|A memorial to PVT Dustin L. Kreider.|
Last August, before the presidential election, I marched in New York City in protest against the Bush administration. I had a really good time, and I thought the whole experience was very positive and worthwhile even though Bush got reelected. About a year later, the group that organized the New York City march sponsored an anti-war march in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2005. Having endured another year of Bush administration misadventures, I decided to march in Washington, too.
As before, it would have been crazy to drive into the city. I live nearby in Southern Maryland, so I planned to drive to a Metrorail station and take the subway into D.C. Parking was a breeze (and free on weekends) at the Branch Avenue station on the Green Line in Prince George's County, Maryland. When I planned my trip, I worried that the parking lot might be full and looked up alternate lots, but when I got to the station the lot was almost empty. The train ride was easy, comfortable, and speedy, and dropped me off downtown near the Mall.
It was a bit of a walk (about a mile) from the L'Enfant Plaza station to the march assembly area, but I had included extra time in my schedule. Most of the walk was along the Mall, which is a picturesque part of the city with many attractions. Today, coincidentally, there was a huge book fair in progress, and several large white tents had been erected on the Mall. The book fair was packed, with hundreds of people (including whole families) milling about or wandering through the tents. I saw long lines in several places where people were waiting to get their books autographed by famous authors. One line was so long people probably waited for hours, which I though was a little crazy. Lots of people had bright lime-green tote bags, given away by a company for publicity. Target was giving away round flat red objects which I later read were supposed to be seat cushions. At the time, though, I didn't know what they were and some people were tossing them like frisbees.
As I neared the march assembly area near the Washington Monument, I saw thousands of people already in the streets and on the grassy areas of the Mall. The streets along the march route had been closed, and people packed a several-block area where the march would start. Other people congregated nearby and a steady stream of new arrivals merged into the crowd.
As before in New York City, the crowd included people of all ages, although most looked young to middle-age. There were old folks, though, including several in wheelchairs, some being pushed, some propelling themselves. I saw one ancient old lady, tiny and frail, shrunken almost to child size, who was being pushed along by another lady. By my observation, the crowd was mostly white, with a few people of color scattered here and there.
There were people from all parts of the country. I saw organized groups from West Virginia (marching with banners naming all those killed in Iraq), Florida (wearing bright orange tee-shirts with peace symbols), and Minnesota (whose banner said "You Betcha We Say NO To War"). I heard other people mentioning they were from Iowa, California, New York, Montana.
Unlike the New York City march, there were very few freaks, weirdos, or radicals. The vast majority of this crowd seemed to be completely ordinary and middle-class, just like people you'd see walking through any mall in suburbia. They weren't here today to noisily advocate revolution or anarchy, but to express their stolid anger over the huge waste of life and property caused by the debacle in Iraq.
There were lots of signs, but not as many vulgar signs as in New York City. Most of the signs were focused on anti-war sentiment since the theme of today's march is specifically anti-war and not broadly anti-Bush. Some signs protested the disastrous emergency response to Hurricane Katrina, accusing the government of wasting billions in Iraq while ignoring the very real needs of our own country. Other signs accused Bush of waging war on poor people, both in Iraq and New Orleans. Visit this page to read some of the sign messages.
While I waited for the march to start, I wandered around and took pictures. In one area of the Mall, people had planted several hundred small white crosses representing people killed in Iraq. Many of the crosses supported a single flower blossom. Nearby, rows of military-style boots were laid out, representing more people killed. Each pair of boots had a small flag and a name tag, for example "PVT Dustin L. Kreider, 19, KS". In the same area, someone had set up a shrine honoring a Marine who had been killed, Alexander Arredondo; the shrine had pictures, flags, military boots, candles, and flowers. The shrine also had a pile of plain white envelopes each containing a letter Alexander had written; a hand-written sign implored "Please Take A Letter". I took a letter, you can read it here.
I managed to hear a few speeches given from a speaker's platform on the Ellipse (a park between the Washington Monument and the White House). One fiery speaker was a highly indignant leader of the Muslim American Society who protested the government's mistreatment of Americans who happened to be of the Islamic faith. Another speaker was Ralph Nader, who actually got a few boos when he was introduced. Unlike the fiery Muslim whose voice rang out loud and clear, Nader mumbled and cajoled and I could only make out a few words of his speech.
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