Marches deserve consideration

    For years, I’ve been exercising my right to protest. I’ve walked in candlelight vigils to raise awareness for drunk driving, carried banners for feminist organizations and chanted mantras down mainstreets to combat gun control. I like marches — they let me realize my autonomy as a citizen and allow me to connect with people who believe in the same things that I do.

    This last march was a bit different.

    I’m referring to the protests of Feb. 15 and Feb. 16. These marches were absolutely amazing. For one thing, there were millions of people taking part all over the world. From Rome, to Paris, to London, to dozens of locations all over the United States, people were voicing their objections to war. But there was more to this extraordinary demonstration than the sheer number of protestors, like the sheer number of protest perspectives. There were dozens of different causes, but only one goal: to publicize public antipathy to the war.

    My sister and I decided to attend the San Francisco protest that took place on Feb. 16. Whereas the other 350-plus cities participating in the worldwide demonstration had declared their sentiments on Feb. 15, the San Francisco march took place the following day due to the fact that Saturday was booked for a celebration of Chinese New Year, so it was already off to an individualist start long before the march between the Civic Center and the Embarcadero began. But that didn’t keep people from doing what they came to do.

    People of all backgrounds and ideologies were present, providing a spectacle of fantastic proportions. Personal favorites included hand-painted signs carried by two young girls that likened the president to the villain of the Harry Potter stories: “”Bush = Voldemort;”” and a new version of the childhood classic, “”If You’re Happy and You Know It.”” The new lyrics go something like this: “”If we can’t find Osama, bomb Iraq. If the economy downed your mama, bomb Iraq. If the oil fields are calling and the opinion polls are falling and if Bush is feeling jolly, bomb Iraq.”” This clever little ditty was sung by a group of elderly women who had traveled up from Santa Cruz to join the San Francisco festivities.

    And “”festivities”” is perhaps the best word to summarize the mood. There was an underlying theme that, regardless of how many people fervently opposed military engagement, this war had become inevitable. For most, marching wasn’t about getting President George W. Bush’s attention. I’m not naive enough to think that Bush would flip the channel to CNN (presumably during commercials for the John Wayne cinematic success “”The Lucky Texan””) and suddenly be convinced that war isn’t the way to go just because he saw the clips of protesters in San Francisco. Protesting wasn’t a matter of political persuasion, but a manner of finding solidarity.

    Despite the myriad causes, there was a huge sensation of togetherness — a feeling that there is in fact a certain amount of power of the people. The peacefulness of these protests was almost unheard of. There were exceptions — people who took the opportunity of making a scene to raid buildings and loot property — but these amounted to less than a one-thousandth of the protesting population. The far more revolutionary movement was the one that consisted of dozens of causes that somehow found a common link that bound a multitude of attitudes into a cohesive unit.

    There’s another layer of solidarity that I found particularly moving. My best friend in Lawrence, Kan., was marching. So was an ex-boyfriend in Muncie, Ind. I knew people in New York, D.C. and Chicago participating in the largest coordinated peace march ever recorded. It’s easy to see pictures of troops being mobilized and think that I am screaming my opinions into the political wind. Perhaps I didn’t convince anyone that war was wrong as a result of marching. But that’s what was so great — I didn’t have to convince anyone, because they already agreed. And that kind of camaraderie with complete strangers can be difficult to find and terribly valuable to have.

    By far the greatest comfort for me was the knowledge that even if Bush refused to listen to our pleas for peace, other people in other countries were. As long as there are people in Europe, Asia, South America and most definitely in the Middle East who see that not everyone supports this military endeavor, then protesting proved its worth.

    I will not contribute to a nation being torn apart by conflicting ideals. If war comes, then I will support my country and those soldiers willing to die for the preservation of freedom, even as I believe that there were ways to avoid such a conflict and other motives to invade beyond democracy and liberty. But until that point, I will protest and argue and debate and do my damnedest to show that there are people who do not recognize this as the best course of action.

    I don’t think petitioning the government for a redress of grievances has ever meant as much to me as it did last week. It was more than meeting people who believed what I believed, and it was more than sending a message to my peers and politicians. It was a statement to people I had never met in countries far away. It was standing with hundreds of thousands of others in the greatest peace protest ever saying, “”This is what I believe.””

    Even though this demonstration stemmed from a fear of war, it was a manifestation of wanting peace. And the fact that so many people for so many reasons wanted to support peace is a heartening thought. Perhaps peace will not come until after this war has been fought, but at least I can say that I voiced my objection even before that war began. At least people will know that this was not a war that everyone wanted. And at least people will know — both here and abroad — that they are not alone in what they believe.

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