It was big. It was really really big. The mass media is of course downplaying the numbers, saying it was barely 100,000. Some reports say the Park Police doesn't give figures anymore for demonstrations, but "secretly said it was maybe a little less than 100,000." What kind of reporting is that? Well, it's false. I stood in about the same place I stood at that NARAL abortion rights rally a few years back that everyone said was 500,000 -- well this looked to me to be just as big. As the speakers started, thousands and thousands were still arriving from the Smithsonian Metro station. I would guess the crowd was between 400,000 and 500,000. UFPJ naturally went with the higher end and said it was definitely half a million.
But beyond numbers, I think this whole mobilization with a long list of eloquent speakers made a difference and got enough news coverage to be noticed. Congress cannot ignore that this peace mobilization happened. They cannot ignore that a little more than 60% of Americans want this quagmire in Iraq to end, and for American troops to start coming home now.
There were some notable divisions among the crowd that sunny Saturday. The black block (the angry young anarchists) made an attempt to break a police line. Sorry guys and gals, you are your own worst enemy, wearing scarves to shield your face (when you should be proud of your own dissent) and using *riot shields* at the front of your phallanx, just won't get you very far. Was your main point to get the base of the Capitol Building (which you eventually did), or truly fight with the police? It was a very tense few minutes there on Third Stret, I rushed from the front entrance of the Native American Museum to try and calm what was erupting. For a few moments, I ran to the front between the anarchists and the police. I told the anarchists to calm down, that they were on public property when they rushed the west lawn of the Capitl ont he east side of Third Street. I yelled at the police that if they didn't use violence, the anarchists wouldn't use violence. I told them this didn't have to be a fight right there. I then demostrated to the anarchists that they could go around the fairly small line of police and go much further into the west lawn, I did this first quickly. A few followed me, but most at first wanted to stand behind their riot shield wielding buddies. I said: "Calm down, just walk around quickly." I also kept telling the police they didn't have to use violence and that this was public land. Finally the anarchists slipped around the police line and made it to the Capitol Reflecting Pool at the base of the hill. About 10 minutes later I saw that 200-300 of them made it almost all the way to the top of the hill and were at the base of the Capitol Building. Later reports said there was some scuffling and "wrestling" but no arrests. Here's a hint to the angry young anarchists: If you want to get somewhere don't waste your energy and tarnish your image that much more by engaging in pointless fights -- circumvent, walk around the obstacle. If you use violence, and their own weapons such as RIOT SHIELDS, how are you that much different from them (the police)?
Now the other division I saw that day was the celebs, politicians and the aging UFPJ leadership were allowed to be at the front of the march. The Iraq vets were all relegated to second place. I marched with this contingent. They are angry that this quagmire persists; that their buddies are being shot at and killed in the middle of a civil war they cannot control. They were also annoyed that they were excluded from the lead contingent. As we rounded Third Street, going east onto Constitution Avenue, the mass media finally realized that the vets were a bit *behind* the lead contingent and finally swarmed the vets with video and still cameras. Why the heck is UFPJ treating our vets as second class!? The movement needs to re-think some of its strategies at these marches.
My part in the day involved passing out nearly 1,000 glossy postcards with information about the Declaration of Peace. I saw Danny Malec and Timothy Baer there. Both have been very instrumental in the second phase of the Declaration of Peace, which is focusing largely on defunding the Iraq quagmire and actions in both February and March. It's a great campaign with some truly wonderful people involved.
Overall the march and rally had a very strong visual presence in the heart of the Capital City. Now it's up to Congress to act. Tomorrow, Tuesday, Sen. Feingold chairs a Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the power Congress has to end a war. This is one of the first steps in a move to defund the quagmire of U.S. military engagement in Iraq.