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Sunday, March 25, 2007


According to a March 22nd Oregonian article ( Student’s Photo of War Protest Stirs Controversy ), a college student posted 240 photos of the peace rally and conservative Portland radio host Lars Larson picked only three of them to show that, “…some members of this community advocate killing soldiers”. (Note: I visited the Lars Larson site on March 24th to see how the images were used but couldn’t find them. The images reportedly show protesters burning an effigy of a U.S. soldier.) Another conservative commentator concluded that “Portland hates America”.

It is frustrating that the images of a few self-styled ‘anarchists’ could be so readily used to misrepresent the actions of over 10,000 other activists who marched in a positive, peaceful manner to express opposition to the war. It shows that in the increasingly polarized battle between liberals and conservatives, each side seems to have already formulated their respective conclusions making data that fits these predetermined conclusions the only data worthy of media attention. From the conservative position, it seems we must evidently “oppose those who oppose the war.” The result is the selective culling of the most extreme and controversial images possible to represent the collective face of a rally and march that frankly didn’t look like that. Objective reporting seems to be increasingly hard to come by. lists close to 90 co-sponsoring organizations involved with the peace rally and march and its associated action camp. These organizations include teacher organizations, doctor organizations, Lutheran churches, Quaker churches, Methodist churches, Catholic churches, Unitarians, Mennonites, military families, veterans groups, and several student groups. Publicity for the event seems to emphasize stopping the war AND bringing the troops home, presumably alive (see event poster). At the event’s action camp, participants were encouraged to write letters to Congress and otherwise learn how to lobby effectively.

According to another Oregonian article from March 16th (Activists, Police Plan to Keep the Peace), event planners and police worked together weeks in advance to iron out the march route, discuss security precautions and even consider options for how to prevent splinter groups from creating havoc.

On Sunday afternoon, when I walked over the Hawthorne Bridge toward the park blocks, I anticipated documenting an event that would responsibly call for peace through peaceful means. I stopped counting the placard carrying bicyclists who whizzed by me and began making my own assumptions and correlations about the nature of peace marchers, wondering if it follows that people who care about peace also care about the environment.

The Action Camp was pretty much as advertised. Meanwhile, on the main stage, an Iraqi man expressed the opinion that, at this point, only Iraqis can solve their country’s problems. I wondered if that was true and how to tell. I weighed it against the Bush administration’s idea that even more troops are needed to provide the security necessary to allow the government of Iraq to act. Who should I listen to? FOX? OPB? An Iraqi man on a stage?

Saturday night I had downloaded a map showing the route of the proposed march and, previous to the start of the march, I headed down Madison Street to find a relatively photogenic viewpoint.

I staked out a corner on 3rd and Madison opposite the Justice Center. From there, I could look up Madison all the way to the Park Blocks and I figured that when the march finally started, I might, because of the slope, be able to capture four blocks worth of marchers in one inclusive shot, perhaps even with the iconic Portland Building showing in the background.

While I waited, I observed some Portland Police preparing for the march. At the side of the Justice building police men and women, both young and old, loaded their gear into the trunks of their squad cars as well as their lunchboxes. It looked about as threatening as an extended family preparing for a picnic. While I had earlier seen 5 or 6 mounted horsemen and later a contingent of eight motorcycle cops, these police appeared to be necessary for traffic control – to allow the march to circle through the downtown area despite the normal Sunday traffic.

Police standing by at the intersection of 2nd & Madison where the marchers were supposed to make their first turn.

As the anticipated time for the beginning of the march came and went, other photographers and video camera operators appeared. I was relatively certain that a professional cameraman/reporter team was standing next to me. I watched the cameraman as he found interesting angles to shoot from.

From four blocks away, it was difficult to see what the hold-up was. I didn’t have a watch, so I was uncertain exactly how much time went by before the peal of ringing church bells seemed to announce the beginning of the march.

As the leading banners approached my corner, I heard the reporter conferring with the cameraman. She seemed to be frantically trying to determine if the lead banner really featured the ‘F’ word or not. Once she confirmed that it did, she directed her cameraman to stop as she pulled out a cell phone and called ‘the station’ for direction.

I think part of the reason people think peace marches and demonstrations are effective is because they attract media attention. Now, I like to use the ‘F’ word more than most. I don’t think you can really fix your car without using it. But you have to ask yourself, in a country where Janet Jackson’s accidental naked breast can change the way television is censored, is it really serving your purpose to utilize the ‘F’ word on your banners and placards in a peace demonstration?”

