On October 5, I marched
in a large anti-war demonstration in Portland, Oregon. The paper
says six thousand attended and Indy Media says it was closer to
twelve thousand. I put the figure somewhere in between. It was a
very mixed crowd, from people even older than me to young kids.
Old ladies in tennis shoes and some very edgy punks. It was a long
march, that began and ended with a rally. My favorite sign? "We're
back!" And we are. On the same day, thousands marched around
the country from San Francisco to New York Cityeven in Brattleboro,
Vermont. Over a million and a half turned out in Italy and, a little
while back, a half million in Blair's England. Thousands of Geneva
Swiss took to the streets. Will it matter? Probably not for now.
Will Bush permit demonstrations in America when we go to war? Probably,
but it won't be easy getting permits, and you better not try it
if you don't have one. Unless, of course, you're into masks, bandanas,
My big question is: How many people demonstrated yesterday who never
demonstrated before? And how can we get millions more to join our
As someone who marched, wrote, spoke, and sometimes rioted against
the Vietnam War, I can't help seeing the new anti-war movement and
its manifestations through the eyes of a temporally-based double-vision.
Moving from back then to now and passing unavoidable judgments.
We had better speakers back in the Sixties. Rallies today tend to
present laundry lists of demands and nobody really listens. The
most enjoyable part of the rally are those private community-sustaining
conversations that take place as the speakers drone. Today they
have endless demands, back then we had Mario Savio's moral vision
and Abbie Hoffman's satiric edge. (Of course we had our share of
boring speakers, too.) I do admit that a few of the speeches at
the Portland event were good, offering a compelling analysis of
the new American empire and its barbaric imperatives. But there
were too many on the platform and the organizers haven't quite a
theatrical sense of when to end their events. So large demonstrations
get smaller and smaller as people drift away and the rally takes
on a depressingly absurd tone and eventually it feels like there
are more people on the platform than in the audience.
The organizers and the speakers and the demonstrators are reluctant
to criticize the latest Bush enemy, Saddam Hussein. Negative references
are passing and brief. We were like that with Uncle Ho and the Viet
Cong. Our disillusionment with America was replaced with an idealization
of its enemies. Still, Saddam isn't worthy of being on the same
planet as Ho and if the new movement wants to expand its base it
should not be afraid of hurting a tyrant's feelings.
We aren't against invading Iraq because we are interested in protecting
the Iraqi government. Who among us doesn't want it overthrown and
replaced by a democracy? But we know, and so does most of the world,
that Baghdad shouldn't and can't be destroyed in order to liberate
it. The Left that opposes Bush's proposed hideous war should create
committees of solidarity with the Iraqi people, in the same way
that pro-Palestinian groups are developed. Building a massive movement
depends on not having moral double standards.
And a word to my new anarchist friends who think of the Yippies
as proto-punks. I am pleased to accept your compliment. But remember,
the wild stuff in the Sixties happened only after years of more
polite behavior that failed to draw sufficient attention. People
need to go through the process of trying moderate forms protest
first. They should not be rushed or frightened by your behavior
in the streets. Remember that when you chant, "The streets
belong to the people," you must mean all people, even the liberals.
Now a word of advice to myself and my peers. Let's not turn into
those grouchy, know-it-all old leftists that we couldn't standthe
people who told us that even nonviolent sit-ins were adventuristic.
To eventually succeed, this new movement is going to walk on difficult
roads we never dreamed of, with technologies that in our day only
existed on Star Trek. We should get ready to take a new road, and
hopefully in the process reclaim our sense of wonderment and the
transformative power of imagination.