It's been over a month now since a massive peace demonstration took place
in Washington, D.C., but how many Americans ever heard of it?
We can once again thank the mainstream corporate media for aiming its
"shrink ray" at the anti-war movement, thus granting the Bush
administration another undeserved public relations reprieve. It was done in
the usual ways.
First, the rally's numbers were consistently underreported, probably
because The Washington Post originally reported that "tens of thousands"
marched on the White House and everyone else simply took it as truth. With
the march's organizers claiming that 300,000 people took part in the
protest, and even D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey guessing that at
least 150,000 were in the streets, it seems logical to conclude that the
actual number was probably somewhere in between -- say, 225,000? At any
rate, even by conservative estimates of "hundreds of thousands" would seem
a more accurate expression than "tens of thousands."
Another interesting aspect of the march's media coverage was its peculiar
insistence on granting equal time to the "counterdemonstration" that took
place the following day. Small groups are a lot easier to count than large
ones, so everyone agrees that around 400 folks showed up for that rally.
What is less obvious is why this tiny lot received nearly as much coverage
as the demonstration they sought to counter. Haven't we all learned by now
the vital lesson that size does matter?
One might think that a democratic free press would make more hay out of a
social movement that is not only growing larger by the day, but
increasingly resembles the America we have. I marched in the Sept. 24
rally, which was co-sponsored by International ANSWER and United for Peace
and Justice, and can assure you that my fellow protestors represented a
diverse demographic. Military veterans and Gold Star families marched
alongside young anarchist groups, Raging Grannies next to union locals, and
middle-aged churchgoers side-by-side with the Radical Cheerleaders. Don't
believe people who try to tell you the anti-war movement isn't diverse.
People of all ages, races, ethnicities and classes were there to send a
clear message: Bring the troops home.
Indians were well-represented at the rally, too. In addition to my little
contingent -- which featured my 15-year-old daughter wearing an eagle
feather in her hair and sporting what she calls her "pimped-out AIM jacket"
-- there was a Gwitch'in dance crew in full regalia whose drums added to
the rhythm of the march. Athabaskan Native and New Paltz, N.Y. Deputy Mayor
Rebecca Rotzler, who also co-chairs the national Green Party, gave a
rousing speech at the post-march Operation Ceasefire concert at the
Washington Monument. And in one of the day's most touching moments, a
Lakota delegation from Pine Ridge presented Cindy Sheehan with a star quilt
as a testament to her bravery.
So instead of reporting on itsy-bitsy counterdemonstrations, why don't the
media instead accurately cover the biggest story of our time -- namely,
that this is a war the American public is viewing with a hostility that's
growing by leaps and bounds?
Their own polls attest to this fact. According to the latest CBS News poll,
64 percent of Americans disapprove of Bush's Iraq strategy, a jump of 9
percentage points from August's poll. Fifty-nine percent want an immediate
pullout, and half of those polled believe that Iraq will never become a
democracy. According to this month's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll,
only 40 percent feel the war was "worth it," and just 34 percent would
maintain current troop levels. The Washington protest rally put a human
face on these numbers, which are likely to climb further.
That might spell regime change here at home. So where were the Democrats on
Sept. 24? Among a speaker's lineup that featured not only Sheehan but Ralph
Nader, Al Sharpton and Jessica Lange, there was only one national Democrat
who took to the podium: Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. One might think
that the beleaguered Dems would take more interest in a popular movement
whose most prominent sign slogan read "Make Levees Not War."
Then again, considering the fact that no prominent Democrats saw fit to
visit New Orleans two months ago, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that
they chose to ignore a massive anti-war demonstration, no matter how
accurately it might represent mainstream American opinion. Indeed, we might
reasonably ask what the Democratic Party stands for these days, aside from
consistently losing elections. I'm not sure peace is long for its platform.
The "Homeward Bound" resolution currently before Congress, which calls for
troop withdrawal from Iraq beginning next October, was co-sponsored by two
Republicans, Walter Jones and Ron Paul. By contrast, the U.S. Army Relief
Act, calling for an increase in troop strength by 80,000 over the next four
years, was proposed by Democratic senators, including presidential hopefuls
Joseph Lieberman and Hillary Clinton.
Little wonder, then, that one of the most visible groups at the Washington
D.C. rally was a youth activist organization called World Can't Wait, which
is mobilizing for a nationwide walkout from schools, colleges, universities
and workplaces on Nov. 2, the anniversary of Bush's re-election. As stated
on its Web site (worldcantwait.org), it places no faith in the Democratic
Party to deliver a savior, but instead seeks nothing less than forcing the
current regime from office.
World Can't Wait wasn't the only one delivering this basic message on Sept.
24. Another rally speaker was former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark,
who called for the impeachment of the entire Bush administration: a case he
has laid out on the Web site VoteToImpeach.org. With a botched military
escapade in the Middle East and a blundered domestic response to hurricane
havoc on the Gulf Coast, it's hard to argue that Bush isn't universally
held to be worse than the last president we charged with impeachment.
Remember that stained blue cocktail dress?
It would be nice to find a loyal opposition party actually opposing the
Bush administration's sins in Washington, and it would be refreshing to see
accurate media coverage of it. Until that day comes, however, we'll just
have to settle for the largest and most powerful social movement of our age
to finish the work that's already begun.
Scott Richard Lyons, Leech Lake Ojibwe, teaches writing, literature and
Native American Studies at Syracuse University and is a columnist for
Indian Country Today.