Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reporting on DC

My most recent article on the Washington march was posted on onlinejournal.

A short documentary of the march is available here(Windows Media required). It runs 13 minutes and you will definitely want to see it. {If you have technical problems, you can try an alternative download at http://web17.streamhoster.com/jbpeebles/protestmarch.wmv or .../interviews.wmv}

I also have a clip of interviews here(Windows Media required). Most are abbreviated or hard to hear; bear with my first efforts in this area. The interviewing environment was quite tricky. Noise, heat, and the angle of the sun made things difficult, not to mention the controlled chaos of a large political gathering.

A camcorder is inadequate for the purpose; I did see a fair number of microphones being used. I saw many professionals about with real cameras but my Minolta Z-10 performed adequately--picture definition is limited by the display capacity of the Web, a limitation I've been forced to address in my efforts to stream my videos.

Before the event, the focus in ANSWER's press briefings seemed to be on the speakers, but they were swallowed up in the limited confines of Lafayette Park. All in all the people were really the most amazing part of the march. In the end, I'd settle for the interviews I'd done over covering anyone else.

I saw the all women cast of Code Pink dressed in their characteristic color, made famous for their resistance in the Petraeus hearings. (I learned that Adam Kokesh was kicked out yelling "Swear Him In", in reference to the new Congressional habit of neglecting to swear in those who testify.) When the women of Code Pink passed it was if a strong breeze had blown by. The effeminate pink clashed with the olive drab green of militarism. It was clear the group had a level of presence, solidarity, and determination that is simply not going away.

I also saw anarchists in black and red, who looked askance when filmed, carefully fixing their bandanas to hide their identities, chanting "Whose streets? Our streets!"

There were some die-hards who'd been there in the park protesting for years, alongside energetic young students bubbling with exuberance for a new cause.

I also measured people's reactions to the protest who weren't involved. Most common in small town Indiana is the perception that the demonstrators were fringe people, freaks, and the like in the mold of the 60's counter-culture. In West Virginia I'd been told how wild the protest had been.

"Was pot smoked?" I was asked. "Hippie freaks" I'd been told to expect. How wrong had that impression been! I'd been right on with the title of my blog entry before departing for the big show, calling the counter-culture backing the war one decoupled from its revolutionary precedents. Gone with the tie-dyes were the drop out themes of the Vietnam era and sadly, the great music of that period.

Instead it seems we have a President who has turned the existing order upside down, in what Justin Raimondo has called a Bizarro World, where war is peace. We are the good guys riding to the rescue of the oppressed, the arm of our military supposedly representing justice incarnate and our victims uniformly deserving of their fate.

The protesters who want our society to revert to justice and the rule of law, to reestablish American values. Peace is simply the fruit that accompanies the restoration of pre-Bush norms.

If the status quo is one of perpetual war in the Middle East then our country has abandoned whatever restraints on intervention that might have let reason prevail. Instead we are expected to anchor our belief in the President not with reason but with a full conviction in the righteousness of our cause--his. To admit even the possibility of failure is a act of treason in this Bizarro World, where dissent is the worst betrayal and patriotism the exercise of blind obedience.

The counter-protesters were the source of most of the day's friction. Few from the crowd seemed willing to engage protesters on their positions on any intellectual level. This inability of war supporters to make a case for war on rational grounds shows that the body of evidence and the truth are against them. Hiding behind an emotionally charged mantle of sadistic derision seems the last refuge of these self-described patriots.

Facing row upon row of antiwar marchers must have them thinking that their presence or harassment will do nothing to diminish the antiwar cause. The clear disparity in their numbers gave ample evidence of the lack of popular support for the war they patronize. In short the American public has grown tired of the endless sacrifices that the war party and their supporters demand from the people for a war that can't be won.

As a coping mechanism it's simply easier not to confront years of fruitless blind faith in the President, especially when their unconditional support has perpetuated so much needless suffering and useless sacrifice.

Back to Reality

I think I was meant to cover this story and do 1-on-1 interviewing; call it fate. I'm new to the field of journalism but have a broad range of life experiences that makes me reluctant to "pre-judge." Everyone at the rally offered a potentially vast storehouse of insight into the war and unique perspectives on the political climate. There's no way I could have ever analyzed enough or read enough to reach the views that these people held so close to their hearts, as my interviews attest.

I also knew that these were no automatrons--people of weak willpower who'd been brainwashed by the righteousness of their cause. They were deliberate, focused, angry yes but far too convinced by the truth of what they knew to let anyone tell them differently. They were the story, not the politicians, not the media...them and only them.

