November 6, 2004

"1-2-3-4! We don't want the U.S. war! 5-6-7-8! Organize! Stop the state."

My first inkling that there is a peace rally up ahead is the sight of this woman:

Is that what peace rally folk wear this season? The makeshift poncho says "Sometimes I don't think I'm being sufficiently appalled." That's subdued and bemused. But I do see her later at the rally.

Here's where the rally comes in sight, on Library Mall. It's a very small group gathering at one end of the Mall:

People are standing around, many of them seem to be onlookers, not particularly involved in the event.

Some have brought signs. This is the most artistic one:

It reads "O Come Let Us Abhor Him" and pictures Bush as the infant Jesus. This is the most crude one (the woman holding it poses for photographs):

A speaker holds forth. "I look out at all you people. And there are so many of you!" Yeah, why not start off with a lie? It sets a nice tone. The speaker goes on to tell an elaborate story about Native Americans refusing to sign some document, which has a punchline expressing cynicism about the government, but it doesn't seem to have much to do with the war.

The speech, delivered through a bullhorn, seems to patch together lines from ancient speeches. There are bits related to the election tied to tattered dreams of revolution: "We'll show you what democracy really looks like!" Didn't we just see what democracy looks like? Isn't that what you have a problem with?

A man with a flag in the back of the crowd listens:

The speakers make an effort to get the crowd to yell out responses like "YES!" or "NO!" or (in answer to "What do we want?") "PEACE!" and (in answer to "When do we want it?") "NOW!" The most coherent part of the speech is the statement that "the coffers of the peace movement are thin" and that a bag is going to be passed around and money ought to be put in it. There is a lot of emphasis on "organizing," but the people telling us about the importance of organizing don't seem very organized. Note the speaker in the corner:

I'll just say if you're going to ask people for a contribution, we'd all love to see the plan. Well, at least there was a plan to get the banners at the front of the group to the back of the group and then march the group up toward the Capitol to tell these lawmakers what we think about the war.

But the state government isn't really running the war, and they aren't there on Saturdays anyway, and isn't it a bit lunkheaded to schedule your rally at the very time everyone is getting all psyched up about the last home game of the football season?

The crowds of Badger revellers on State Street vastly exceed the peace marchers in number and spirit. The peace movement leaders, bullhorn-amplified, try to get a chant going as they march up State Street:
"1-2-3-4! We don't want the U.S. war! 5-6-7-8! Organize! Stop the state."
If my 1960s memories are still in order, that's an old anti-Vietnam War chant -- except that it wasn’t "the U.S. war," it was "your f**king war," and it wasn't "stop the state," it was "smash the state."

Here's a good overview of the signage:

The one all the way to the left says: "The Madness of King George/His war on terrorism is licensing terrorism/His support for Israel makes the U.S.A. enemy #1." The top center one, near the rainbow flag, reads "No flag is big enough to cover the wrongness of killing." One sign refers to the debunked news story about 100,000 civilian deaths. Another (near the bottom) has a drawing of a teddy bear under the word "yes" and a drawing of a gun under the word "no."

I walk in the opposite direction, pausing for a moment to check out a man who has set up an elaborate display of signs, books, DVDs, and stickers ("9/11 = Neo-con con"). I've seen him before. He's trying to sell the theory that Bush is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. He's standing a few feet from a group of dressed up people who seem to have just come out of a campus chapel. They seem to be a wedding party. The women are dressed in high heels and glittery dresses, and the 9/11 conspiracy man is having a loud argument with a passerby. He says, "I've yet to hear an argument from anyone who's read this whole book. Read the book, and then come back an argue with me and tell me why it's wrong." I laugh out loud at the pre-condition he's set for any argument: you have to read the damn book he's promoting first. Contemptible though his 9/11 theory is, I'm more disgusted that he's crass enough to go ahead and spoil the happy atmosphere around someone's wedding. He's horribly self-involved, yet he probably imagines that he's trying to save the world.

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