Sunday, here in Portland, the sun showed its face with no hint of shyness for the first time in months. No hide-and-seek with the clouds, just pure, glorious, unadulterated sunshine. On such a day you expect life to be good and to be rewarded with further soul-lifting support from the cosmos, so it should have been no surprise that the afternoon march and rally against the Iraq war would have a large turnout. But the actual size of the crowd was indeed a nice surprise.
When we stepped on the Max for the journey downtown, we were expecting maybe a few thousand of our fellow PDXers to join us in protesting this illegal and unconscionable war. But when we arrived at Waterfront Park, it was obvious that this would be quite large, even for Portland. It took over a half hour to file out of the park onto Naito Parkway for the march. March watchers reported that it took a full hour for the parade to pass Pioneer Square. The mainstream press estimated 10,000 participants, while some observers on Indymedia put the number at 50,000. My own (experienced) estimate is that there were 15,000 to 20,000 marchers.
After such a lame turnout for the protests across the globe on Saturday, one must ask, what made Portland different? Two factors I think were important: the northwest had a particularly wet and dark winter, which made the sunshine irresistable, and the anti-war movement in PDX has been languishing for over a year now. There was a lot of pent-up energy to get out on the streets with others and speak our minds.
Now, how about the converse to that question –despite Portland’s good showing, why is the movement against the war seemingly losing momentum? As you might guess, I have some thoughts on that subject.
1. What we have been doing hasn’t been effective. The tactics of massive rallies has not worked because the media has ignored or marginalized us. We need a new approach which involves civil disobedience on a large enough scale so that they can’t write us off. What if all 20,000 of us on Sunday decided to sit down in the middle of the street and not move until some concrete demands were met? What would the police have been able to do? Could the press have ignored that?
2. The world is waiting for US. The people of the United States are the only ones who can stop this war. Yes, we need the support of the rest of the world, but world public opinion of the Bush administration is close to zero, and that fact has had no discernable effect on the behavior of the U.S. government. It is up to us to stop this war.
Elections are coming up soon, and much of the anti-war fervor may be swept up into campaigns to unseat Republicans. This may or may not be a success, but what is the good of unseating Republicans if Democrats continue to have no spine? What will we do when the elections are over (regardless of who wins)? These are questions that need to be asked.