Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003 at 6:35 PM
A rookie's-eye-view of the Jan 11 Los Angeles protest. It's all about coming together.
This was my first protest.
I arrived at 10:00AM at the Carl's Jr. at Olympic and Main to meet other IMC'ers--ones who knew what they were doing. There were reds in the back corner already having their own meeting. The IMC'ers showed up, and I was briefed on interviewing techniques.
I wanted to interview lots of people so I could write some kind of article somewhere about the protest. I make a lousy interviewer. I failed miserably at finding people to interview. That's hard to do when you're surrounded by between four thousand and twenty thousand people (depending on where you get your estimate).
At 11:13, I talked to Jane Koch, her daughter, and her daughter's two twin daughters, all decked out and ready to march to the federal building. Activism was born and bred into this family. Three generations of protestors stood before me, all women, and all excited to be there.
"There's always hope. You just gotta give peace a chance," said the eleven-year-old Bea. Jane Koch lacked no enthusiasm against any notions one might have of tired eighty-year-old women. She protests every Friday at Sunset and Virgil.
Her daughter is looking for a buddy to accompany her to San Francisco on the 18th.
I talked to Laurence from Southwestern University. He wore a neon green baseball cap that identified him as a member of the National Lawyers' Guild as he stood with his accomplices between a small contingent of police and the moving swarm of protestors.
He was there to observe--to make sure the police didn't even think they could get away with attacking protestors or wrongfully arresting them without embarrassing lawsuits backed by the testimony of legal observers watching all their moves at all times.
I talked to my friends, the ones I dragged out from UCLA with a lot of preaching and teaching. Nothing new to be learned there. We had already kicked around our ideas and knew where we each stood. Interviewing my friends would be cheating anyway.
The UCLA socialist organizations showed up--drums and vocal chords ready. I thought it'd be cheating to interview them too.
I thought about talking to the veterans against war, the ones with the military caps, or the one with a shirt that said "Ex-marine against war." I just raised a fist in solidarity and smiled.
I thought about talking to the senior citizens, the ones in the wheelchairs, or the ones just blending in as the chants of "No blood for oil! Oil's not worth dying for!" sprang up.
I could have talked to the communists, the socialists, the libertarians, the anarchists, the man in blood-soaked army fatigues with a flag wrapped around his face.
Anyone shouting "Peace now!" would have made a good interviewee, and there were lots of those.
I could have talked to the people along the sidewalk clapping, watching with curious eyes, cheering along to the beat of one of the drummers hiding in the stream of the march.
Then there were the posters with catchy slogans, caricatures of our unelected president and his cronies, Spanish declarations against war. There were people holding those signs, and they would've talked to me, probably, if I could catch them in between chants and cheers. Sometimes people would all start yelling at once for no reason and it would spread down the street in all directions.
I asked a police officer to talk to me, but he said they weren't allowed to talk. I took a picture of him instead.
I took a picture of two other police officers standing around, guarding some building. She was hiding a smile as the protestors went by; his jaw was stiff and unforgiving.
I wanted to know how they felt about the war, but I didn't ask them, and I couldn't have asked the officers standing on the bridge that arched over us as we neared the federal building. But they waved back if you waved and smiled.
I could've interviewed the man passing out peace stickers to everyone or the Middle Eastern gent cheerleading the front of the march with the Iraqi flag, but I didn't want to disturb his important function.
The guys in black with black bandanas around their mouths and black sunglasses refused to even speak. They just shook their heads at me before disappearing in the crowd.
I could've interviewed the LaRouche people who nearly started a nasty fight before the march even started, but they were busy labeling everyone fascists with their bullhorn.
Slash from Guns 'N' Roses was at the protest.
I could've talked to representatives from A.N.S.W.E.R. or the college kids beating drums for Not In Our Name.
The three Latino guys running through the protest with a bullhorn trying to get people chanting would've made good subjects. They were "fired up" and they let everyone know it.
There were a lot of couples too. A lot of people brought their kids along to add to the head count. I took a picture of an incredibly cute shoulder-mounted baby holding a miniature "No war" sign.
I recognized the poet laureate from Leimert Park doing an interview with someone, but I forgot his name. But he was there.
There were a lot of students.
And a lot of senior citizens.
I saw a lot of twenty-somethings.
Middle Eastern people.
There were a lot of plain people there, and they were more than happy to cheer and dump money into donation barrels for this cause.
I don't think I saw many Republicans there, but then I didn't bother asking.
Four thousand marchers, says the LAPD, ten thousand say the event organizers, twenty thousand say some from IMC. Whether the numbers are inflated or deflated, there were people today--enough to give Los Angeles more traffic, give the police something to do, and give voice to the millions of dissatisfied Americans living in an insane world.
I didn't see any windows smashed or see the police attack anyone. They never had reason to don their riot helmets and whip out the batons. Some of them seemed downright sympathetic with us.
I wish I could've interviewed them. I wish I had interviewed more people today.
But I didn't. I was too distracted.
I was too busy cheering and chanting and waving my sign like everyone else. It felt too good to chant and yell. It was too relieving to be around people who, though they probably wouldn't agree with me about everything or maybe anything else, were at least agreeing with me on this.
They didn't want a war. They don't want a war. I didn't want a war. I don't want a war.
Now the world knows it, and it feels good.
You should try it some time.