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