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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Follow Up and Pictures from September 15th

I attended the September 15th rally in Washington, D.C.. For more on the march, see either my post Reporting on DC or my onlinejournal article.

ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War and End Racism), one of the rally sponsors, just issued a press release dated January 4th.

Referring to the trials of 11 defendants arrested on the steps of the Capitol, ANSWER had this to say:

An important victory was won yesterday, January 3, in the case of 11 defendants who were arrested at the Sept. 15 March on the Capitol, which drew 100,000 anti-war protestors to Washington, DC.

Judge Henry Greene of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia dismissed all charges against the defendants, who were accused of crossing a police line. The government's case collapsed in the early stages of the trial during the the testimony of a witness from the Capitol Police.

The protestors asserted that the government and the Capitol Police had illegally and unconstitutionally sought to prevent demonstrators from engaging in First Amendment protected speech and assembly in an area in front of the Capitol building routinely kept open to tourists and others. This attempt to exclude people engaging in free speech activities could not form the basis for a lawful arrest or conviction for "crossing a police line."

The government's case disintegrated as protestors' attorneys demonstrated that the government had withheld key evidence from the defense.

Under pressure from the defense, the government revealed that they had withheld documents and material that was central to the defendants' challenge to the government's efforts to prevent demonstrators from exercising their First Amendment rights at Congress under the pretext of "national security," including a "police sensitive" document supposedly related to "terrorism." The defense argued that the government was using this pretext to prevent antiwar protest at a time when General David Petraeus was making the Bush administration's case that Congress should continue to fund the Iraq war.

The police in their riot regalia lined up like a group of third world paramilitaries, ready to bash and crush any who'd dare to cross the line. My photo here shows the back line of police, while another line stood just on the other side of the wall, batons at the ready. The crowd was agitated but the wall and crowd control barricades appeared to both physically impede them, with psychological reinforcement from the multiple lines of police behind it.

And protesters did cross the perimeter, where they were taken into custody. The people arrested were taken from the far side of a wall that lies at the base of the Capitol steps. Police would periodically escort handcuffed arrestees up the Capitol steps. To their credit, the arrestees undertook no resistance whatsoever once they'd been arrested. See my photo.

The police presence was heavy and was really looking to control the event through limiting its movement, rather than bash heads or force confrontation. The flow of arrests went well, and I believed this worked to the advantage of both sides. Arrestees succeeded in getting providing proof of their conviction by subjecting themselves to arrest, while at no time was the crowd threatening to get out of control and rush the barricades.

The event was not one of rebellious rioters but peaceable demonstrators more reflective of mainstream America, as I've explained in my other posts. Most threatening were the pack of bike-riding thugs who'd confronted demonstrators in Lafayette Park.

I would later learn that counter-demonstrators got in a physical confrontation with the father of deceased Marine. In that incident the picture of the man's dead son had been ripped off the coffin and had allegedly reclaimed it through force, suffering injuries in the process.

Confrontations were staged by the counter-demonstrators, in this case a pro-war motorcycle-cadre called the Gathering of Eagles. The Eagles had fought with the father of an dead Iraqi war veteran by the name of Carlos Arredondo, who is quoted on the Eagles' website as saying: "I was assaulted by a group of pro-war people. They come into the ground, and they kicked me and punched me. As a citizen of this country, it’s my duty and my responsibility to participate. As a father, who I lost my son in Iraq, I got to honor my son."

Arredondo pulled a coffin during the march, and had taken to driving between protest locations with his son's coffin in the back of his pickup, in a lonely pilgrimage mixing protest with his obvious grief. It was hard not to be moved by his loss. Even the most ardent war supporters should have let him cope with his grief in the manner of his choosing.

Wider Issues

Here's what I had to say about the situation in my post on September 20th:
"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."

I'd thought the sight of the arrested being led up the Capitol steps like Guantanamo detainees a superb contradiction of modern day American democracy. As a matter of fact, one duo demonstrated at the event dressed in Guantanamo orange, see the photo here.

After the event I did see limited coverage. The mainstream media video clips did show one arrestee thrashing about on the ground at the time of his arrest. His thrashing could be seen as resistance, and a justification for a full body press by knee to the neck but his writhing could well have been from the pain of the knee or PPCT--Pressure Point Control Tactics--used by the police, or possibly by a chemical agent or Tazer (The use of Tazers has the unfortunate consequence of making the victim behave uncontrollably, hardly a desirable means to bring them under control.)

