I'm not from the generation of the flower child, radical peacenik, or even bra-burning feminist; I'm from the generation of the apathetic. Unlike my parent's generation, we don't make it a habit to rally together and protest injustices. In my experience, my peers seem to be complacent with continuing on with the status quo.
So what better way to break from the mundane surroundings of suburban college campus life than heading off to an anti-war protest in New York City?
It would be the perfect place to meet people who shared my idealistic, counter-cultural opinions. In going, I would finally experience a protest like the baby boomers did and have my chance to 'fight the power.'
I first learned of the rally, marking the first anniversary of the start of the war, while surfing the Internet. It peaked my interest because I am staunchly against Bush and his policies. I was also fueled by my anger and distress that had welled up inside me after my boyfriend's Army National Guard unit was mobilized and sent to Iraq.
I went to New York that day without knowing if 10 or 10,000 people would be at the event. But once I stepped off the train and into Penn Station I realized I was going to be a part of something big.
Protester Christine Brozyna (2nd R holding placard) from Bridgewater, New Jersey takes part in an anti-war demonstration in New York, March 20, 2004. Her boyfriend is a National Guard soldier serving in Iraq for the next 11 months. Thousands in New York city attended the rally, just one of the many anti-war protests taking place in cities around the world on the anniversary of U.S.-led war in Iraq. REUTERS/Chip East
Groups of protestors gathered on the platforms of the station, doling out signs and t-shirts that identified their stand against the war. I knew then, I was exactly where I needed to be; in an environment with people like me, people who cared.
Swept through the station concourses with the energy of the crowd, I emerged out onto the streets, where the excitement and passion of the protest was brewing in the cool, crisp air. People were chanting, waving signs and handing out anti-war paraphernalia. I stuffed my pockets with every flier and publication I could get my hands on, not only to read the thoughts of the alternative press, but also to serve as proof of having been on the streets that day.
I also saw protestors distributing the placards I had seen earlier in the train station. I knew I needed one. If I were holding a sign I would truly be a part of the day. No one could confuse me for a passer-by or curious on-looker. I would have the mark of a protestor.
But which to choose? I could be conservative in my choice. "Bring the troops home now" and "ReDefeat Bush" were strong candidates. Or I could transform myself into a complete leftist zealot and wave a sign like "Stop the 9-11 Cover-up" or "End the New Colonialism." In the end, I couldn't decide. So I swapped signs throughout the day, at times waving two at once.
After walking a few blocks with my newfound compatriots toward the heart of the protest, I came face to face with a 17 ft. papier mache likeness of President Bush carrying a bomb marked with the word "Empire." Much to our dismay, the authorities had begun herding us through metal barricades for "crowd-control" purposes, further fueling the crowd's ardor. "We're not animals, you can't pen us in," I heard one protestor shout.
Under Bush's watchful eye and drawn to the center of the action, I began to press through the burgeoning crowd that was now beginning to march down one of the city's broad avenues.
I was surprised with the variety of people I came across. The streets were not flooded with the young, body-pierced kids I might've imagined. In fact, they appeared to be in the minority in this hodgepodge mix of protestors.
Instead, I saw men my grandfather's age, members of a veteran's-against-the-war type organization, marching stoically in a rag-tag formation. I saw middle-aged women in conservative dress and salon-styled hair holding up signs urging Bush to bring their sons and daughters home from the war zone.
And there were young children, held tightly in the arms of their parents, some joining the crowd's political chants.
Of course, I'll be the first to admit I can be guilty of some of the same apathy I criticize in my peers.
At one point, when it felt as if the cold would dismember the toes from my body, I escaped to the warmth and security of a posh little coffee shop along the protest route. I felt like a traitor, sitting there, sipping my caramel latte while I watched my radical cohorts steadfastly marching in the street just outside the big plate glass windows. But what can I say? I'm a product of a Starbucks world. I guess nobody's perfect.
Later in the day, I found myself pinned against the barricades with no room to move. Deciding to make the best of an uncomfortable situation, I struck up conversation with two girls who looked about my age and sufficiently non-mainstream enough for my tastes.
I started explaining my reasons for coming to the protest, including how my boyfriend had just been sent overseas. The girls were amazed by my intimate connection with the war.
They called over reporters and photographers to talk with me. Unexpectedly, a Reuters photographer started snapping my picture and the news service's reporter came over to interview me. Later, a television reporter from Madrid took notice of the scene building around me and asked in broken English if she could interview me on-camera.
Suddenly, I was a celebrity. My opinions, not to mention my face, would be beamed worldwide. The next day I learned my picture and comments, in fact, were circulating on the Internet, on Reuters' and other news websites. Now I could truly say that my presence at the protest made a difference. I knew my voice was heard.
That day, I felt empowered; a feeling I don't usually experience on my sleepy suburban college campus. For one day, I got to become an activist in my own right, fighting the pro-Bush establishment.