I went to my first protest today -- a protest of one. I had seen flyers for a "support the troops" rally in North Andover and felt that I should make a stand for opposition to this war. So, I went down there with a few signs:"Support the troops by bringing them HOME!!"
"End war. Wage Peace."
"Don't believe the lies."
(yes, nothing terribly original)
The roughly two dozen flag-wavers stood on one side of the street (in front of town hall) while I stood on the other side. When I held up the "support the troops by bringing them home" sign, the lead flag-waver came over and expressed her agreement. She gave me a flag to wave and asked if I had more signs. When I showed her the other signs and explained my position, she frowned, argued, and returned to the safety of her fellow flag-wavers. I'm surprised she didn't want me to return the flag. A few reporters asked me some questions, and a photog took my picture -- although it was odd that he told me to hold the sign so that it would fit in his shot. I thought setting up photographs was a journalistic no-no. Anyway, the vast majority of the people who drove or walked by reacted with scorn or insults. Many drivers shook their heads in disgust, and several told me to go home or gave me the finger. Several veterans muttered as the passed while one WWII veteran said I had "guts". But I don't think he agreed with me. That's ok though. What isn't ok is the large number of people who say "shut up" to anti-war protesters in an attempt to squelch dissent. What country do we live in, again?
After a while, a man named Masood approached me and agreed with me. He saw my sign as he was driving by and felt that he should stop and participate. So, Masood, originally from Pakistan, and I stood together in mostly quiet protest. One zealous person intentionally drove into a large puddle in front of us, splashing slush all over the place. Across the street, the flag-wavers and the police officers grinned and laughed at us.
So many people seemed angry at us -- too many people had the "you're either with us or with Saddam" attitude. This line of thinking is dangerous and scary. Little kids across the street chanted "USA! USA!" while holding signs that said "boycott French". I felt like I had been teleported to Alabama. I thought Massachusetts was "liberal", but North Andover is a very wealthy, and therefore conservative town. Masood remarked that he's noticed a relationship between flag size and intelligence -- those with the biggest flags are the most ignorant. His words, not mine. But the flag-wavers did seem awfully blind in their patriotism. I can hardly blame them, however, since the media coverage has been overwhelmingly propagandistic in favor of the war. That, combined with the false belief that our government would never do anything wrong leads to such demonstrations of flag-waving prowess.
Yes, I know that I can't stop this war myself. Even with the help of a soft-spoken 5'4" Pakistani-American, we probably won't change anyone's mind. But, it's very important for like-minded people to know that there are those who share their views. If someone thinks that they are alone in their dissent (which would be understandable for anyone living in North Andover), they might be too afraid to speak out. And I know I was feeling a little discouraged before Masood showed up. So, that relationship is the value of protesting -- getting the message out not only to those who disagree but to those who agree but feel alienated and marginalized.
When we left, the flag-wavers sang "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!" I regret that I stooped to their level and offered the one finger American salute as I walked away. I shouldn't have done that since it only helps their cause. Emotions got the better of me (there you go, Judy).
The seeds of fascism are planted wherever dissent is stomped out. Fascism grows when patriotism replaces speculation and children hear nothing but propaganda. The flag-wavers accused me of ignorance of history and the threat of "inaction", but it seems that we could all use a history lesson. Goering said it best:
"Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.....
the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
I witnessed a small dose of the effects of Goering's statement today.