The war in Iraq is four years old, and I finally live in a city as outraged as I am.
I sent out a mass e-mail asking friends to join me at the anti-war demonstration in downtown Seattle. When no one responded, I walked the halls of Antioch University here — the “liberal’s liberal arts school” — asking if anyone wanted to go. No one did.
I walked alone to the Federal Courthouse, and joined a small, motley group of protesters in rain gear. It was wet; it was cold. I started to worry that no one would show up. What if you held a rally and no one came?
One benefit of being alone, I’ve found in my travels, is that strangers are much more likely to approach you and begin a conversation. I ended up talking with Michael, a 50ish Vietnam vet in a bright yellow rain slicker. He commented on the “Declare Peace” sign I wore on my back, and said he was glad to see me there. When I asked why, he said, “Look around you — it’s all old people. Where is your generation?”
I didn’t have a good answer.
The faces around us had protested Vietnam when they were my age. The signs were the same — only the names had changed. The song we started singing, “Give Peace a Chance,” was written more than 30 years ago. They stopped a war with those signs and those songs once before, but without new voices, the evolution of the movement has halted. We’re recycling used rhetoric for a new war.
We talked about Vietnam, where Michael had been a radio operator. To him, this war is personal. Fifty thousand American troops died in Vietnam. That says nothing of the Asians who lost their lives and homes; that says nothing of the American soldiers who came home incapacitated by their injuries and traumas. He asked me to think about all the U.S. troops from current and past wars who will be unable to work the rest of their lives. I still am.
People began to show up, including two gorgeous senior ladies using walkers, and as the march headed south to the Federal Building, we continued to grow. The media were here in force, with news helicopters overhead, camera operators in the street, and photographers everywhere. Where there are crowds, there is news.
Without this protest, how many people would have realized that this Iraq war is four years old and growing? I certainly didn’t, until the fact was called to my attention. How can we begin dialogue without awareness? And how can we raise awareness? Disrupting downtown traffic for three hours accomplishes both.
Still, a protest in which the most outlandish, photographic protesters are the “Ragin’ Grannies” worries me. When I am an outraged granny, will there be anyone to stand with me?
If we don’t speak up, no one will hear us. With my dripping “Strike Against War” banner in my freezing fingers, it felt good to raise my voice. In retrospect, I wonder at all the voices that weren’t heard. Where is my generation?
Katherine Pryor is the author of the novel “50 Ways.” She is a graduate student in the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle.
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