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Signage of the times

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Well, the demonstrations in San Francisco yesterday resulted in another humongous outpouring of humanity that the police, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, estimated at 200,000. (If the paper is accurate, this may be the only example in history of demonstration organizers and the police more or less agreeing on turn-out.) And for those readers of my hometown paper, the New York Times, nothing is more symbolic of what we – the world – actually did this weekend than the front-page think piece, “A New Power in the Streets, A Message to Bush Not to Rush to War,” by Patrick Tyler that begins: “The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” It’s no small feat for such a piece about demonstrations to force itself into a space usually reserved for the heights of elite policy-wonkism. To read more Tyler click here

I might also recommend to you a fine essay, “We are the people,” by Madeleine Bunting in today’s Guardian. Though about the London demonstrations, Bunting’s piece is no less applicable to ours. It ends, in part: “Not one bomb has been dropped on Iraq, not one shot fired and already there has been the biggest global protest movement ever seen. What happens once the orphans, the widowed and the killed appear on our screens? Then, the stubbornness will become anger. We said No, Not in our Names and we meant it.” To read more Bunting click here

Before I get to signage of the times, let me just mention one sign of the times that I picked up off the war in context website:

“Ultimate Flags, an online flag retailer based in Illinois, reports that their “patriotic peace” version of the US flag is now one of their top-selling flags:

“Peace flags and not military flags are breaking sales records ahead of a possible war in Iraq at Ultimateflags.com, a major online flag seller.

“Before any military conflict we see an upsurge in the sales of Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy flags,” said John Nesbit, founder of Ultimateflags.com, ‘But this time, we are also being flooded with people wanting flags with peace symbols, especially our “Patriotic Peace” design.'” (Ultimate Flags press release)

Of course, in the end, I couldn’t announce a winner to my signage contest. After all, I’d rather bring those American soldiers on bases in Central Asia back here than send one more American out there. In fact, after reading the messages that came in I realized I would have to change my plan for this dispatch a bit. I was simply going to list posters, but I was struck by the urge many had to explain their sign or at least offer some brief comment. That urge, I think, also tells us something about this moment of joining a protesting “we,” but offering messages as an “I.” My own sign, by the way, was: “The Bush administration is a material breach.”

“Peace flags and not military flags are breaking sales records ahead of a possible war in Iraq at Ultimateflags.com, a major online flag seller.

“Before any military conflict we see an upsurge in the sales of Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy flags,” said John Nesbit, founder of Ultimateflags.com, ‘But this time, we are also being flooded with people wanting flags with peace symbols, especially our “Patriotic Peace” design.'” (Ultimate Flags press release)

Of course, in the end, I couldn’t announce a winner to my signage contest. After all, I’d rather bring those American soldiers on bases in Central Asia back here than send one more American out there. In fact, after reading the messages that came in I realized I would have to change my plan for this dispatch a bit. I was simply going to list posters, but I was struck by the urge many had to explain their sign or at least offer some brief comment. That urge, I think, also tells us something about this moment of joining a protesting “we,” but offering messages as an “I.” My own sign, by the way, was: “The Bush administration is a material breach.”

So, as a start, let me thank those who wrote in, both those I used and those I didn’t. People also sent in many witty signs they spotted (“Remember when presidents were smart and bombs were dumb?”), but I was more interested in what readers actually carried. Here are samples – and then a few descriptions of demonstration experiences you might not otherwise run across. Tom

From the New York demonstration:

*”After days of mulling, our household search for maximum compression power in minimal syllables has settled on the following slogan to put on our picket sign tomorrow:
CONTAIN SADDAM–AND BUSH”

*”In NYC tomorrow I will be carrying the same sign I carried in Washington DC in October: Pre-emptive war is terrorism.”

*”Here are my signs. I’ll be carrying the first one myself and handing out the others: THE PENNED ARE MIGHTIER

“The others: UPROOT SHRUB, OIL FOR BRAINS, WE DON’T BUY IT, LIBERATE FLORIDA”

*”The sign I was carrying said, “IF WAR MAKES YOU NAUSEOUS PUKE ON THE BUSHES”. Pure poetry.”

