This year the Ides of March were preceded by an early switch to Daylight Time — devised during World War II to give householders time in their Victory Gardens after work, now marketed as a way to reduce energy consumption. But this March, instead of equinocturnal hope of renewed life and gratitude for the gifts of sunlight and spring rains, we are mired in the mud and blood of a criminal war, and frustrated by our inability to stop it.
During afternoon rush hour March 19, a baker's dozen members of the Portage Democratic Coalition (PDC) rallied in downtown Kent, holding posters and banging pots and pans in opposition to the war in Iraq. They were the last of some 65 citizens who had protested the war starting at 7 AM that morning. It was cold, wet and miserable, with grey slush underfoot and a chill wind bending signs and pushing under scarves. Traffic was heavy, in successive slugs regulated by traffic lights less than a block from each end of the bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River and a lower rail line with heavy freight traffic. The upper tracks, serving the Star of the West milling company and local industries, have a grade crossing with gates, bells, and lights at the east end of the bridge.
That afternoon the railroad gates were malfunctioning. With no locomotive in sight north or south, the gates would come clanging down, blocking traffic both ways across the bridge. Sometimes they would go back up immediately, sometimes they stayed down three or four minutes or longer. Motorists were frustrated — they couldn't see either direction along the tracks, and few were willing to risk crossing into the other lane to get around the gates.
The PDC protesters, however, could see both ways, and schoolteacher Tim Radden quickly sized up the situation, stepped out into the center of the crossing and took charge. Still holding his sign reading BUSH GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES, he beckoned to the eastbound cars clogging the bridge and up past the library to cross over and around the gates. When that lane cleared, he stepped back and motioned to the westbound traffic, by then backed up the hill beyond the Kent Stage. When the gates went up, he rejoined the protesters, then returned to direct traffic when they came down again.
For about an hour that afternoon one individual, backed by a small group of people who could see a little way along the tracks made a small difference in the lives of a small number of people in a small Ohio town.
The anti-war message of the PDC got a boost as well. Many drivers honked, or gave hand-signs of support and appreciation. For a little time, both motorists and protesters saw each other as neighbors addressing a common challenge.
It took courage for Tim to step out and direct traffic — a more cautious person might have worried about getting run over, assaulted, sued, arrested or scolded.
Everyone recognized that the mechanism controlling the crossing gates was malfunctioning — some random short-circuit or worn relay that would eventually be identified and fixed.
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The mechanism controlling the war in Iraq is malfunctioning, though not at random. President Bush has deliberately and repeatedly lowered the gates, flashing red lights and clanging bells over false locomotives. He has criminally neglected machinery that should save lives and make them better, and irresponsibly perverted systems that should protect homes and families. The consequences are horrific: humans beings are blown up, dismembered, burned, poisoned, infected and terrorized, and their lives twisted and cruelly damaged.
I opposed attacking Iraq from the time it was first proposed. Yet I was never able to completely shake off the suspicion or feeling that Bush (and Colin Powell) might be seeing something I wasn't seeing. And so I, and many others, including some now running for President, didn't do enough. We thought we could stop the war with sound reasoning and appeals to compassion or sanity in op-eds, letters to editors and public officials, with earnest bloggery, with marches, rallies and vigils, or by signing on-line petitions, by supporting MoveOn.org, or finally by electing a new Congress.
Seven springs into the Bush administration it has become plain it doesn't work. Not only the war in Iraq hasn't worked, our efforts to stop it haven't worked, and Congress apparently isn't capable of stopping the war or taking control of it.
Congress has one other possible action — impeachment: remove the malfunctioning machine running this war: war criminal-in-chief George W. Bush.
For the next eighteen months we need leaders dedicated to helping people learn to live as neighbors in today's world, schoolteachers who can direct local traffic and help us fix the mechanisms of constitutional democracy and make it work both for our small towns and the global village of mankind.
What most people want — in Kent and worldwide — is to get across the river, get to work, get home to their kids, get groceries; mostly just to get on with their lives.
Neither our American soldiers nor the Iraqi people deserve to be kept in the bloody hell that Bush won't and Congress can't get them out of. Congress can — and we must make them — impeach the war criminal who created it.