I was part of the A20 solidarity action in Eugene today. We started at the National Guard Armory, which I thought was a great idea. There were about 300 people. There were a terrific number of creative signs and banners of all shapes and sizes, some quite colorful, with lots of different messages. Most fell into the anti-war/pro-peace theme. The weather was great and the mood positive. (Surfing through indymedia sites today, I noticed that nearly everywhere with A20 actions seemed to have beautiful weather. Looks like the forces of the universe are on our side!)
Using a tactic whose effectiveness is still a question to me, I had dressed as conservatively as I could: nice pants, shirt and jacket, with a tie. My sign, in contrast, said, "SAVE the country: F*CK the WAR". Sometimes on indymedia and in other forums you see people suggesting that protesters dress conservatively in order to have their message taken more seriously. I don't know if I buy that idea, so I've tried it out a couple times now to see how it feels. More on this later.
One of the organizers got on a bullhorn to explain the route and said we'd be using the sidewalk only. Someone in the back yelled, "Take the streets! We've got enough people!" The suggestion didn't go over well, but everybody laughed when he added, with mock sheepishness, "Just an idea!"
The Radical Cheerleaders then got everybody pumped up and we were off. (BTW, I love the Radical Cheerleaders. They are just the best.)
Needless to say, we did not take the streets until we got downtown, where a permit apparently allowed us to use a lane. There, we spilled out happily onto the pavement. Can I just say how great it feels to take the street? It's one of the most liberating feelings in the world to reclaim that space from the cars with feet and shouting. I love it. We need more of it. But here, as at other marches, it was at the behest not of the police but the organizers that people stayed on the sidewalk. Hmmph.
Arriving at Eugene's crowded Saturday Market was the highlight of the day. Curious shoppers lined the streets, several people deep, to see what the ruckus was about. It felt almost like a triumphant arrival of some sort. The response was positive from many people. I think that people with negative opinions might not have felt comfortable piping up, given the quasi-hippie demographic of the Market.
We marched around the main Market block once, while hundreds of people watched. It was pretty exhilarating. Most marches I have been in have not had such a large audience. I held my sign up as high as I could. We then filled up the Eighth Street in front of a small stage, which was apparently set up for Earth Day stuff. Urgent Carnival and the Radical Cheerleaders performed, and a few people spoke.
Okay, now we're getting to the critical part of this report. At this point, the energy of the rally -- which had climbed steadily along the march and started buzzing real nice upon our arrival at the Market -- started to fall off rapidly. Neither the sound system nor a bullhorn worked well from the stage, so you couldn't hear what was happening a short distance away. Most of the people within hearing distance were the marchers, which left out most of the shoppers. We already know all this stuff. It's the shoppers who needed to hear the message. So that was an issue.
Also, after a few minutes, almost everyone holding a sign or a banner let it drop. Now it just looked like a crowd, and you couldn't tell its nature at all.
About this time, I had moved to an adjacent street corner about a half block away with a comrade so we could hold up our signs to the traffic on Oak Street, and to all the pedestrians crossing there. We certainly couldn't hear the speakers at the rally, and people kept coming up to us asking what was going on over there. One woman was actually there to attend the rally and it wasn't obvious to her either, unfortunately.
But standing on the corner turned out to be a great tactic. My comrade's sign said, "One World, One People", with a beautiful picture of a globe on it. She was rather conservatively dressed as well, so this was a chance to test out that if-you-don't-look-like-a-protester-they'll-take-you-more-seriously concept.
Saturday Market is a family affair, and I expected to take some flak for "F*UCK", but no one said anything. I didn't even pick up on any strongly disapproving energy. People certainly took notice of it, though. Teenagers especially seemed to like it, though there were plenty of adults who smiled or gave me the thumbs-up. I caught people reading it out-loud and pointing it out to their friends. My comrade suggested that people like the word, "fuck". I guess so, because people kept taking photos of us, and a few stopped to quietly say, "Thank you" to us. That was nice. It's not often I've been thanked by a stranger for protesting, and I've certainly never been thanked for using the word, "fuck" in public. One guy did say, with joviality, that I should have just spelled it "FUCK" instead of using the asterisk: "F*CK". "Abbie Hoffman would've used the 'U'," he said. "And he would've been shouting it through a bullhorn, too." "You're probably right," I said. "I guess I have to work up to that."
I was really glad that we moved to that corner. We got our messages out to a lot more people, and I suspect that, yes, they might have taken them more seriously because we were dressed conservatively. So I'm going to declare my experiment of using an obscenity in a protest while wearing a tie a smashing success. But I'm not going to suggest that it's something that everyone -- or even anyone -- else should do. We all have our own paths to find to the light.
Another highlight: This great guy was handing out law enforcement-style "WANTED" posters with George W.'s face on them, and the words, "FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY AND THE PLANET" "Beware if you meet this man! He suffers from delusions that he is the democratically elected President of the USA." You can download your own to distribute at http://www.motherearth.org/bushwanted. This guy claimed he had been posting them "all over the country" including Richmond, Virginia and Portland, Oregon. He said that people here (on the West Coast) will take them, but that back East people are more conservative. He also said he'd been arrested more than once for distributing them. I really dug this guy and what he was doing. I'm coming to believe there's more people out there resisting than I thought.
And another highlight: Another comrade at the rally was handing out the Wartime News, which is a really well-researched and nicely laid out publication on the issues of our day. I highly recommend that you not only read it but also make copies and distribute it yourself.
Handing stuff out is a great tactic. We need to get our messages out and interact with people as much as possible. Standing in a knot around a stage, like most of the people at the rally were doing, does not help spread the word. Here's a suggestion for the future: upon arriving at Saturday Market, all the activists fan out over the area with flyers advertising the performance/teach-in/event that's about to happen. In enthusiastic twos and threes, we could whip up some energy and get shoppers to come over and listen. We could also hand out another piece that covers the basic issues and points them to resources where they can learn more on their own. That way, if they don't come over, you've still left them with something. Saturday Market is just about the only time when downtown Eugene has any life in it, and might be the best way to reach a bunch of people in a public place (and not deal with the hassle you get in shopping malls and other "private" areas).
People are ready for this stuff. We need to give 'em the encouragement they need to take that extra step and openly dissent. The Powers That Be don't like public dissent. That's why they make so many laws trying to limit it. But the shit they're pulling is threatening the survival of every living thing on the planet, and we've got to dissent. In the streets, on the airwaves, on the 'net, in handouts, and at Saturday Market.