In the first few shaky, panicky days after the attacks of September 11, I found myself driving through downtown Keene, New Hampshire. There on the green of a large traffic circled stood two people, not speaking, not moving, just holding signs. One said “Peace,” and the other said “No War.” When I returned a couple of months later, more people were there. Not many, not enough to start a basketball team, really, but there they were holding signs and making their quiet, vital point.
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accelerated toward becoming the bloodbaths so many of us knew they would be, these kinds of small protests began popping up in big cities and small towns all over the country. I traveled some 800,000 miles in the first half of the George W. Bush administration, hitting just about every one of the continental 48 states while speaking out against the war, and everywhere I went, I was invited to participate in these kinds of protests. Not large, not enough to make the news, but people would stand in the same spot in some town or city every single day, visible only to a small sliver of the society but making their point nonetheless.
Every so often, of course, these small dots of protesting humanity would swell into an ocean of outrage that broke in waves over Washington DC and the other great cities of this nation. February 15th, 2003 was one example, without doubt the most tremendous day of mass protest in the history of the planet. In every major city on Earth, people by the tens of millions poured into the streets to protest the onrushing invasion of Iraq. It was so vast in breadth and scope that it could not be ignored, even by a “mainstream” media that had been cheerleading for combat ever since the first hint of invasion was put forth by the Bush administrations. “Navy SEALS rock,” remember?
Did it stop the war? Of course not. It took another three years – along with eloquent individual protests by people like Cindy Sheehan – for the tide of frightened, media-deceived, post-9/11 opinion to turn against the war in Iraq. But it did turn, and it turned hard, and a lot of politicians who had stapled themselves to that war and the president who created it found themselves reaping the electoral whirlwind in 2006 and 2008.
In my mind, it all begins and ends with those two people in Keene a few days after 9/11. Those two became four, and then six, and streetcorners in so many American cities began growing their own colonies of protest, and sometimes they would march, but mostly they would stand their ground and hold their sings and say “No,” with body and soul and presence, to what was happening to their country and their world.
It is a rare thing to see these kinds of protests anymore. They are happening, but not often…which is strange, because we are still at war in Iraq, and are more at war in Afghanistan than we have been since the initial invasion. We have a president who goes out of his way to defend and protect the war criminals who populated the previous administration. We have a president who goes back on his word and allows tax cuts for rich people to survive, despite the rank hypocrisy of the supporters for such tax breaks, supporters who refuse to fund health care for 9/11 responders and unemployment benefits for people who have been long out of work, all out of a concern for the deficit, supporters who then turn on a dime and explode that deficit with irresponsible giveaways to people who absolutely, positively do not need the money.
The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal has fallen to dust. The DREAM Act has collapsed. The president is speaking perfect Republican with his talk of simplifying the tax code, freezing federal wages, and best of all, his feral attacks on his own supporters for having the gall to try and hold him to his word. Mr. Obama lavishes praise and apologies all over his opponents, even as they try to annihilate him, while attacking viciously the people who wore out shoe leather and gave money they couldn’t afford to give in order to see him into the office he has thus far not graced at all. Perhaps worst of all, the same insanely right-bent Republican Party Mr. Obama has been playing footsie with will take control of the House of Representatives after the New Year. As bad as things are now, they are about to get a whole lot worse.
I’d like to start seeing people on the streetcorners again. It won’t be many at first; it never is. Two will become four, which will become more, each holding a sign and making a point and saying “No.” No more screaming at the television or venting your spleens on internet forums. Go out, stand firm, and make the point. Be visible. Begin again what was done so well before. Create that tide to wash over the country, inspire others who feel as you do to join you. Be heard. Be seen.
Big storms gather around small particles.