When the bombs fall
by Lynn Rapoport
HEADING TOWARD THE 16th Street BART station the morning of
the Jan. 18 peace march, I wasn't feeling the power of the people. Which
is strange, given the empty Mission District streets, the hundreds of
protesters waiting down on the platform and in the subway cars, and
the thousands walking in a slow flood down Market Street and covering
every inch of Civic Center Plaza.
Like a lot of other people, I was there because I believe in providing
a body for the TV crews to film and the cops to count, no matter how
wildly off target their numbers seem. The marches in October and this
month here, in D.C., and throughout the country surely
demonstrate to anyone who was watching that a vocal, sizable opposition
to a war in Iraq exists in the United States. But I keep wondering:
are the marches still a sign of the power of the people if no one in
the Bush administration cares?
I hit the stairs of the BART station that day on the heels of about
200 loud, wildly enthusiastic teenagers high school age, maybe
heading down to the march, and when we entered the station, the
sound of their voices compacted so fast I could feel it in my stomach.
The force of their energy filled the tunnel. Later, as we walked for
four hours from the Embarcadero to Civic Center, I felt the same tidal
wave of energy every time a yell went up from the front of the pack
and traveled down Market Street, picked up by thousands of protesters
But I can't help feeling that all of this energy is being contained,
penned in by the fact that we go down in the streets on Saturday to
protest the war but on Monday return to work or school, sifting through
the headlines and trying to make sense of the president's speeches.
Life goes on, we pay our rent, and the war machine's wheels keep grinding
forward, much like our marches.
I'm not knocking the protests. I'm just suggesting that when the first
(official) bombs begin to fall on Iraq as the president's speeches
indicate may happen soon we need to move our protest outside
the relatively safe space of a weekend march that everyone knows about
and plans for long in advance.
The International ANSWER Coalition is already calling for coordinated
emergency-response actions to take place across the country at 5 p.m.
the day the bombing begins or 5 p.m. the next day if it begins at night,
and for local protests the following Saturday. What if, instead,
on the morning after the bombs drop (or during the same day if they
start before 5 p.m.), we all decide that daily life should not go on
as usual? What if, instead of going to work or school or the movies
or wherever we planned on being, we all immediately head down to Civic
Center Plaza and spend the day there in protest, and refuse to move?
And what if we all come back the next day, by which time the news will
have gotten around, hopefully provoking similar actions in other cities?
A group like ANSWER, so effective in organizing the marches and rallies
thus far, is ideally suited to coordinate this next stage of protest
so that it has a chance of gaining critical mass. If a few hundred people
walked away from work, from school, from their days off from
whatever normal life means when the bombs fell, there would be
a segment on the evening news. If half, or even a quarter, of the participants
of the Jan. 18 march showed up in Civic Center Plaza that first day,
we might have ourselves some power of the people.
It's a scary idea, and some people without job security, people
working in essential services like public safety and emergency health
care obviously won't be able to participate. But the rest of
us should put aside our excuses and get into the streets.
We don't have a vote in this matter of war. But we do have the power
to bring business as usual to a grinding halt, and when the bombs start
falling, we should exercise it.
For more information about the International ANSWER Coalition's
antiwar campaigns, go to www.internationalanswer.org.
Lynn Rapoport is the Bay Guardian culture editor, and she'll call
in sick if you will. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.