Yesterday I stood with 500,000 others in the cold streets of NY. Maybe you saw me. Woman in her late 50s in a big grey coat with two mufflers and steamed-up glasses, clutching a tambourine?
If you saw a TV clip of the rally, maybe you noticed that there were fewer signs than normal. I did. I also became aware that – as rallies go – we were pretty quiet.
Perhaps for some, it was the cold. For me, the chill ran deeper. It began with being forced to stand in a pen, and knowing there would be no march after the rally. No chance to feel myself re-energized as we raised our voices and our signs and as I slapped my tambourine to the beat of our marching feet. No chance to see my own outrage reflected in the faces of other ordinary men and women in their 50s.
Ordinary people, like me, who have been moved to convert Yard Sale signs into No War posters. To endure long bus rides with strangers all packing bottles of water and sandwiches made before dawn. Offering toe warmers and extra scarves to those less prepared. Worrying about the imposition of using a restaurant toilet if you don't buy a meal. And all the while wondering if people back home will spot us on the quick clip in the evening news, and will it matter after all.
Ordinary people, like me, moved by their frustration to make their voices heard. Moved by this grinding forward toward war. A grinding forward that is dressed up as "resolve" but masks a petulance that is blind, deaf, and dumb.
Ordinary people who are moved by their certainty that this military attack will lead to far less security. Act globally, fear locally.
And ordinary people who are deeply moved by their feeling of betrayal.
This is not an America we recognize. When we recited the pledge of allegiance in our long-ago scout meetings, it was to a different America, one with different principles. It was an America that lived by the rule of law. An America that was a land of compassion and brotherly love. An America that took seriously a promise to be a good neighbor, both across the street and around the globe. Sure, some of it was myth but we believed in the heart of the story. Others envied our good fortune to be born in America, and we nodded with recognition of that truth.
These people, like me, do not recognize the America of George W. Bush. Pre-emptive strikes? The notion is as foreign as striking a child. Talk of using nuclear weapons? More reprehensible than burning whole villages of Vietnamese families.
These people, like me, do not recognize this new American administration as our own. It pontificates and it postures with a smugness that makes us wince. It swaggers and it spits insults with a derisiveness totally at odds with our self-image.
At the rally, speakers exhort us that We are the real America, not those in Washington. Speakers try to assure us that people around the world know that Washington does not speak for us, and that the deepest split is not between the US and "old Europe" but between the US government and Americans.
Later, I try to warm up over a frothy cup of Mexican Coffee at a pleasant hotel grill. I notice Gene and Nora at the next table looking a little guilty as they polish off some hot bread pudding and coffee. Grandparents from Genesee New York, they were new to this protesting business.
Gene said his worries go far beyond attacking Iraq. "I thought I knew this country," he said, locking eyes with me to be sure I was paying close attention to something important. "Who are we? What are we doing attacking this third-world country? Why are we ignoring the UN, ignoring our allies, ignoring world opinion? And have you seen what's been happening to civil rights in our country? I don't recognize this place."
He pushed back his plate and looked at Nora. "We've talked about moving. New Zealand might be nice. But we have grandkids. You can't leave them, you know. You just can't."
I watched him help Nora on with her coat. I gave him our address and told them about a Family Relief Fund which provides aid to families in Baghdad. But I didn't push it. The coffee had warmed them up but they, like me, were still feeling a deeper chill inside.
A long bus ride later, I'm home, quickly checking the coverage on CNN. Estimates from 100K to 500K. A few shots of protestors clashing with police. I never saw them but I'm sure it happened and, hey, it's a video moment we've all come to expect.
Clicking stations, I catch a call-in show posing the question, "Should protests influence policy?" A caller scoffs at the idea, since everyone knows that protestors are just a bunch of communists. I click off the TV, gratefully accept a back rub from my husband and a wet nose from my golden retriever.
As I drop off to sleep, I think about the very long day and the very short news clips. So many voices, so little sound. Nope, truth be told, our day of protest probably didn't matter after all.
And then I begin planning for the next rally, on March 1st. Say No to war.
Nancy Capaccio (email@example.com) is a business consultant living in Arlington, Massachusetts. On February 15 she rode with Arlington United for Justice with Peace, one of 35 buses from the Boston area bound for the anti-war rally in NYC. Though not a peace activitist generally, she did travel to Iraq in 1998 with Voices in the Wilderness. She and her husband formed the Family Relief Fund which helps support families in Baghdad; they warmly welcome contributions or inquiries.