From Asheville, North Carolina:

*”I created a sign based on a variation of the 60s/70s flower poster, and changed it to read ‘W is not healthy for Iraqis and other living things.’ I carried it in DC in October and January, and I’ll have it tomorrow at our peace rally.”

From San Francisco:

*”I marched under ‘Use our Might to Persuade, not Invade.’ I was out all day–partly marching with L and D and families. D had a great papier-mache Bush head with the semicircle where the brain should be missing–and a little pink crumpled ball of a brain dangling in the middle of it by wire. It was a hit, but many people thought the brain was too big. L’s sign said ‘Protect Us With Peace–Not Duct Tape.'”

*”Having not planned a new statement to make, and wanting to carry a home-made poster, at the last minute before Jan. 18, I took material featured in my December 2002 holiday card: art paper with the peace symbol (the old Aldermaston circle with the kind of three-pronged rake in the middle) made of red and green cat paw prints (well, not really paw prints, but they look like them), taped a copy of the card onto the bottom of the art paper. The card shows the peace symbol, with Simon and Ginny in front, and the message reads “Two Cats Offer Their Latest Work: ‘The Prints of Peace’ — seeking a world-wide trend.” All of that got stuck on a piece of corrugated cardboard that had been lining a kitchen drawer. I appropriated a nice wooden post from a kind person at the march who was providing free poster material to anyone who wanted it. Halfway down Market Street, my Voter March group was joined by some other VM folks, one of whom gave me a copy of a poster she had printed in multiples, so I taped it to the back of my cardboard:

*****************************
THIS IS
YOUR RECEIPT
*****************************
Your purchase:
-War on Iraq
—————————————-
Your price:
-Democracy
-The Economy
-Intelligent Foreign Policy
—————————————-
*****************************
THANK YOU
COME AGAIN
*****************************

“I’ll be on Market Street again on Sunday, with the kitties’ art work
covered with plastic this time, just in case it really does rain.”

From Westerly, Rhode Island ( “Noon at the Post Office sponsored by Westerly Friends”):

*”‘VIOLENCE IS A DESCENDING SPIRAL, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy…adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only LOVE can do that.’ Martin Luther King

“GIVE PEACE A CHANCE. GIVE INSPECTIONS A CHANCE.”

From Santa Barbara, California:

*[On one side] “‘Let us have the courage to see things as they are.’ Dominique de Villepin, Foreign Minister, France, UN Security Council Speech, 02/14/03
[On the other] ‘War is the sanction of failure.’ Dominique de Villepin, Foreign Minister, France, UN Security Council Speech, 02/14/03

From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada:

*”How did USA’s oil get under Iraq’s sand?”

From Minneapolis, Minnesota:

*”My sign has been to at least 4 demonstrations since the beginning of the year. It reads: ‘Don’t trade lives for oil!’ Not all that original, but the neat part is that it’s on the back of one of those big, one-year, dry-erase planners, in this case from 2002. I saw it rolled up by the trash bin back in January, grabbed it, borrowed a few markers and I was in business! It’s reusable! If I want to change the message to suit the demonstration I can simply wipe it off and put on a new one. And it’s pretty big — about 36×48″ — so it takes two to carry it down the street. But it all rolls up, so it’s also very portable. I’ve even taken it on the bus. I’ve been meaning to add a stick on either end so we can hoist it up, but haven’t gotten
around to that yet. I’d highly recommend it as a versatile medium for protest messages!”

From Austin, Texas:

*”The dogs of war,” an original painting whose explanation can be found on the participant’s website: www.fahs-alt.org/2_coolstuff/2rants/WarDog.htm

From London:

*”My wife and I participated in the London March yesterday. My placard
on behalf of the World Disarmament Campaign UK read: ‘Disarm the World, Not just Iraq.'”

Some people chose to write me not about signs, but about the demonstrations they attended Saturday, or in the case of San Francisco, Sunday. I heard from demonstrators as far away as Australia (“ps. The small city of Canberra also managed our largest-ever demo, maybe 10,000, officially 7,500”) and Turkey (“People, hordes of them, streamed downhill toward the demonstration beside the sea, dutifully submitting en route to a police frisking and bag search. Mine was rendered by a plainclothesman with a three-day stubble, wearing a windbreaker with ‘Narcotics Squad’ written on the back, in English, another indicator of the American presence”).