MSM coverage had dissipated by Monday the 17th, however. I'd written on the coverage angle in my blog from Washington at the time. Cynical as I am about the MSM, I'd been surprised to see any coverage whatsoever, so when it did come up--all 40 seconds of it on Headline Prime and CNN--I'd been pleased, and took some pride in my participation in the rally. Though I had come to the DC rally to cover it, I could at least claim my status as an independent blogger who sought to got the real story out.

Photo Breakdown

I've shrunk the size somewhat from my Mothman photo postings. These are currently 800pixels by 600. You can e-mail me at lordfraser(AT)yahoo.com if you are interested in higher resolution. I intend to make these photographs available to the general public, as the demonstrators intended to have their images shown there.

These are only a first grouping. I hope to have more available on my website when I launch it.

Protest March Photos

A group composed solely of veterans had led the march. The organizers would not let any non-veterans in, and had a moving cordon around the group from start to finish. See # 10, you can identify Iraq Veterans for Peace members that form the honor guard. #11 is a close up taken as the lead group formed.

I've said that the iraq Veterans for Peace appeared highly disciplined and very capable. Wearing their desert fatigues with the Iraq Veteran for Peace in white lettering on black T-shirts beneath gave them a look like they'd come straight off the battlefield.

The main protest stretched on for over twenty minutes, moving at a steady pace. You can see the video I took on the link on the right hand side of the blog, under Videos-Windows Media Required. It may give something of a sense of how big the event was. The signs and regalia were extremely diverse, powerful, and purposeful. I hope making these photos available to you will prove just how strong the movement is. The level of belief in the righteousness of ending the war was remarkable and came through quite clearly in the march, as you can hopefully see through my pictures.

Note: Be careful not to close your browser window after viewing the pictures, as they may not open up in a new window and you might have to hit the back button to get back here.

Here are the linked pictures:
Lafayette Park (Pre-March)
01- Peoria
02 - Victory Over Stupidity
03 - RIP Democracy
04 - Congress You're Fired
05 - Fifth Grader ( This is a Classic)
07 - Soup Not War
08 - Lone Texan

15 - Front Edge of Main Body
16 - March 1
17 - March 2
18 - Draft Bush Twins
19 - March 3
20 - Code Pink (These women impressed me.)
21 - Frat Boy
22 - Univ. Maryland
23 - When A**holes Rule
24 - I Feel You(r Pain)
25 - W-W-W

Capitol Lawn
27 - Peace Flag

Massaging the Numbers

ANSWER's press release refers to the 100,000 who'd come to the rally. I'd be leery of that figure, but I was outraged by a Reuters article by Andy (not Andrew) Sullivan that had estimated attendance at 10,000! Naturally that article was trying to spin dubious theory that popular support for the antiwar movement had been going down. It's highly likely that the mainstream media would attempt to diminish the strength of the antiwar movement. Both Commondreams.org and alternet carried the article. They apparently didn't bother to check on Sullivan's estimate--I guess he was even there--, or the magnitude of difference between Sullivan's estimate and ANSWER's. I'd guessed 30-40,000 participants, with maybe another 10,000 along the march route down Constitution Avenue, which probably consisted of 1-2 thousand counter-protestors at most.

I posted on this error in judging attendance at indypendent.org, which is part of the unaffilitated, non-mainstream global news network consisting of independent news media centers in dozens of cities. I like the indy media for coverage of events like the 9-15 march. They tend to be a sounding platform for anyone with something to say that the mainstream media will ignore.

To me, it seemed like the MSM wasn't misreporting the attendance numbers without a purpose. I've always made it a point on this blog to analyze the mainstream media, in order to deconstruct false reporting. Now if ANSWER's estimate were high, they of course had a motive--to prove the size and strength of the antiwar movement. Judging from Sullivan's account, the mainstream media must have wanted to deflate the attendance numbers; unlike ANSWER though, we don't know their motives other than the fact that the MSM has been uncritical of Bush Iraq war policy and failed miserably, perhaps well beyond the possibility of mere incompetence.

Diminishing the antiwar movement is typical corporate behavior. Judging by how our media have been consolidated, coverage decisions are made by corporate entities and editors are forced to maximize entertainment-style news. Iraq war protests clearly serve no corporate constituency, so the MSM may be sinning by omission rather than spewing forth outright propaganda, although plenty of that has made its way into the front-page of supposedly reputable sources like the New York Times, who fielded numerous fabrications on Iraqi WMD passed on to Judith Miller via the White House Iraq Group (Scooter, Cheney) that the Paper of Record has to this day failed to correct.