They shared a healthy contempt for the office for the President, in what is usually a good-natured anti-authoritarian streak in most Americans that wanes only during times of war. Some would argue this humanization of the office is better not left repressed indefinitely through constant miltarism.

No one in Lafayette Park could have presented a serious danger to anyone, which spoke legions about their true pacifistic nature. A fear of violence which seems to so often curtail political debate among Americans couldn't have come from that crowd--they'd come to make their opinions known, whatever the opposition, which contrasts greatly with Congress and others would just go along with the President and his plans for war.

While most protesters may have voted Democratic in the past, they'd lost a great deal of respect for the Democrats. Rather than reflect a disappointed fringe, the protesters reflected broad discontentment in our society at large, where Congressional popularity is hitting all-time lows.

In short the crowd of citizens that formed the march were both informed and concerned, which are hallmarks of good citizenship so rarely seen in our self-absorbed, "better than" (to borrow John Butler's song by that name) society. The people there spoke for millions more who weren't able to attend but are similarly bothered with the course of events in Iraq.

Our government is paralyzed, unable to manage the conflict or extricate us from Iraq, at least under any conditions that could vaguely resemble victory. The Senate voted down Jim Webb's bill to equal time for servicement in and out of Iraq; at the last minute sponsor Warren abandoned his support for his own bill!

Accountability is completely lacking in Washington, this I felt when the march concluded on the lawn of the Capitol Building. The interests of the majority were clearly constituted among the protesters, held at bay by a line of police separating them from their supposed representation. Justice can't come from lawmakers disconnected from the popular will who hide behind police.

The fact Congress ignored the march may be a positive indicator. The fact is that no one is laughing at the antiwar movement any more. If it is as Ghandi said, first they will laugh at you, then they will ignore you, then they will fight you.

I don't think the resistance against this war will be fought physically between demonstrators and police. Instead the battle will be fought in different ways, perhaps in wildcat strikes and boycotts, nasty methods indeed to undermine a massive war economy that just keeps rolling.

I heard one participant tell me they no longer watch any TV, in large part due to the absence of real news and unbiased reporting, now routinely replaced with celebrity infotainment, with celebrity du jour OJ now back in the news.

I think the public's cynicism with the media may also be a long-term blessing. If the media can't perform the duties of the free press, it's inevitable that the people will turn off their TVs. If things get bad enough, more and more Americans will abandon the traditional media and turn to the Web to get the news, as part of the process of asking "how did things get this bad?" There, in the burgeoning ones and zeroes of a new Digital Age, they will find the truth waiting.

Other Sources

Mike Ferner supplies an excellent article on Onlinejournal. During the protest veterans had exclusive access behind a mobile cordon at the front of the march. Ferner also provides key details of the processing of the 190 or so people arrested.

I'd been a good distance away from the arrests as I'd become quite tired from the march and all my coverage by that point. The crowd apparently congregrated on the lawn well into the evening.



  • At 5:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I came to this site by chance this morning while reading all the digestion of the meaning of the Obama victory articles. Watching TV last night I was impressed by the huge crowds pouring into public places to rejoice--some like Grant Park in Chicago planned--but many apparently just spontaneous outporing of relief and joy at Obama's victory. Blacks, of course, seeing a black win the White House as the end of a long long difficult civil rights struggle. But many many whites too. I don't live in the US now, but I felt elated too. Now, all the post mortems on the election site the economic difficulties people are feeling, anti-war sentiment, etc. None mention relief in the hope that the national security state will stop closing in. As though there was a huge pent up feeling maybe expressed by a chant in your film, of "whose streets? Our streets". Obama said those who opposed the Iraq invasion as well as those who favored it are all loyal citizens and similar remarks. But the huge police presence seen at the conventions, the wiring taping excesses, round up of Arab names after 9/11 in supposedly preventive detention, doing away with habaeus corpus in many instances, the Drug War, roundups of illegal emigrees by the hundreds, the use of Blackwater troops after Katrina and the lack of help for the citizins, etc.etc. have no doubt made many Americans feel unsafe--hemmed in by government threat of and use of force. It was because of this thought that I started searching the Nation, the blogs etc. for what would be said about this national feeling of jubiliation. Nothing was. I think it is more than economics alone, although that is surely a problem. Your articles came closest to seeing this national tension explained. Amy Goodman is well spoken on wanting public policy to work for citizens again not for winning wars. I think it is more than making the govt. work for us that was being expressed. I think it is a national relief that the police state or national secutiry state will be pushed back or at least stopped from closing in us. The streets are ours and we can't be pushed around to stop unknown terrorists was part of the response I think.


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