But I thought what I might share were just a few unbidden comments I received from smaller or ignored places in our country, places whose demonstrators will never be counted in any global tally. I think these brief notes give a sense of how widespread, how un-Sixties, how unprecedented these historic demonstrations against a war that hasn’t yet happened and an administration that unfortunately has, actually are.

My favorite perhaps was from Paul Getty, who wrote me the following:

“I am 53, was in college during Vietnam, but yesterday I attended my first antiwar rally. I spent30 years in the Navy, Navy reserves, including Fleet Marine Force, National Guard, and Army Reserves. I enjoying your dispatches very much and sending them to people I know, most of whom are not generally into opposing our government. I’m a dentist in Morehead City, North Carolina, and not the sort you generally see marching, but yesterday, marching along the street in our little city, I felt more patriotic than all my years in the service.”

From historian Chris Appy, whose work I’ve previously sent out and who was visiting his son at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, the following:

“On Saturday morning I drove to nearby Mount Vernon because I had seen a few small posters announcing an antiwar demonstration on the Town Common. Sure enough, from 11 to noon, about 75 people marched the perimeter of the town square with antiwar signs. At the end of the hour people gathered around the Civil War monument in the center of the square to talk, sing a few songs, and take a group photo. Many then repaired to the 1st Congregational Church for cookies and coffee (“It’s the only liberal church in town,” one woman told me.). It’s extraordinary, several people told me, that even 75 people came out on a cold, snowy morning in Mount Vernon, a town of some 15,000 in the heart of Knox county, one of the most conservative and Republican counties in the state. My only point is that if CBS showed 150 lights going off on a map to indicate antiwar demonstrations around the country, they surely were not counting places like Mount Vernon, Ohio. Something truly unprecedented went on this weekend, and most of it will be forever unrecorded.”

My sister-in-law in Milwaukee, who troops out every Friday evening to an ongoing local protest, sent in a vivid report on what demonstrating in the Midwestern cold is all about. (Who says no Americans will “sacrifice” over a war in Iraq?):

“I did not have a homemade sign. I bought 2 already made signs that say “Peace is Patriotic” and stapled them back to back with cardboard in between… I had on long johns, these running tight things over the long johns, and then blue jeans, heavy socks and shoes. On the top I had a bra, silk long john (I don’t think the top is called a long john… but whatever), a turtleneck, a vest (with zippered pockets for my belongings) a down full-length coat, three scarves and one hat. The coat has a hood. Two pairs of gloves.

“I suppose you are curious as to why I am explaining my attire. That was the most important part of the demonstration. It was so cold, in the teens, but the wind was AWFUL!

“The first rally lasted about one hour (remember it was cold, cold, cold). We then marched about 7 blocks to the east side Federal Building and I would say there were at least 3000 people. At the Federal Building, more songs and speeches. After another hour I tried to find my feet (numb) to stumble back to my car. Got home and had to take a nap as I was cold to the bone and figured lots of blankets in my warm bed would help.

“The crowd was diverse. Too many gray hairs, but more young people this time than last. A woman near me was dressed to the nines, but most were like me, bundled up beyond recognition.

“I find the demonstrations very moving but also very depressing, because of what we are demonstrating about. If (if… who am I fooling) we do go to war, that night they want everyone to meet at the corner where we go every Friday and march to the East Side Federal Building…. circling it and staying the night, or as much of the night as one can do. “

And finally, a note from David Thelen, who teaches at Indiana University in Bloomington:

“Esther and I were two of some 600 who marched from the IU campus to the Monroe County Court House (recognized by the larger world only from the film “Breaking Away”). The amazing part was the incredible range of car and truck horns as people waved, shouted, honked, hollered and flashed peace signs as they drove around the court house square. I can’t recall that there was ever this much or this enthusiastic support from the people who drove by our marches in the 60s and 70s.”