don't really object to this stuff, but I always find the presence of so many people trying to make a buck at protests and rallies to be kind of a bummer and sort of out of tune with the spirit of things. There was a good sized gathering of people around the stage, which was covered with a makeshift tarp. A large number of people huddled under the shelter of a canopy at the entrance to the Federal Building, waiting for Cindy Sheehan to arrive and speak. I was gratified to see a conga drum, albeit safely stowed in a carrying bag. There was the requisite free copy of a socialist revolutionary newsletter, many people wearing kaffiyeh, a lot of use of the words "brothers and sisters", and speakers yelling too loudly into the PA system. There were quiet, short, and intense men handing out bright yellow stickers advertising the next march and rally on March 17. A man dressed as Jesus walked by with a sign reading "I can only forgive so much, George." Variants of "BU** SH**" appeared on t-shirts, stickers, and signs. A man in a sandwich board reading "YES KUCINICH EDWARDS GORE" listened to another man talk about how there was nothing in the Constitution preventing states from seceding, and that the South had had the right to secede. A police copter flew overhead and landed on top of a nearby building -- we were all disappointed that it wasn't a news chopper, but waved and/or shook our fists at it anyway. A wiry middle-aged man with a droopy moustache smoking a wet cigar stood in the middle of the crowd holding up an American flag.
I left feeling mildly elated. The rally was small, pathetic, and wet, but it was real. I love events like that, where you feel as if you are participating in something truly American: cliched, silly, often dumb, possibly hopeless, but wonderful in some way. It's an amazing feeling, much like the feeling you get standing inside one of those middle-school gyms waiting to vote with all of the people in your neighborhood in a national election. To look around and see the other people that have been moved out of their houses and apartments and cars into the rain by the horrific images on their televisions, the Orwellian rhetoric on their radios, the mass-produced lies quoted in their newspapers, is an amazing thing. There's a reason the founders sought to preserve our rights of assembly: it's a unique form of collective observance of our national religion. (This is why it feels so wrong to me that there are always so many people hawking crap at these events: it feels sacreligious -- these things are supposed to be about thinking beyond self-interest and the profit motive.)
The flag in the rain in downtown L.A. was the same flag surrounding Bush at his press conferences as he misled the nation into war. It's the same flag that's on the shoulder of an American soldier who will die in Iraq. It's the same flag that was painted on the side of the Enola Gay. It's the same flag painted on the side of Voyager 2. It's the same flag that will show up behind Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich over the next few months. And it's the same flag second graders at Eagle Rock Elementary will pledge allegiance to tomorrow morning.