3-2-1, Action: The Anti-War Movement is Rolling

LA protestThe city that sets the precedent of image conscious decadence and consumerism for much of the world showed a new face this January. A face that cried out against not only the impending war against Iraq, but the dominant American paradigm of fear, hatred, and subsequent arrogant disrespect for the lives of fellow human beings.

Signs baring the detailed face of president Bush and the words WAR MONGER written beneath, and other posters projecting the anti-war sentiment using simple slogans of NO BLOOD FOR OIL, dipped and turned above the sea of an estimated 20,000 protestors in the streets of downtown Los Angeles. The river of descent stretched seven blocks long as the colorfully diverse and youthful crowd marched slowly down Broadway Boulevard chanting "No more war," "No mas guerra," or "Healthcare before warfare," depending on the section of the march.
LA protestAs I made my way to the front I saw that the procession was led by actor Martin Sheen, who ironically plays the role of the president of the United States on the popular TV show, The West Wing. (Speaking later at the rally Sheen appeared reluctant to relinquish that role). Sheen pushed before him in a wheelchair the outspoken Vietnam War vet Ron Covax. Suddenly out of the blur of the swarming photographers, other celebrities came into focus. I find myself asking "Is that who I think it is?" as ex-Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash strode along nearby, his bouncing afro making him an easy target for photographers and fans alike.

Though the celebrity fanfare was "very L.A." the message of the gathering was refreshingly not. The Los Angeles Blvd. sign hung high above the demonstrators marking the culmination of the march at the downtown federal building, where three hours of anti-war, and anti-anything related to the Bush regime, dialogue began.
LA protestSlash, along with a few other aging rock stars, kicked off the rally with what seemed to be a parody of a 1980s rock concert, complete with five minute guitar solos and screaming vocals that concluded with the drummer hurling his sticks into the not exactly adoring, but amused crowd. With the end of the comic relief came the beginning of a diverse procession of speakers, some with voices cracking from anxiety and sadness, others with voices resonating with confidence and passion.

Californian Democratic Representative Maxine Waters was the highest-ranking political figure to lend her voice to the cause. Speaking in low sing-song tones much like a reverend, she proclaimed "I am not afraid of George W. Bush," her bravery sparking a tremendous ovation.

One of the more fascinating and disturbing of the speakers was Jeff Paterson, the first member of the U.S. armed forces to refuse to participate in Operation Desert Storm. At first he spoke of how his commanders thought he was a coward. To quell his fear they assured that "if anything goes wrong we'll bring out the silver bullet," military slang for a nuclear bomb. In a quivering voice he spoke of rampant racism within the military. He recounted a story about when he was stationed in Korea, and he and other officers would drive through the small towns. Excited Korean children would approach the officers laughing and holding up two fingers, offering the universal sign for peace. The officers would return the two fingers but with a shockingly abhorrent meaning, saying to the uncomprehending children "this means two bombs for you, you little gooks."

protestersThough anger and frustration were both present, and passionately vented, the dominant vibe of the afternoon was one of positive excitement and hope. Wherever I found myself I would look around and be seized by a warm chill within me, starting in my stomach and quickly swallowing my entire body and mind, until finally I struggled to hold back tears. Not being one for melodrama I was caught by surprise at my own inability to regulate my emotions. But as I was carried along with the crowd, I looked at the faces of those around me and I could see in the strain of their expressions that they too were affected by the same emotional charge.

LA protestThe drums of the traditional Aztec dancers reverberated through the mass of bodies, lending a rhythm to our chant and step. I was weightless in this human current of hope and solidarity, and it felt damn good to really be part of something. To know that the "damn its" and "what the fucks" that I say to myself when reading the paper or watching the TV news, are not in vain. If I was to take only one thing from participating in this rally it would be this; that I am not alone in my disenchantment, my criticism, my frustration, my disbelief, my feeling of being cheated, of being misrepresented, and my need to take action and make my voice heard. I am not alone, nor are the thousands of others that I know feel similar but could or would not come to protest.

Abbie Hoffman once said "You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives it's assimilated conformists." So use your freedom, or what's left of it, to dissent while you still can.

Liam McAuliffe, 20, was born and raised in Los Angeles and is now a sophomore at Humboldt State University.
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