James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Personal story: My last peace march

That's it, I think.

No more peace marches, antiwar marches, any kind of marches for me.

The experience of Monday, Sept. 1, in St. Paul has persuaded me that such demonstrations now are worse than useless. They are counterproductive.

Monday I wore a T-shirt given to me by my wife awhile ago. It bears the old peace symbol that resembles a chicken footprint in a circle, a symbol she and I both wore in other marches beginning about 40 years ago. The legend says “Back by popular demand.”

As I said to a woman about my own age who remarked on the shirt while we were waiting to get going, “Forty years later, and we're still begging.”

Where we walked with a friend, no more than a third of the way back from the march leaders, everything was peaceful. We were appalled, however, by the incredible number of cops in riot gear, all with very black sunglasses, most of them standing at parade rest, with their long clubs held at both ends across their bodies. No shield (badge) numbers visible, no name tags; under the law, they must wear such identifying items, but they didn't.

They were there to intimidate, and though most of the marchers around us joked about the troopers in their armor, with their clubs and multiple plastic handcuffs, they did just that. To my wife's dismay, as we walked to the staging area before the march, I asked one of the cops in storm trooper gear whether they planned to riot, because that's the appearance they had. He snapped back that “We'll see what happens.”

A number of the others made a point of saying polite, even genial hellos to people who strolled to the pre-march rally.

At the gathering point on the Capitol mall, there were -– so far as I saw -– perhaps 30 or 40 young people, mostly male, dressed in black, some with black masks or kerchiefs over their faces. Presumably they were among those who later raised hell in downtown St. Paul while the peace march moved along in orderly fashion, we marchers unaware of the window breaking and garbage strewing going on elsewhere.

The kids made me uneasy; I feared they'd do something stupid, perhaps harmful, and think it was brave and useful. Or do it simply because they require attention and excitement.

A news story, one of many badly done stories in the newspapers Tuesday morning, had one bit of telling truth: A reporter asked one of the kids doing vandalism why they were doing it, and the kid responded: “You're here, aren't you?”

With some of them, maybe most of them, the real motivation seems to be to call attention to themselves, rather than to any clearly defined cause.

Of course, the television coverage Tuesday night and Wednesday, and the newspaper stories, even in the supposedly great and balanced New York Times, was heavily -– in many cases almost exclusively –- about the window breaking and garbage dumping and other vandalism. The Times story was so inept as to make me think it must have been done by a couple of unsupervised interns.

Not a single story I saw indicated any attempt to find out why so many people, a substantial number whom were of what might politely be called mature years, took themselves out on the street in extremely hot, muggy weather. Most of the newspaper stories carried a quote or two from marchers who were allowed to say in very short form that they were fed up with the Iraq war, or had some other issue, but there was no real reporting, no attempt to get a sense of what the crowd really was about. The reporters weren't interested.

Crowd estimates, by the way, were short of the mark, but not too badly. The cops, who always underplay protest numbers, put it at 10,000. Drawing on my experience in estimating crowds for news stories, I'd put the number at somewhere around 12,000 to 13,000, maybe a bit more.

No corporate media story I saw, broadcast or print, had any mention of the several incidents of police misconduct that were reported by various blogs, Web sites and independent (freelance) reporters. Only a couple mentioned the arrests of journalists -- an AP photographer and Amy Goodman, described in the Pioneer Press as "host of the left-wing radio show 'Democracy Now!'" and two of her staff.

The Pioneer Press routinely describes Dick Cheney and the rest of the White House wing nuts and their supporters as "conservatives."

I think that's what we can expect now and forevermore, from our corporate-owned “news” media with their obvious incentives to promote the positions of the rich and powerful and their clear determination to do just that.

More than 10,000 peaceful marchers for peace, and the great majority of the coverage focuses on the self-proclaimed anarchists and the young egomaniacs seeking attention at any cost.

A great majority of the uninvolved public still believes they're getting real news from television and newspapers, remember. They see the coverage and cluck their tongues and grumble among themselves at coffee about criminal, hippie punks and they sympathize with the poor Republicans who were so rudely treated in our capital city. Most of the people who weren't there will recall that there was a “riot.” They won't remember that more than 10,000 law-abiding citizens marched for peace in near 90-degree weather.

Perhaps even worse, when they see stories about rebellious young people deliberately creating damage to the property of others, Mr. and Mrs. Elmstreet will dismiss any charges of police misconduct as irrelevant and, in fact, praise the cops for stomping on those damned hippie punks.

The average modern American has only the vaguest notion of the U.S. Constitution, little idea of what it says or why its provisions exist. We've seen as the Bushcheney administration has effectively done away with one provision after another, that most Americans don't care, don't take it seriously. All they want is for government to "keep us safe," and if that means beating on a few people, that's fine with the Elmstreets.

Because the troublemakers aren't going away, because they'll show up at demonstrations and marches even if 95 percent of us don't want them, the demonstrations and marches now serve our war-loving, people-hating opponents more than they serve us, so I'm out.


The march Tuesday wasn't entirely without its more amusing moments, one way and another.

When we got to the “peace cage,” the fenced-off place near the convention center where the march turned around, there were perhaps 30 or 40 Republicans standing with party-provided signs praising our armed forces, our involvement in Iraq and the like. One actually carried an image of the post-invasion “Mission Accomplished” sign.

I approached one fellow about six feet tall, early 40s, in good physical shape. He was holding a sign urging that we support our military. I'm short, 72 and and quite slender, not threatening to such a strapping Republican. I asked him how much time he'd spent in the military, and mentioned my own years of service. He blanched briefly, had just a momentary flash of obvious embarrassment, then jutted out his chin. He declined to reply. Aha, I thought. Just as I suspected. Yet another of the millions of chicken hawks, like George and Dick and Karl.

About 30 yards up the street from that fellow, there was the very model of a Republican soccer mom holding a sign that suggested we should “thank our veterans.” I approached her slowly and suggested that since I am a veteran, she could thank me. She didn't. After a short wait, I smiled and moved on.

As we walked down the other side of the cage, I saw a couple of stacks of at least 150 (each) of the party-provided signs. No takers, apparently.

A march can get boring. One has to find amusements along the way.