Tag Archives: Washington DC

Signs in Washington

The coverage of Jon Stewart’s sanity rally in Washington, D.C., has been decidedly spotty thus far. Thinking they were only providing some journalistic color, USA Today managed to touch on the real reason any of us reads coverage about such rallies: “The audience came prepared to play along. Many brought signs to underscore the message of reasonableness, or just to be funny.” And then USA Today actually quoted three signs:

I’m somewhat irritated about extreme outrage.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — and spiders.
Stand united against signs.

The New York Times, in order to prove they are more serious than USA Today, deigned to report on only two signs:

Shrinks for sanity.
I can see the real America from my house.

The Washington Post, trying to be just as serious as the New York Times, reported just two signs, except one of the signs was two-sided so they actually reported on three signs, proving they are not as serious as the Times: Continue reading

Microblogging 2008-07-02

  • Capitol Hill in DC: exquisitely beautiful examples of mid-Atlantic row house architecture. #
  • In front of the Air& Space museum: a boy flies a paper airplane. His dad isn’t interested. They go into the museum. #
  • On the Mall: plump tourists wearing pastels and big sun hats dragging bored, hot children. #
  • Folklife Festival: Bhutanese folk songs have lots of ornamentation and melisma and sentiment. #
  • Anxious young woman on a cell phone. Then she relaxes, smiles, waves. A young man walks up. They go to get lunch. #

Quarter of a million?

Washington, D.C.

I arrived in Washington late last night, and stayed with my friend Elizabeth, who is a lawyer, a Quaker, and a yoga teacher (not in that order). Got a call on my cell phone as we were headed over to the peace march and rally — the rest of the contingent from First Unitarian could not make it down due to a mix-up on their bus seats.

Got to the Ellipse for the rally a little before noon. An interesting group of speakers and not the usual suspects — not many aging (white) activists from the sixties, no leftover (white) hippies — instead, more people of color speaking, and a fair number of younger speakers.

The march around the White House and up and down the streets just north of the Mall was supposed to step off at 12:30. The speakers were still going strong, but Elizabeth and I wandered over towards where the march was supposed to start off. I saw a blonde woman walking quickly in the other direction, surrounded by a small coterie, who were surrounded by photographers and videographers. People around us started following here: “Cindy Sheehan! Cindy…”

The crowd kept getting thicker and thicker. Elizabeth, a long-time resident of Washington, said, “There’s a lot of people here.” I had figured there would be maybe fifty thousand people, the march organizers got a permit for a hundred thousand — but Elizabeth’s best guess was that it was more than hundred thousand, based on seeing past events in and around the Mall.

We finally wormed our way through the crowd and got to where the march was supposed to be starting, but all we saw was people just standing there on the street waiting to start walking. I began to think that the sheer numbers of people who showed up had overwhelmed the logistics of the march. We tried to skirt around the beginning of the march route, and after an hour of working our way through the crowd, and taking a wrong turn here or there, we wound up where we could see the marchers coming down the street towards us. Elizabeth has been having back problems, so she kept heading north and caught a bus home. I joined the march.

The marchers were heading along at a good clip, a steady stream of people through the streets of Washington. I looked around to see what kind of people were marching. For the large part, they were stunningly normal-looking. Yes, I saw a few college kids in dreadlocks, a few anarchists dressed in red and black, someone on stilts. But mostly I saw normal, ordinary people. Many middle-aged people, quite a few elders, quite a few younger adults — and a fair number of children and teens.

Being a minister, I noticed the people who announced their religious affiliations: Methodists for Peace, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, Quakers for Peace and Justice, Church of the Brethren, Unitarian Universalists for Economic Justice, an Episcopalian group, Ethical Culture Society — in other words, lots of liberal Christians and other religious liberals. A fair number of Muslims, too. One tiny contingent of Buddhists.

I got to the end of the march by three thirty or so — the people Elizabeth and I had seen waiting to start marching were still standing in the same place where we had left them — the pre-march speakers were still going strong. I wandered over to where the post-march “Operation Ceasefire” concert was supposed to happen.

