Saturday, February 3, 2007

peace rally Washington DC January 27

Peace. It’s almost a fighting word. Why is that? People stand on Main Street in Alfred New York every Wednesday at noon in honor of peace knowing the likely responses. Some will pass by, heads down, eyes averted. Some will cross the street to keep distance from the group. A few drivers will honk. Someone pushing a stroller will smile and raise a hand in a peace sign. One or two will make it clear, by flashing a sneer or smirk, that they don’t respect the effort. What is there about peace that offends them?

Does discussion of peace belong only to the Christmas season - best written on Chanukah cards or sung in church choirs? Is peace somehow inherently unpatriotic, pallid and weak when compared with military symbols? Is it unobtainable so therefore irrelevant?

On January 27 hundreds of thousands of people descended on Washington DC in support of peace though large media sources reported smaller numbers. The mall between the Capitol and the Washington Monument was filled with patriots demanding that the simple but wonderful words of the constitution be honored and that their government start acting as if it valued peace.

In 2004 the crowd was smaller, the mood more timid, the politicians obviously missing. This year, the sense that the war was wrong from the start was center stage and people were willing to stand, shout and demand– No More War.

They came from California, Vermont, Texas, New York, Illinois. They came to announce to the world and to their elected officials that war is horrible, barbaric and wrong. They showed pictures of little boys who grew to be soldiers whose strong, young bodies strode into Iraq whole but came home broken. They came to say that it’s time to admit mistakes, to change policies and to start a discourse in honesty while there is some hope of reestablishing our lost reputation in the world.

John Conyers addressed the crowd. He said that he knew that some of them had been with him when he marched against Vietnam and others worked with him and Rosa Parks to demand an end to segregation. He sees the struggle against this war as a continuation of those struggles as well as a continuation of the nation’s demands made on November 7th. He asked everyone to continue their cries and the outrage until the administration in Washington did the right thing.

Reporters and journalists from China, Japan, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico and other countries were there with cameras and recorders talking with congressmen, military leaders, veterans, and several film stars who asked for an end to the barbaric exercise that is modern warfare.

Susan Sarandon spoke only of the needs of Iraq vets. Our country is involved in two wars but every year the budget for veteran services is cut. One in three homeless people is an American vet. The shame of the situation overpowered her.

The veteran’s medical system has one doctor for every 500 vets, making vets wait weeks or months for appointments. The divorce rate for returning vets out paces that for the rest of the country as does the unemployment rate. American vets on anti depressants are being sent back to tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and new soldiers are being sent there after as little as two weeks of military training.

The blame doesn’t rest solely with Bush, she said. None of the 2008 presidential candidates have brought the needs of veterans into their platforms. What does support the troops mean if these people are denied services after they have faced death repeatedly in war?

After the speeches people marched for hours. Actually, there were so many people that their movement was more of an oozing of humanity down the streets around the Capitol. There were wheelchairs, strollers, scooters and stilts. There were pounding feet in sneakers and boots and pounding sticks working cadence on drums, buckets and pans. People sang protest songs from the 60s, when songs were written with more attention to poetry and meaning.

There were peace flags, rainbow flags, banners, puppets and signs. One sign read “War is a failure of humanity.” Another said, “War is tragic. Peace is magic.” One Gold Star Mother held a banner telling the world that half of her heart is forever in Iraq.

Being in such a march won’t directly end a war but it does bring one to where humanity and kindness can be absorbed and inhaled. One veteran said that he finally felt that he had come home, that he was in a place where people were really listening to him.

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