First, let me say that I thought the demonstration was a huge success. A huge number of people came, and all of them left more energized than they came. That alone is a success. We saw our own numbers. We realized what a force we are. We made a lot of noise. We got a lot of attention, to spite the MSM. We hopefully succeeded in getting people involved in local organizing. We had a hell of a time.
This was definitely a victory. But a lot of people have been complaining about some of the details, about the speakers, about the mix of messages, about the lack of media attention, etc. Some of these are legitimate complaints. All of them are issues that we should look at more closely.
So, Lets talk about what worked and what didn’t.
The turnout was amazing. Easily 300,000. A number doesn’t really mean much by itself, but this was huge. It FELT endless. At no point did i see either the beginning or the end of the march. From what i heard, the route was 40 blocks, and the march was even longer. (this resulted in some confusion, but its a wonderful problem to have!)
Diversity of the crowd:
Everyone was there. Every race, every age, every gender, every religion, everyone. From everywhere. There were old women singing, and young college students yelling. I saw a lot of overwhelmed small children. I talked to a small child and his grandmother about the police. Every liberal and leftist group had a presence. Every peace group was huge.
The one exception to this was Arabs and Muslims. They were there, they were definitely represented, especially among the speakers, but they were not in the crowd in the numbers they could have been. Whether they felt excluded by the politics of some in the movement, or weather they are (legitimately) afraid of government repression, I don’t know. Like I said, I never saw ALL of the crowd at once, so maybe I just didn’t see their true numbers.
Still, overall, it was definitely one of the more diverse mass protests.
Mix of Messages:
Many here will disagree with me on this, but I think that the mix was exactly right. The march was definitely AGAINST THE WAR, first and foremost. All of the other causes that were represented, from Palestine and Haiti to growing vegetables and saving gas, were secondary. And, in my opinion, most of these were related, and therefore should have been represented. (ok, maybe not the vegetables thing.)
The left is an opinionated bunch. That’s why we came in the first place. You really don’t have any right to ask everyone to come, and then tell them “you have to stick to the message” We are the message. The message is “The people demand to be heard!” So let us speak.
People generally stayed on message anyway, so it wasn’t much of an issue. Even those who didn’t generally stuck to related side-issues. Those who wanted a “single issue” march really don’t have too much to complain about.
Global Justice Slogans:
There was definitely a global justice tendency within the march. “Global justice, not war” signs, environmental slogans, an internationalist tendency, etc. This was fantastic.
In most of the rest of the world, the global justice movements really helped to seed their anti-war movements. It would be great if, when the war eventually does end, our global justice movement was re-seeded by the anti-war movement.
Defeated the Right-wingers:
Before the march, a group of about 20-30 protest warriors and college republicans showed up next to the Campus Antiwar Network table, and tried to have a picket. We surrounded them, shouted them down, and forced them off. They didn’t come back.
A lot of people at the time were telling us to ignore them, to let them speak, etc. These are the same people who were telling us not to talk about Palestine, to stay on message. I’m tired of self-censorship for the left, and free reign for the right. This was exactly the right tactic for that occasion.
I also made a point of telling all the OTHER counter-protesters, the ones hiding behind the police, about what happened. I told them to bring their racist, nationalist, hateful message away from the police, and see what happened. I told the police (largely minorities) that I was sorry that they had to protect racists.
All in all, I think we did a good job of demoralizing the few right-wingers who came. Which is exactly what we want. We don’t want them at our marches. And hopefully, if they think about coming back, they’ll remember how they cowered behind the police and helplessly watched us parade by FOR 4 HOURS. Lot of fun that must have been.
Lack of Media Coverage:
This was THE main problem. News coverage was pretty pathetic, from what I heard. C-span did a good job, NPR took us seriously, but the rest of the media was all about the hurricane. Getting coverage from a hostile media is a huge problem at events like this. I really don’t know what to do about it. I’d love some fresh ideas.
The Amtrak lines from the northeast were down that morning, delaying thousands of protesters. Probably tens of thousands. I heard that the tracks (or whatever) were repaired in a couple of hours, and they were eventually able to join us. Last I heard, no one was sure if the delays were legitimate or not. I’d love to know.
Also, they were doing some subway maintenance at the time, which delayed some people. From the DC residents i talked to, this was pretty routine, and while annoying, probably didn’t hold anyone up for more than 30 min.
Regardless, there really isn’t anything we could have done about the delays.
I dont know about everyone else, but I found it rather frustrating to march for 4 hours to end up right next to where I started. They really should have picked starting and ending locations that were farther apart, to give the impression that we WENT somewhere, rather than ending up where we started.
Not that hearing Cindy Sheehan and all of the other speakers wasn’t great, but I was somehow expecting something else. Like a tent city that stayed up until the war ended. Or Bush himself, apologizing, and resigning, and leaving the country forever. Or 100,000 people forming a human chain around the white house. Or something.
I dont know what I was really expecting, but after 4 hours of the largest and most energetic march I’d ever seen, I was somehow expecting something more at the end. Maybe that was just me.
Anyway, lets talk about strategy and tactics. Let’s learn as much as possible from this success, so we know how to do better next time.