Committed to getting the facts, I like accessing information from these sources before the pro-war filters of the mainstream media screen out the truth in order to spin some fake narrative. Sometimes, posts at alternative sites tend to be anti-capitalist and anarchist, but if you can factor out the rebelliousness, the underpinnings of these fringe cause can sometime make quite a deal of sense, whether you agree with their methodologies or not.

Now as for the effectiveness of the 9/15/07 march, not much was achieved in terms of ending the war. Advocates of radical change are surely disappointed with the pace of political change, which is in regard to Iraq slower than a snail's pace. Sometimes hardcore protest types tend to radicalize their definition of protesting to the point they fail to see the broader appeal of their cause. Just because a protest march doesn't end in violent confrontations with the police doesn't mean it didn't have an effect of any substance. If anything, in this day of a cocooning, atomized lifestyle, getting average people to get off their asses and go to protest the war is a great achievement.

Gathering a bunch of squares out to protest is an achievement in that it shows just how mainstream the antiwar movement has become. A few hundred arrests and no heavy-handed police reactions may be signs of protest inadequacy for radicals but the mainstreaming of dissent surely goes a long way in broadening popular support for an end to the war. People will feel welcome to come out and voice their opinions, which in the case of the majority is the desire to end the war. Politicians will have to one day heed the call, if indeed people participate and if truly antiwar candidates are available.

Saying this protest had no impact also encourages apathy, which I believe is a tool used by the establishment to minimize political participation, alongside the manipulation of fear. Results matter and numbers may be down, but there's hasn't been any increase in opposition to the war among politicians, many of whom rode a wave of antiwar sentiment in order to get elected. The appeal of being anti-Iraq War could motivate the politicians to actually end it, however they haven't and the reason can't be that the protests have been too weak or non-violent.

Under the political catharsis that grips the supposedly antiwar Democrats, who could blame the antiwar majority for losing confidence that protesting could achieve anything meaningful? The betrayal of the antiwar movement by Democratic politicians and in particular their leadership is but one more tool by which people can lose faith in the electoral process in American politics. Expecting a march, even of 100,000, to achieve instant results in ridiculous. As a matter of fact, during Vietnam, in one weekend in 1971, over 10,000 people were arrested! (This according to a ex-D.C. cop (subject of my October 17th post) I ran into in Maryland on my way to the 9/15 protest.)

By Vietnam-era standards, attendance of 30-50,000 would be paltry. Because the political system nowadays isn't responsive to the voters--clearly a majority of Americans want us out of Iraq and have elected politicians who've chosen not to extracate us--no crowd would be large enough to influence the way things are going. Given the rally's timing--a Saturday--when politicians weren't in session and most likely weren't even in town, the only way for them to find out about the rally was through the mainstream media, should they happen to arrive on the minute or less of MSM coverage on the rally as they channel-surfed from the comforts of their homes.

There is however a backdoor way in that relies predominantly on word-of-mouth. This is the same way people have always discovered what really goes on. None of the politicians in Washington would ever publicly admit that they'd followed coverage of the rally, but the march must have left an impression in the conscience of even the most cynical politician. The march showed just how upset Americans were about the war and that they were actively trying to stop it. Hide as they might from their constituents who undoubtedly composed part of the crowd, politicians had to realize that the antiwar movement would try and hold them accountable for their failure to follow campaign promises and continue to put pressure on them to follow the popular mandate to end the war.

If the protest were completely peaceful, there'd be little justification for police violence and the march might be less attractive as a news item. This doesn't mean, however, that the protest must be violent to influence policymakers; to the contrary, large scale non-violent protest has been shown to be the most effective method of political confrontation. Anarchists yearning for more radical forms of protest might not be pleased with the results. Still, the antiwar movement is growing and its non-violent nature adds to its mainstream appeal.

Yes, larger numbers will mean more of an impact. There will be more protests as these war drag on and the prospects for victory continue to dim. If a draft is instituted though, more violence should be anticipated and the September 15th March might be one of the last of its kind: an orderly confrontation devoid of violence whose arrested participants are processed fairly in the Courts. Unfortunately, though, one protester did end fact end up dying when his pacemaker failed, so there's been at least one casualty in the effort to end the war. Most likely there will be more; far fewer though than will die as the result of the continued occupation.


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