Analyzing the Movement-Looking Back at PPRC 5
There were about 150 protesters at Pioneer Square when I arrived, and there were about 20 or more counter-protesters. The counter-protesters were obviously organized by some evangelical group. Their signs were crazy and five feet tall. Huge red lettering spelled out that Jesus saved, or listed who was likely to burn in hell (Catholics, Homosexuals, Harlots, Atheists, and Secular Humanists among others), and all the signs were neatly stenciled and shellacked. Their signs, unlike ours, did not run in the constant drizzle.
Writing about PPRC offers a unique set of challenges. The primary difficulty is to avoid being dull. This "movement" was so obvious in its rhetoric, so simple minded and pious, that I'm afraid by writing about it I could end up with the same faults.
But I have to address it, as simple or as plodding as it might be. I'd rather write about a love affair or about all the good things involved in toasting bread, but the problem of how the world works, how we relate to each other, how we mutilate each other, this is pressing on me. I can't ignore PPRC or the war or any of it.
In Han Koning's book "Death of a Schoolboy" the kid in question sums it up:
"It's not because human joy and sorrow, individually, alone, aren't important, but because to go on writing that way, so finely, there has to be a piece missing in you. Otherwise the horrors of this world couldn't so patently fail to get to you. But, who wants descriptions of the world, of anything, from an observer in whom a piece is left out?"
So, to start where we left off:
October 24th, 2001, Protest Against the War and Famine in Afghanistan
"Is your flag the same as mine?" the old man asked. He stroked his unkempt beard and pointed to the American flag he had perched on his shoulder.
I looked around, noticed that one of the protesters standing next to me had a large American flag draped around him.
The counter protester asked me the question again.
"Is your flag the same as mine?"
I looked at the two flags, the one the counter-demonstrator had propped on his shoulder and the one the protester was using as a shawl. I sighed, took off my glasses and wiped away the rain on my shirttail, and then answered.
"I don't have a flag," I said.
"I don't have a flag."
"Are you an American?" the old man asked.
"I was born here." I didn't want to affirm anything this guy said.
"Your flag is the same as mine then?"
"I guess so."
"No! It's not!"
The old man asked me why I didn't care about the 7,000 people who died on 9-11. He asked when America would have the right to defend itself.
"If I hit you, wouldn't you hit me back?"
"Me?" I asked.
"If I hit you," he started again, punching at the air in front of my face. "If I hit you, wouldn't you... "
"If you hit me, and I hit her... " I started, pointing to a teenage girl with a peace sign. But he cut me off, repeated his taunt.
"If I hit you. I won't hit you, but say I did." He took a swing at the air. "If I hit you." He swung again. "If I hit you."
"If you hit me--" But, he wouldn't let me tell him anything. This wasn't about talking. He kept swinging at the air, mocking me, and I started shouting back at him, each time.
"If I hit you."
"If you hit me and I--"
"If I hit you."
"If you hit me--"
Finally the activist I call C and a kid I'll call R stepped in. They pulled me away from the old guy. I realized that they thought they were breaking up a fight.
"If you hit me and I hit her would that, how would that... I'd be missing the target," I yelled at the old man's back. "We're missing the target."
Let's start over. There were about 150 protesters at Pioneer Square when I arrived, and there were about 20 or more counter-protesters. The counter-protesters were obviously organized by some evangelical group. Their signs were crazy and five feet tall. Huge red lettering spelled out that Jesus saved, or listed who was likely to burn in hell (Catholics, Homosexuals, Harlots, Atheists, and Secular Humanists among others), and all the signs were neatly stenciled and shellacked. Their signs, unlike ours, did not run in the constant drizzle.
After the argument with the old man I decided to try again. I wanted to talk to a counter protester, reason with one of them.
The representatives of Christ were down in the middle of the Square with a few scattered along the steps near our spot on Morrison and Broadway.
I descended into the square, approached a man wearing hard hat with the word Jesus painted across the front. I'd seen him before, preaching at PSU, and knew he was unlikely to pretend to hit me or do any of that crap.
I gave him a leaflet about the Famine and started telling him things. I told him about the Famine in Afghanistan and I told him about Clinton's bombing of the Sudan and how the US had missed an opportunity to round up Al Quaeda, or at least a significant amount of Evidence on Al Quaeda by refusing a Sudanese offer to cooperate and opting to bomb instead. I told him that the "war on terrorism" would not succeed in stopping Osama bin Laden or the other terrorists, that instead it would merely increase the threat, provide Al Quaeda with new recruits. I told him that the Bush administration was aware that this war wouldn't protect us from future terrorist attacks, that they had admitted that Osama bin Laden would not be captured, that Cheney promised that there would be more terrorist attacks and the war on terrorism would never end.
I told him and I told him and he nodded as if he heard.
And then he asked me if there was anything about the US that I did believe in, anything I liked.
I told him that I liked Rock and Roll, and hamburgers, and Free Speech, and a lot of other things about America.
"But what would Jesus think about a country, a people, that allowed their government to starve 7 million people to death?" I asked.
He basically told me to leave Jesus out of it.
Back to the Koning quote:
"Who wants descriptions of the world, of anything, from an observer in whom a piece is left out?"
I am an observer in whom a piece is left out, but I'm trying to get at the thing that's missing.
When I went to the first protest against the Famine in Afghanistan I felt courageous, even though I had risked nothing at all. But I wasn't alone. I think everyone who went out there that day, maybe because of the counter-protesters, maybe just because we were protesting a war in progress, felt courageous.
We were standing in opposition to a cataclysmic famine in Afghanistan, in opposition to what already felt like an apocalyptic war on the world. While the talking heads were noting how 9-11 had transformed George Bush into a Great Man and Visionary Leader, and while Margaret Thatcher was writing about how grand US Imperialism would be now that 9-11 had woken Apollo from his slumber, how dashing America looked now that he was brushing his golden hair out of his eyes and preparing to dominate like no other stud had in the history of the universe, and while the moderates were calling for the judicious use of torture and the hawks were openly calling for total annihilation, we were out in the rain, protecting if not Afghans then at least our constitutional right to express dissent. And, in that moment, simply standing up and excercising free speech felt courageous. We didn't feel that we could offer resistance, but we could dissent and that felt like enough.
But later on this thought that dissent alone was enough would limit our actions severely and we would end up accomplices in our own dissolution, if not in the war itself.
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