A band called Living Things was playing some pretty good hardcore with a peace and justice message. A far cry from the folk singers you might have heard at rallies in the late seventies, when I first demonstrated in Washington for peace (we were trying to end the Cold War and the nuclear arms race back then) — much hipper, far more upbeat. Living Things were followed by some speakers, including Maxine Waters who gave the best speech I heard all day. Although her speech was clearly a partisan Democratic speech, and al though she didn’t get into religious or moral reasons for ending the war in Iraq, it was still an excellent summary of reasons for getting out of Iraq now.

Maxine Waters was followed by a young woman from Louisiana Peace network — I missed her name — but she made the obvious link between what happened in New Orleans, and the fact that we’ve committed too much money and personnel to Iraq. Two dynamic African American women in a row. For me they were the highlight of the whole event. One of the organizers of the event came on next and announced three hundred thousand people at the march and rally. Then Joan Baez came onstage. It sounded like she hadn’t warmed up her voice — her famous vibrato was not happening, her intonation was way off, her voice cracked — it was past four, so I decided to leave.

So how many people were actually there? The New York Times did its usual weak coverage of Washington political rallies including their trademark statement, “The National Park Service no longer gives estimates of crowd size.” A good reporter could have gotten a crowd estimate from another source — with modern satellite images, no doubt someone has come up with a pretty accurate estimate of how many people were there — but the New York Times wasn’t interested. We’re on our own to come up with a guess. I’d guess more than the hundred thousand that had been planned for, but less than the three hundred claimed — somewhere in that range. A lot of people. A lot of people who are praying for true peace now.

Update 9/26:

The Washington Post had good solid coverage of the march in a cover story yesterday. Reporter Petula Dvorak wrote in part:

Protest organizers estimated that 300,000 people participated, triple their original target. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who walked the march route, said the protesters achieved the goal of 100,000 and probably exceeded it. Asked whether at least 150,000 showed up, the chief said, ‘That’s as good a guess as any. It’s their protest, not mine. It was peaceful — that’s all I care about….’

There were more Americans at the march than we have sent to Iraq. Dvorak goes on to report that,

Roughly 147,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. Since the war began in March 2003, 1,911 U.S. members of the military have been killed and 14,641 have been wounded.

Peace march

Getting ready to head off to the peace march in Washington, D.C., tomorrow. A small group of people from this congregation are heading down to witness for peace.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to go down, I called my friend Elizabeth, who lives in DC. I asked her if this peace march was worth going to — Elizabeth has connections with the world of political activism, and since I can’t afford to head down to Washington every five minutes, I’m cautious about which actions of public witness I’ll get involved in. It’s not like I have a lot of money to throw around, and of course I could give that money to a charitable organization.

I called her, explained that I was thinking of heading down, and asked, “So is it worth my while to go?”

“I’m going,” said Elizabeth decisively. “It may not be all that well organized. But this war has gone on too long, and we’ve got to do something.”

As she often does, she helped me clarify my thoughts. From a religious point of view, I am willing to say there is a possibility of a just war, but there is no possibility any longer that this is a just war. We are sending our servcemen and servicewomen into risk of serious bodily harm, no doubt about it. But when a war can no longer be considered just, we are also sending them into risk of serious moral harm, causing them to make impossible moral choices. For they cannot say that at least their actions are in service of a just war.

If the war in Iraq can no longer be considered a just war, the implications for our country are serious. To use traditional language, even a just war requires repentance and penance by religious persons — but war that is neutral in terms of justice or even unjust will require even more repentance and penance. At this point, much of this country is not even ready to engage in repentance and penance for a just war, let alone a war that cannot be considered just. I am beginning to think of my upcoming trip to Washington in terms of a pilgrimage and a beginning act of repentance. Or if you prefer less tradititional religious language, I might say that this is a first step towards the healing of the web of relationships that has been damaged by the war.

Yikes. Who knew I felt so strongly about all this?

In any case, don’t know if I will be able to post to this blog while I’m in Washington, but I should be able to post again no later than Monday.