The Red Line train into downtown DC was a mixed crowd Saturday morning. There were the usual tourists, people going to work and so forth. But in at least every other seat, a tall brown stick attached to an upside down protest sign poked into the aisle. A majority of the riders were on their way to the meet fellow activists at the White House to march to the highly-publicized demonstrational "die-in" at the capitol in protest of the War in Iraq.
In front of me was an older Australian tourist and his wife. They had planned a day of sight seeing in the city. The couple across from them held American flags that had company logo’s like Nike, and Microsoft replacing the stars.
"We’ve never experienced a president that is so secretive," said the protestor to the tourist. "I voted for Ralph Nader."
The protest couple dragged America’s name through the mud a little longer before they got off at the Metro station for the White House. The Aussie asked her husband, “What were they saying — they don’t like the president here?”
"I don’t know — they are hippies," he answered.
At 10:00 am I stood on The Mall, the open area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument that is surrounded by museums and monuments where the antiwar protesters were supposed to gather under the banner of “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism,” known by the acronym “ANSWER.”
American flags flapped in the wind in every direction. The crowd surrounding a red white and blue decorated stage chanted "U-S-A", commencing the counter-demonstration sponsored by the Gathering of Eagles and Move America Forward. Hundreds of veterans, Gold Star Mothers and wives stood around the stage listening to the stories of young and old veterans. They sang, chanted, and ridiculed the ANSWER protestors, calling them “moonbats”.
A friendly young man approached me and asked if I would like a bottle of water. His shirt said "Peace Through Strength."
One veteran stood smugly next to the stage chomping a cigar. He held a sign with a picture of the entire Democratic Congress that said "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys."
Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter made a surprise appearance and a quick speech. "We have seen so many wonderful moms and dads, relatives and friends of great Americans who went into that tough theatre in Iraq and Afghanistan and fought that war as if the success or failure of American depended on them alone, and ladies and gentleman we will not let them down."
I asked Rep. Hunter why he thought he was the only presidential candidate that showed up to support The Gathering of Eagles and Move America Forward.
Hunter declined to condemn his fellow candidates for not making an appearance.
"I think all these guys have schedules that are way far in advance so I don’t want to beat up on any of them for not being out here, but I thought it was important to be here so I showed up," said Hunter.
Chairman of Move America Forward, Melanie Morgan said that they contacted and invited each candidate but Hunter was the only one to show.
By 12 noon, I was in front of the White House.
Have you ever seen a ten foot papier-mâché devil that dances? How about 20 college freshman dressed in all black, wearing hoods, and bandanas to cover their faces? They held signs with spray painted obscenities and waved black and red flags. They cut garbage cans in half, stuck handles on them, and used them as make shift battering rams. They said they were from SDS, the Vietnam era protest group Students for a Democratic Society.
Conga drum beats hummed in the background, old ladies holding hands dressed in pink (the “Code Pink” crew) skipped and danced in the streets. Men on stilts dressed as George Bush took long strides around the papier-mâché devil. A girl ran by me with a Sesame Street cookie monster costume on. The bizarre crowd looked as if they crawled out of Stanley Kubric film — this wasn’t a protest, it was the circus.
When the protestors finally made their way down Pennsylvania Ave. toward the Capitol (2 hours later than planned) the counter-demonstrators were lined up along the sides of the street exchanging insults with the protestors. “You’re a loser” the woman behind me yelled repeatedly. “1,2,3,4 we don’t want this **** war” they yelled back. The societal divide was as profound as the difference in what might be called manners.
After hours of marching, the thousands of ANSWER protestors finally convened at the capitol for the symbolic “die in” that was to be accompanied by a 21 mock-gun salute while Taps played in the background. It was supposed to be the pinnacle of the protest. I saw nothing memorable. Some put their posters on the ground and took out sandwiches, a group of young highschool students in ANSWER bandanas chased eachother around a tree.
After investigating further I found a man with a bull horn begging the crowds standing around him to “please, please lie down and play dead for peace.” The participants were sporadically lying on the sidewalks surrounding the capitol lawn. It was a trivial display.
Capitol Police reported that 189 of the estimated ten thousand ANSWER protestors were arrested.
I sat next to two young men on the Metro train back into Maryland. They had traveled to DC from Pittsburg for the anti-war protest. We had a calm conversation debating the efficiency of the protest. Sun burned and tired we talked rationally about how it feels wrong to have such an intense divide among fellow Americans. They agreed with me – maybe we had more in common than I thought?
It was then that they asked me if I had ever heard of Tim Osman. “That was bin Laden’s name when he was in the CIA…Saddam Hussein was also in the CIA,” they said. Where did they learn this?
“My international relations professor in college told us all about it…and it’s all over the internet” said the young man.
They claimed this story wasn’t covered by the major media because the New York Times and other media outlets were all covertly conservative when it came down to it.