FOR A WAR THAT began only last week, itís remarkable how fast and furiously the roar of protest has traveled the globe. This past weekend, antiwar demonstrations in London drew an estimated 200,000. Barcelona saw twice that number. Tens of thousands of Australians clogged the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, while at least 11,000 Japanese came out to oppose the war in their own island nation. Protesters have condemned the US invasion of Iraq from Italy and Bangladesh to Mexico and Chile. Throughout the Middle East, angry demonstrators have gathered before US embassies, burned American flags, and beat up effigies of President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, dozens of antiwar protests, sit-ins, and rallies have sprouted up across the United States. In New York City, more than 125,000 people flooded through half of midtown Manhattan on Saturday for a five-hour peaceful procession. In Washington, DC, on the same day, thousands of people circled the White House. They chanted, " This is what democracy looks like. " Then, gesturing toward the presidentís residence, they shouted, " This is what hypocrisy looks like. " In Chicago, 50,000 protesters marched down Lake Shore Drive, effectively shutting down the Windy City. Dozens in San Francisco blocked entrances to buildings in the cityís financial district. And countless similar actions have taken hold, on a much smaller scale, from Augusta, Maine, to Yucca Valley, California.
The messages expressed at the worldwide protests vary considerably ó which shouldnít be surprising given that they are part of a grassroots movement led by no one person or group. They range from the extreme claim that Bush is a terrorist and war criminal to expressing more-mainstream fears over the breakdown of international diplomacy and the rise of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption. And for all the movementís seriousness, thereís room for the occasional snarky observation, voiced at this weekendís protests in New York, for example, that we should be engaged in " foreplay not war play " and that " fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity. " If thereís one theme to the global protests, however, itís this: the US war against Iraq is illegal.
JUST AS PROTESTS have sprouted up across the country, antiwar sentiment has flourished in Boston, too ó in spite of Mayor Tom Meninoís stern warning to protesters last Thursday not to " take over this city. " The March 20 antiwar demonstration, dubbed " Day X, " hadnít even begun when thousands of people spilled into downtown streets from across the Mass Ave bridge, singing and stomping, exhilarated by their own numbers. Small, yet equally impassioned, pockets of activism in and around Boston have kept the message alive ever since.
As usual, the numbers have been hard to pin down. The Boston police estimated some 4000 at the March 20 rally, while United for Justice with Peace, its organizer (along with Boston city councilors Chuck Turner, Charles Yancey, and Felix Arroyo, and the local chapter of ANSWER ó Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), claimed up to 7000. What seems clear is that far more people turned out in the chill than authorities anticipated. Officials approved permits for a march scheduled to kick off at Government Center Plaza, outside City Hall, at 5 p.m. As it happened, the crowd of college students, senior citizens, and all those in between arrived two hours in advance and proceeded down Boylston, Charles, and Beacon Streets, filling broad swaths of the roadways, effectively halting business-as-usual in the Hub.
Last Thursdayís protest projected a vibe of hope and optimism, a sense that power-in-numbers still matters ó a surprisingly hardy sentiment given that the US had launched its attack on Iraq just 24 hours earlier. Marchers literally danced in the streets while unleashing a cacophony of sound ó people whistled, hooted, hollered, shouted, clashed symbols, blew foghorns, rang bicycle bells, shook bean-filled jars, and pounded on plastic jugs. Packs of high-school kids from Cambridge and Belmont wrapped themselves in giant cloth banners that read war is not the answer and chanted the now-familiar refrain: " This is what democracy looks like. " Others raised their arms toward the sky as if to include their fellow Bostonians gazing down upon the crowd from office buildings along Boylston Street, many with their faces pressed against windows, as if mesmerized. Spectators waved. Some gave peace signs. Some wore puzzled, irritated, or enraged expressions. Yet when the Trinity Church bells clanged to the tune of " Give Peace a Chance, " it only heightened the enthusiasm.
This is not to say that contempt for President George W. Bush and his hawkish advisers didnít come across at the march. There were numerous signs, scrawled in thick, black letters, that quipped stop the mad cowboy disease; bush, cheney, powell: asses of evil; and i hate the f&$! president. But in seven hours, there were few, if any, images likening Bush to Hitler, a favorite of the Washington, DC, protests. Only one sign featured a swastika cut out of the American flag. For the most part, Bostonians ó with their long tradition of showing intellectual mettle ó made the case that substantial numbers of reasonable people are outraged by the direction in which their country has been yanked. Typical signs extolled the virtues of multilateralism and world diplomacy ó i am with kofi and cut through the propaganda: this war is illegal.
All in all, the sense of last weekís event was one of democracy reclaimed. This was manifest in the myriad images of the American flag ó the Stars and Stripes emblazoned pins, arm bands, capes, and hats. Protesters, it seems, were telling the rest of the country that its ultimate symbol of patriotism doesnít have to amount to blind support for the Bush administrationís military action. This sense was manifest, too, in the thousands of marchers who hunkered down on the Mass Ave bridge after Boston police stymied their sooner-than-expected procession for about 30 minutes. Rather than retreat, people plopped down on the ground and sang out, " These are our streets. " And it was evident at the rally itself, where hundreds of protesters took over Government Center. There, they staged spontaneous skits about war from the perspective of innocent Iraqi civilians (portrayed by puppets resembling Edvard Munchís The Scream), and lay, stiff as boards, on the cold, wet pavement to represent the soldiers and citizens who are sure to die in a long, protracted US invasion.
Not even the hecklers could dampen the marchersí spirit of democratic resolve. In Cambridgeís Central Square, for instance, four men dressed in blue moving-company uniforms gave the thumbs down while booing and hissing at the crowd. " If you donít like the war, " one of them spat out, " then move. Get out of here! " ó to which a Harvard student, with deadpan delivery, responded: " You have a right to your opinion, sirs. " He and his fellow demonstrators then carried themselves and their message onward, unfazed.