When I was finally able to make out the entire message of the banner, I was initially shocked and then totally embarrassed to even be there. The banner carried a negative message directed at American troops. I thought about all my relatives and friends who have been or are currently soldiers, who volunteer to put their lives on the line for my sake. “What kind of peace march is this!?” I wondered.

Here is where I have to face the fact that I’m not any more objective than Lars Larson.
The anarchist sign was shown in public and anyone who was there saw it and I have a picture of it, but I find it offensive and can’t bring myself to publish it. It should be obvious that I have altered the sign – and worse, I’ve implied a low educational level for anarchists, a correlation which technically hasn’t been proven.

However, as soon as these lead marchers drew even with the justice center, they stopped marching. A bald man walking in front of the banner who carried a megaphone/public address apparatus began leading a chant that went something like, “F___ the police! F___ the police!” or alternately “F___ the facists!” These black-clad, masked marchers appeared to be more interested in starting a fight with police than they were in marching for peace.

It should be noted that at this moment there were no police on horseback, no motorcycle cops and no police in riot gear. Mostly, police straddling bicycles lined the parade route wearing nothing more sinister than yellow topped polo shirts and bicycle helmets.

Watching and listening from the corner, I got the impression that this confrontation was separate from the agenda of the advertised peace march. There seemed to be verbal references to a history of confrontations between the anarchists and the police. There were an awful lot of private camcorder devices deployed and it seemed to me the idea was to piss off the police in hopes of acquiring police brutality videos. Much of what I’m saying here seems subjective though it was based on the language and postures of the people I watched. There are two major things I learned on the corner of 3rd and Madison. 1. The Portland Police can be very patient. 2. Objective reporting is hard or impossible.

As the anarchists spent time filling the air with a blanket of profanity, the great mass of peace marchers behind them switched course in an unplanned detour.

When this maneuver took place, I began to understand that the anarchists were not being endorsed by the vast majority of rally participants. Evidently, march organizers and police had found a means by which the demonstrators could reclaim the event’s intended message of stopping an arguably questionable war and bringing our soldiers home. (Later, I would read the Monday Oregonian and note in its front page article that, “Early on, black-clad anarchists wearing masks and banging drums forced themselves into the lead position.”)

So this is what more than 10,000 people marching for peace really look like.

They had points to make.

They held up the American flag and claimed it as their own, yet also embraced the concept of being global citizens.

They spoke with music and dance.

They spoke with evident sincerity.

They spoke with enthusiasm and good humor…

…and they spoke with a compassionate eye toward the future.

When I was a teenager, I think I went through an anarchy stage. My dictionary describes it as the absence of any form of political authority or simply as disorder and confusion. My Dad described it along the lines of me being a selfish ass.

Ultimately, what I think my Dad managed to explain is that it is always harder to create something good than it is to destroy something that someone else created. He always asked me what, if I should succeed in bringing down the authorities, would I replace it with?

Relatively speaking, our experiment with democracy (O.K. a republic!) is, in the history of the world, still something of a magnificent experiment. It looks like we’re experiencing a rough time right now with the country split almost in half about how to proceed. Somehow it seems that we are no longer interested in figuring out what is right, but are more concerned with how to hold onto power and influence. We often hear competing ideas about what is in our best strategic interests but only bother to align ourselves against our perceived enemies, whom we paint with broad brush strokes as traitors or criminals making them that much easier to hate.

On one hand, peace always sounds like a good idea. But on the other hand, do we have the courage and principles to act like the Amish who amazingly forgave the killer who entered their school house and shot ten of their young daughters (killing five)? Do we have the strength of the Amish to say, when it is over, “We must not think evil of this man.”? Would we ever, with grace, seek to help the killer’s family too? Is the ‘Amish way’ possible to practice in international politics? Could we ever absorb events like the events of 9/11 and forgive and offer aid?

I know the answer is probably no.

But can anybody come up with a better answer than smart bombs?

1 comment:

  1. At least you recognize that the impulse to label us idiots is a false one. That's honestly commendable, when held up against the majority of people's view. We're all fairly intelligent people. We've opened our minds to the truth about the relationship between wars and soldiers, and if shame will keep people out of the military, and I think it will, we must shame them out of the military. Our zine describes it... this action was intended to open people in the march's minds to the idea that we don't support the troops, but from a pro-peace perspective. Phase two is distribution of the zine.

    If you'd like, print it out and distribute it. Everyone should know what's behind that powerful, sincere, and unadulterated message.



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