Are we afraid? We are. Of each other, of our tap water. We avoid malls on Halloween and then again around Thanksgiving. Our mothers send us paranoid e-mails: "Don't cross a bridge on the 19th." We fear having our loyalty questioned and so smack flag decals on our windows. (Curiously we don't replace them when the red bars have faded away,1 leaving a lonely blue field.) Most of all we are afraid of nuance, any defiance of prescribed clarity, any wandering from W's war formula, which is, basically: We're right + Jesus is an American2 = Let's do this thing.
Let us pray.
Despite the belligerence and bullying, things are not going well. At this point we're taking it all out on Michael Jackson. We've settled for the easy targets because this lesser monster -- this sissy with over-relaxed hair and a persecution complex that rivals the entire white race's -- doesn't hide in caves or have decoy look-alikes,3 and when he makes a tape at least we know where the fuck he's at.
But if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that W et al. have been Michael-Jacksonizing us, we Normal Americans, bit by bit. We are hoarding. We are staring out into the world with suspicion, loathing and fear.4 We've become secretive and paranoid. We're lining our sitting rooms with duct tape and plastic sheeting, willing to risk asphyxiation to avoid the uncertainty of what may come. We're on our knees, begging to have our civil liberties revoked. "Please," we say, waving the First Amendment in the air, "please take this, take anything -- just make everything okay. You want to tell the media to watch out? Fine. Round up brown people with funny accents? Sure. Put the Total Information Network in the hands of a convicted felon? Hey, go nuts."5
For these and perhaps more selfish reasons we -- the not as few, not as crazy as the administration likes to think -- are standing boozeless in a knotted mass on Devon Avenue on a Saturday afternoon trying to hear what the fuck people are screaming from a pavilion in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.6 We are not, as some hecklers might want to frame it, Saddam's7 Fan Club. We are not a heartless rabble. Many of us (in fact) are good old tech-fleece-wearing Americans. We do not know much about Pakistan but that it's sort of like India, but with more mosques. What we do understand is how absurd and cruel the administration's proposed documentation and roundups of middle-eastern and Asian folks are. We can taste the rat poison of Angel Park concealed beneath all this tasty compassionate conservatism.8
We jog in place. It is cold and getting colder and we cannot feel our foreheads or big toes anymore. We should have brought a flask. We've all thought of that and not done it and are now filled with regret. Someone needs to tell these protest drummers that they make it impossible to hear what the speakers are saying. But speaking is not the drummers' department. They're handling the spectacle aspect. The red-white-and-blue-smeared faces. The George W. masks. The bones painted on sweatshirts and jeans. The whole scene has a let's-put-on-a-show quality. It is jovial. Everyone tells everyone else how nice their signs and costumes are.
There are babies on shoulders and a busy-eyed man handing out manic anti-Semitic tracts from a grocery bag.9 Despite distractions we appear to be, as Rumsfeld10 might say, on-message. We manage not to throw support for electric cars or women's rights or Mumia into the mix, sticking to war fears and the related threat of Pakistani deportations.
Finally we march down Devon. There are four or five thousand of us. TV later says less than three.
At Western we meet a handful of counter demonstrators. They yell: "War, yes!" All I can think is: "They must have waited at least an hour in this colder-than-a-witch's-tit weather just to yell at us, at me." That's never happened to me before, except once with this girl I broke up with.
Crossing Western you can smell the curry in the air. There are supporters standing along the curbs, and neighborhood spectators: women clutching saris against the wind, men wearing denim jackets over their kurtas. We march and we think, My god, we're marching. We're doing it. It's something. Some of us are dizzy from too much coffee and not eating breakfast. Some of us complain that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. But these are small things. Because we are marching and people are yelling, Drop Cheyney, not bombs! It is absolutely blissful. Some union activists have turned up, demanding our support. A man rushes over to the sidelines where the unionists stand, dragging his wife and child who, curiously, has worn his Spiderman Halloween mask to the march. The man yells, "Support Communism," yells it in an angry way, and the union activists cheer. I can't believe we were right there to see that moment. It was unplanned and perfect.
We reach the end of the march, cold. So cold we can hardly think or talk. We duck into an Indian buffet, surrounded by our fellow marchers, men and women swaddled in plastic sheeting and duct tape. Young people with wind-burned faces. People cupping their numb ears. There are samosas and curried vegetables and nan and we see a drum corps marching past (they are still marching!), their faces smeared grotesquely red white and blue. Everyone smiles. We talk about the million-plus like us gathered in London, the marchers in Germany and Australia and elsewhere.
There are outstanding questions as to our own personal motives. Was it spectacle? What were we doing there? It was rightly pointed out, in retrospect, that there's a certain moment when you are marching that you become entirely (or mostly) unconscious of what you're doing. You just keep moving forward. Which is true. But better in a march than in The Kingdom of Fear.11 Better in a march than in a polling place.
And there are other unanswered questions, such as: will Rumsfeld call us the Old America?1Red, do not forget, represents courage.
2And a Republican.
3I suspect I'm likely wrong about this.
4Can a writer ever use those two words in close proximity again without sounding derivative? No.
5"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin, 1759, Historical Review of Pennsylvania
6In this detail the organizers have pitched a slow one over the plate for their nay sayers. Insert easy joke here.
7Did you know "Saddam" is in spell check?
8And we all know what this compassion is meant to preserve.
9It would be dishonest to not admit that there were a few sour notes.
10Rumsfeld is not on spell check.
11Dr. Thompson's notion, not mine.