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Posted by gustav at 04:01AM, Tuesday, December 03rd, 2002

Protesting the War

On Saturday, February 15th, we go to the anti-war protest at Park Street in Boston. We conclude, to grossly generalize, that White People Are For The War, Black People Much Less So. Cabbies aren't at all.

We arrived a little after noon, about the time the protest was officially supposed to convene (or so said the email list we're on.) We noticed less people than we'd hoped for, and a sort of striking demographic: very few Gen-Xers; lots of middle-aged people -- folks who looked like they may have done this sort of thing in D.C. in 1969; a smattering of Gen Y; and quite a few families. Kudos for resisting stereotyping, but where was everyone?

For a few minutes, we sort of stood around, watching. I wanted to go for a walk to the other side of the Common, to see if maybe we'd gotten the wrong location. Rocky obliged, and we found -- nothing. We came back, to notice there were a few more people, many of them being verbally abused by a grammatically-challenged and mentally-fucked-up smelly dude, who was saying we're all unamerican traitors for not obeying Mr. Bush and supporting war. The Iraqis are terrorists after all, doncha know. I asked, if he's so big on the war, why he hasn't enlisted. (This is echoing my father's rather elegant conversation-stopper, which is to tell anyone who's pro-war "I think anyone who's in favor of war and doesn't go join up is a hypocrite and a chickenshit." This from a man who, unlike most, has actually served in the military and seen the "good" it does.) Fortunately, as Rocky points out, he didn't hear me, or chose not to hear. Best not to engage the insane in debate. He stalked off to go badger someone else.

The group was starting to rotate in a giant circle now. Rocky thought he saw the woman who was our Swing instructor when we took a gay dance class. Well, it was really more like a lesbian dance class, I guess. Anyway. A lot of people had brought signs. One of my favorites had the tagline "Adolph Bush." We walked around to the other side of the circle, where a bunch of people were aiming their signs at the traffic coming down Tremont Street. We got asked by a middle-aged man blowing a kazoo whether we're FBI spies. Rocky wasn't really sure how to answer this. The guy was asking people to toot his horn -- he was carrying a little bicycle horn -- for peace. We obliged.

After we'd been hanging around for a couple minutes, a girl who was holding one side of a giant banner -- a banner noting statistics, among others, of kids who've died as a result of Iraqi sanctions -- asked whether we could hold it for a few minutes, since her hands, and her partner sign-holder's, were freezing. We said sure. So now we were standing right at the corner, surrounded by all the other sign-holders, and were in a good place to see people's reactions as they drive by or walk to the T. The kazoo guy was trying to get everyone who went by to blow his horn. I noticed that a lot of people seemed really genuinely shocked that they should be asked such a thing -- how dare he. Most of them wore faces of anger and resentment. A few people, looking more relaxed and friendly, would be a little surprised, but then say "oh, sure. Absolutely," and toot away.

Mr. Kazoo also had a sign saying "Honk For Peace," which he held out so traffic could see. We started watching which cars honked. (Shockingly, few SUVs -- although a couple actually did, which surprised the hell out of me.) The games you play to distract you from the things around you -- did I mention it was about 15 degrees out? We were all freezing our asses off. We started noticing patterns. Middle aged white people rarely honked, particularly if they were in more expensive cars. Young white people would drive by, and either wear mean, resentful faces, or be oblivious, or cheer us on. It seemed like couples were more apt to beep than single men. A few young couples would drive by, the guy beeping as he drove, the girl rolling down the window and cheering, or giving us all a thumbs-up -- I remember one friendly couple in particular, driving a beat-to-shit old Saturn. One guy gave us the finger and shouted obscenities. We all cheered at him. Rocky smiled broadly. Our crowd had grown quite a bit now. There were probably close to 300 people. I started noticing differences by race, too. It seemed like one out of ten cars driven by white people would honk. The percentage of black drivers was more like 60 or 70 percent. I noticed one station wagon with a whole family waving and smiling, and the little eight-year-old in the back seat cheering us on. As a city bus pulled onto Tremont, it started beeping, and we noticed the big black mama in the driver's seet pounding on the horn and waving. The crowd erupted into cheering. It seems like about 95 percent of cabbies going by beeped. A big black S-class Mercedes drove down Tremont, driven by a put-together looking possibly middle-eastern couple. The girl drove down the window and waved as they beeped on by. Hardly surprising that people of Arab descent, cabbies or otherwise, should be anti-war.

We saw a young couple, maybe 20, 21, walk by, and Rocky asked whether they'd take the sign for a bit. They demurred, saying they had to go get some hot coffee right now, but maybe later. Oh well. Our hands were getting numb.

I was starting to think about issues of class and war. If you're a black woman who's had to work hard to make it in America, are you more likely to have seen The System be unfair to friends and family, or just other non-white people in general, and less likely to support what's really a white man's war? I mean, really, how many blacks and arabs are on the boards of companies like Haliburton or Enron? Arabs, of course, have probably suffered no end since September 11th. I remember my sister recounting to me how our uncle was asking her about sand niggers and towel-heads. She was shocked into speechlessness. No wonder cabbies are happy to show that they don't want a war for oil. This all reminds me of the amazement I felt in the Fall of 2001, talking with the all-white (well, there was an Indian woman and a black guy, but they were'nt really part of the Java clique, and didn't talk much) engineering department at DMOD. My coworkers all seemed to think that no one honest ever got trodden on by the justice department -- this is America, after all, doncha know. That was the first time I started to notice that these people really seemed to think that they were invincible here in America, and even though they were hardly pro-war, it shocked the hell out of them to realize they weren't invincible. They got scared. In some ways, I feel like I was maybe a little less shocked by the whole thing. As a gay man, I don't really feel safe and comfortable in a hell of a lot of social situations, whether at work, or walking down the street holding my man's hand. I didn't have the luxury of feeling like no one would ever possibly want to hurt me. This is internalized by every scrawny one-day-to-realize-he's-gay kid who's heard the insult "faggot" hurled around in high school, even if it missed hitting him. We have no illusions about this being a perfect, or just world. How can we, when we've worked on software for insurance cost-saving that flags any illness that could be HIV-related as deniable on those grounds? When we've seen frat boys drive by in their daddy-paid-for Mustangs, screaming "faggots!!" at us as we sit outside our coffee house. We've learned to smile and laugh and say "yes, we are, thank you!" When our friends tell us about being there for coffee later when another frat boy comes by and stabs one of the customers in the stomach. When we know people who've been evicted for being gay. When we know people who've gone to prison for being gay. Land of the free, home of the brave, indeed. We know there's injustice here, just like anywhere else in the world, and maybe that makes us more apt to notice when the U.S. pulls the strings to create violent situations in other places. Maybe things work that way for black people, and single mothers, and anyone else who doesn't fit the middle-class white hetero extrovert "ideal."

We had been at the protest for a couple hours when the young couple Rocky had offered the sign to earlier showed up. The guy, who was wearing those ear-expansion-plug earring things (I can't remember the last time I've seen those on the East Coast) said "Hey, we brought you some hot chocolate. We'll hold that sign now." An incredible flush of warmth and faith in the potential niceness of people ran through me. We gave them the sign, chatted for a minute, said "thanks a lot for the cocoa," and went off to lunch.

By Sunday, we had realized that the reason there were so few young people there was that thousands of kids from Boston and Cambridge had gone down to join the hundreds of thousands in the NYC protest.

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