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Seasons of Protest: Lessons from A20
May 3, 2002
By Dwayne Eutsey

Based on eyewitness reports from the massive demonstrations in DC and San Francisco on April 20 (those published in the independent media, anyway), something spectacular happened in America.

Close to 100,000 demonstrators in DC, tens of thousands in San Francisco, thousands more in various cities across the nation gathered together to oppose the morally bankrupt Bush regime's undeclared war and its miserably failed foreign policy. For a brief, shining moment, to those of us in the streets it felt as if democracy wasn't just something we heard about in reports from Venezuala.

Yet, despite the broad coalition of people who turned out for the protests (a truer representation of America than we see in the hand-selected groups at Bush rallies), I was surprised by the apparent perception among some in the online community and in the media that the demonstrations were a failure.

I expected negative coverage from the corporate media, if they bothered covering the protests at all. But there were a number of posts on progressive discussion boards (DU included) and independent media outlets that were dismissive and critical of an event that appeared to me, as someone who was there, to be a monumental success.

Critics charged that the protests overly emphasized the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, that there wasn't direct action like there was in Seattle or Quebec, that the message of the demonstrations was too unfocused.

I won't quibble over the validity of many of the criticisms. The media spotlight didn't focus on the large numbers of anti-war/anti-Bush protesters in the streets. No tear gas wafted in the air. There was a vast diversity of opinion expressed at the rallies that sometimes sounded like a cacophony rather than a symphony.

But the critics missed the point. These rallies were the first major response since September 11 by average Americans who oppose the Bush regime. Bush and his cronies have exploited that horrific event to beat down dissent and to push an anti-democratic agenda through a compliant Congress.

In DC, I was overwhelmed by the vision of a massive sea of people rising over the hill of the Washington Monument and pouring into the streets. There was anger but there was also a joy, the ecstasy you feel when you're absorbed into something much larger than yourself; the heart-thudding, intuitive awareness that you're doing what's right, that you're going to stand up and not cower in the shadows anymore.

In San Francisco, the scene was the same. I received the following report from Proud Patriot in San Francisco:

"A day of peace shared by between 25 and 35 thousand people. My son and I arrived early and watched the crowd gather at Delores Park in San Francisco. At the playground where my son played and lots of children for peace romped, the speakers spoke of children's rights, women's issues, and denounced Bush's foreign and domestic policies.

"We decided to be at the end of the march, but by the time the march started there were many behind us. I heard that by the time the first marchers got to the Civic Center, marchers were still leaving Delores Park. We shut down Market Street for over an hour, which tied up traffic for hours.

"...The two-mile march felt more like a dance as I could see the crowd moving joyously ahead and behind...One thing moved me beyond all: an elderly gentleman, who was unable to join the march, brought a chair out of his house and put it smack down in the middle of the march to thank the youth that were carrying on the cause of justice, truth, and peace. With my son next to me as I was with my parents, the wave of passing on tradition washed over me."

For many of us at the demonstrations, we were swept up in the wave of democracy and, for the first time in far too long, were lifted up by the joy of being American.

No, the demonstrations didn't change the world, and dancing in the streets will not motivate Bush to resign and turn himself in to the proper authorities. Although the protests were a much needed pep rally, we now need to get to the hard and often boring work of everyday activism. We need new leaders to emerge that can clarify and shape and channel the raw energy from the protests into real change. We also need to keep pressuring our existing progressive leadership to take seriously the multitudes of us who spoke out against war and for truth and peace.

I encourage progressive critics of the April 20 mobilization to see what happened in DC, San Francisco and around the country as only one component of what could be an honest-to-goodness pro-democracy movement right here in Corporate America.

For everything there is a season. There is a time for orderly marches in the streets, and there is a time for anarchic confrontation. There is a time for getting what you want, and a time for helping others get what they need. A time for anger. A time for joy. A time for revolution. A time for negotiation. A time for shouting in choruses of rage. A time for peace.

Turn, baby, turn.

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