As much as I was tempted to fill this entire post with innocuous, non-protest related photos we took on Saturday, I decided against it figuring that the amusement would be high for me but low for everyone else.
I didn't attend any anti-war protests in 2009, but from what I read, they were all poorly attended. This has been attributed to the fact that Obama's election took the wind from the sails of the many Bush/Cheney detractors as well as contenting many of those who were simply fed up with Washington's ineptitude. Since Obama is clearly intelligent, and because he's better at putting up a front than his predecessor, many people feel satisfied with the political situation. Yes, they're still against the war(s) if they were before, but now that it's the responsibility of a more competent administration, they've washed their own hands of it.
Thinking about all of this led me to consider what brought me to the point where I lost the urge to go to protests myself. People tend to get more cynical as they age, and I know for certain that most of me believes that protesting is only capable of moving the dial a few notches at best (and even then only within a preselected framework). And I've always questioned whether or not protesting in general is an easy way to make yourself feel like you're doing something, assuaging any guilt you might feel during the time you spend doing other things. People are great at fooling themselves, so it's hard to tell. I did (and do) have an incredible amount of disgust for Bush II, and that's certainly a motivator. I guess I was compelled to go to the anti-war protest in D.C. this weekend because I've almost reached that same level of disgust with Obama. It's silly to personify outrage and focus it all on an individual, I know. But it's also too daunting if one attempts to focus energy on protesting the entire system we live in. That's part of what D.C. was about anyway, the absolute madness of living in a country that has a military budget the size of all the other countries budgets combined. A tiny fraction of it is enough to provide free education and health care to everyone in America as well as feed the entire world, yet it continues to increase.
The protest on March 20th apparently drew the largest amount of people in any anti-war protest since Obama's inauguration, but I was still very disappointed with the turnout. Protest organizers gave 10,000 as the number of people who were there, and most newspapers simply reported "thousands" since there's no precise way to tabulate. A Park Police officer quoted in the Washington Post gave the number 2,500, which definitely seems too low. If I were put a number on it I would say 4,000 people minimum, 7,000 maximum. (I have absolutely no idea how good my crowd estimation skills are, however.) We managed to fill up 4 blocks worth of DC road space, fairly tightly packed, so use your imagination. Whatever the number, it was paltry compared to the IMF/World Bank protest I attended in 2000, but at least our numbers were large enough to shut down the streets for awhile, which gave me some satisfaction.
No doubt the economic situation might also have something to do with the low turnout, with many people focused on trying to find or keep employment, pay their bills, and keep food on the table. Unless you live in the city, it's going to cost a minimum of 10-20$ to get there, and if you have to stay overnight, it'll obviously be much more. Perhaps the emotional investment is also too draining in the midst of all of these economic worries. Better to go see a Hollywood movie or go out drinking when you have a few extra bucks. At least it'll take your mind off things.
Actor Jon Voight was also in town giving a speech to the anti-healthcare protesters, a turnout that was also reported as "thousands" in all the articles I saw, except in some of the right-wing reports. (25,000+!, according to The Daily Caller). These self-proclaimed tea-baggers appeared to get more coverage and discussion than the anti-war protesters, even on liberal shows like Keith Olbermann's Countdown, where the anti-war protests weren't even mentioned (unless it was during the last 15 minutes; I stopped watching after 45!). Olbermann devoted an entire segment to the anti-healthcare protest to talk about the many racist epithets yelled at Reps. John Lewis and Andre Carson and the homophobic vitriol leveled at Rep. Barney Frank. It was also reported that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat on by someone who was detained by police and later released. (Which reminds me: what ever happened to that guy who threw his shoes at George W. Bush? Personally, I'd rather be hit with a shoe than with saliva coming from the mouth of someone who, in all likelihood, doesn't brush their teeth.) Rachel Maddow also devoted a segment to the racism displayed at the anti-health care protest while ignoring the anti-war protest. I wonder if they were reluctant to show opposition to Obama and wanted instead to focus on right-wingers who made fools out of their entire group? Probably. (I didn't check how Fox News covered anything).
I hope that some of the more level-headed people who went and saw this behavior -- especially those who brought their children -- will think about some of the people they were standing next to and reevaluate what the entire Tea Party movement represents. But then again, it's probably impossible to know if these few were really the many or if the majority of the crowd rebuked them and distanced themselves from the more radical members (if indeed that's what they are). I know that the people who smash corporate windows are usually the sole focus of the media whenever there are anti-globalization protests, so it would make sense for a few of the more fringe members of the tea-party to be used as a stand in for all of them1. (It's a simpler, more dramatic narrative.) But with report after report of this kind of behavior and pictures of poster after poster at the rallies containing racist content, one is eventually forced to conclude that to consider these members "fringe" is to give the movement too much benefit of the doubt. It's clear that the bigots appear to make up a fair portion of the movement.
Going back to the "thousands" of tea-party protesters (it is also worth mentioning that this protest was advertised in the mainstream media by the likes of Glenn Beck), I regret not going to the Capitol to investigate how many people were there, so I could compare the crowd to the anti-war protest. We saw a handful of anti-healthcare people on the train ride down -- at least the ones who brought their signs and American flags -- but none at all once in the city. More interesting, and something I didn't even think about at the time, would have been to see how many police were sent to handle their protest. The boundaries set up for us were filled with police, and there was even an armored Humvee parked nearby (mostly, I assume, for intimidation, though it did look to be equipped with an LRAD).
Judging from the number of police out, it seems likely that they, like the protest organizers, were expecting a larger turnout.
Here I am in the foreground. (Please don't be embarrassed
by my age dear reader.)
Most interesting of all was the fact that by far the largest protest over the weekend (it took place on Sunday) was without doubt the least covered:
"As the healthcare vote gripped the Capitol, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Washington in a major rally for immigration reform. Estimates of the crowd size ranged from 200,000 to as much as 500,000. Organizers held the “March for America” under the slogan of “immigration reform for new American families, economic justice for all American families.” Democratic Congress member Nydia Velázquez, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, called on Congress and President Obama to back immigration reform."
1 Personally I'd rather be with a group whose fringe members hurl bricks through corporate windows than with a group whose fringe members hurl epithets at minorities (and not just because I have no particular problem with destroying corporate property).
Getting more people to attend these events will be an uphill battle. The anti-war protest organizers have been fined tens of thousands of dollars for putting up posters in Washington, D.C., and felony charges were brought against activists in Los Angeles and San Francisco for the same offense.
To read an overview of the protest written by the Associated Press, go HERE.
A 15 second video I took that gives an impression of the crowd. I was standing somewhere in the middle at the time.