Tue Mar 21st, 2006 at 02:38:06 AM EST
This is what democracy looks like...
I was in SF on March 18th for the anti-war, anti-Bush march and rally. At the link above are some photos and comments.
This series of marches and rallies has been going on since before the (most recent) US invasion of Iraq. It is organised by ANSWER, a sectarian Left group with the usual virtues and defects of such groups. Among their defects are a fondness for megaphones and zealous young people shouting simplistic slogans; but among their virtues are solid organising and logistical skills. If you want buses to pick up demonstrators on time and get them to the rally, if you want the sound stage set up on time and working, sufficient portapotties on site and properly located, and negotiations with the City completed in time for the event, ANSWER will get it done.
Though they organise the events and provide piles of preprinted signage to hand out to marchers, they do not actually dominate the marches other than aurally; the marches have a life of their own and the vast majority of participants have no connection to ANSWER, other than showing up for the carnival. The events have a flavour which perhaps is found in other countries: an element of street fair, brought by various freelance vendors of t-shirts, bumper stickers, jewellery, food and so on; an element of benefit concert, with performers, tables gathering signatures for good causes, etc; a small selection of esoteric Leftist sects peddling their very small newspapers and magazines; a much larger selection of more ecumenical political organisations like Vets for Peace, offering their own literature and flyers; a very small fringe of oddballs working the crowd with fliers for miracle cancer cures and guaranteed weight-loss programs; and a very large crowd of people all making their own statements either in small bands or as individuals, with costumes, music, handmade signs, mini-performances, floats, etc. I have been to enough of this type of event that it feels very comfortable and familiar, though I never like the intense noise level from the overdriven amplifiers of the sound stage.
The marches are genuinely diverse, and in my experience the mood has been upbeat and courteous; different marchers and groups are generally polite and friendly to one another, and one sees fascinating juxtapositions like hoodie-clad wannabe gangsta boys marching w/in elbowing distance of uptight Marin yuppies, without any apparent jitteriness or hostility on either part. Which is what 'coalition' means, I guess. There is a wide spectrum of just about everything -- age, income, race, straightness/queerness, and political agenda. There is a fair amount of anger being expressed, but in the context of a carnival atmosphere; I have seen very little aggro either from marchers or cops. The most hostility I've seen has been from the outnumbered counter-demonstrators, and even they restrict themselves to shouting. Given Americans' reputation as violent, poorly-disciplined, antisocial boors, it's nice to see a large public event, even under the strained conditions of life in the US today, proceeding smoothly and for the most part amiably.
OTOH there is something ritualistic about these big marches. They are coordinated months in advance with civic authorities, the route is planned and deviations are not permitted, cops restrict movement in certain areas (like behind the sound stage); helicopters buzz overhead continuously; police videographers and photographers document the event, but so do the press and ordinary citizens -- this leads to comical moments where police and citizens simultaneously and mutually point cameras at each other. There is something tame about these planned, permitted, licensed, insured, coordinated events that suggests protest and dissent in America is so ineffectual that the ruling class can afford to indulge the masses in a bit of it every now and then.
Anyway, here is photographic evidence of dissent in America, such as it is, in my local area.