Growing up in the towering shadow of the baby boom, it’s difficult not to imbibe a certain romanticized notion of protest. Images of leather-clad fists raised in defiance and steely-eyed youth marching resolutely toward a well-armored wall of authority play in our minds against the soundtrack of Dylan, Lennon and Guthrie. Entering Union Park for Saturday’s war protest, any hopes of witnessing these images first-hand are immediately dashed. This is a peaceful, if not downright sedate, affair. A sign bearing the question “Where’s The Rage?” will have to go unanswered. It’s not here.
“You want to know what the problem is?” asks a man in an orange shirt with the words “Got Fascism?” printed beneath a picture of Bush sporting a Hitler mustache. “These are people who protest—that’s what they do,” he says, nodding towards the various leftist contingencies setting up tables along the perimeter. “Where’s the average American protestor?” And indeed, mixed in among the communists, socialists and occasional Green Party member, all of the familiar archetypes are overwhelmingly represented—tie-dyed teens playing hackey-sack, a boy with a daisy chain in his hair and aging Vietnam Vets, weary beneath the weight of the worldview they’re forced to bear. Every now and then, the wind carries an errant whiff of pot smoke across the park.
The speeches begin and all the expected rhetoric is here. The calls for accountability, resignations and impeachment. The numbers are here, too. 600,000 dead Iraqis. 4,000 dead Americans. Thirteen million dollars an hour spent on the war. Twenty-four hours a day. Everyday. “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention,” warns another sign. A cell phone rings during the moment of silence.
There is a sense of anger here. There’s also hope and solidarity. Somehow, though, they feel pale. Watercolor in the place of psychedelic. Standing on the periphery of the crowd, a man wearing a jacket camouflaged to disappear against the dusty hues of desert is visibly agitated. On his sleeve, an American flag patch has been sewn upside down. “In the Army, you fly the flag upside down to signal that a base is in distress,” he explains. “This entire fucking country is in distress.” Home on leave, he can be called back at anytime. Asked how he would respond to that call, his answer is brief: “I would tell them to fuck off,” he says, crushing a cigarette beneath his combat boot. Here’s the rage. (Sarah Nardi)