March 21, 2009: The Hollywood Peace March (or) The Revolution Will Not Be Organized
On March 21, 2009, a peace march was held in Hollywood. The goal was to bring about the end of war on a global scale. It was a call for solidarity amongst all members of the left. I had seen the posters for months. By D-Day, I could almost hear the footsteps of the march that was going to stop the war in my head. There was no way I was going to miss this.
I spent the first twenty-four years of my life in my mother’s basement in Philadelphia, spinning old records, decorating my room with upside-down American flags, and reading the Communist Manifesto. Most of my youth, I dreamed of attending a massive peace rally. At last I would be given my chance to run through the streets with blood on my face. I was ready to stop the war.
When I got to Hollywood and Vine, I found the rally all right. I couldn’t believe that things had escalated this quickly. I knew that when Obama mobilized the apathetic slice of the population that the backlash would come. I just didn’t realize that it would happen so quickly. He built a constituency of people who had retired from caring about politics. Anarchists, draft dodgers, and socialists were suddenly lining up to volunteer.
That was November and this is March. This was going to be the first major demonstration since the beginning of the Obama Presidency. It was supposed to be the first rally of the new peace movement. At least that’s what the people who organized it were saying. They even had mock coffins with American, Iraqi, Palestinian, and Afghani flags draped over them to drop off at the Armed Forces Recruitment Center on La Brea.
Like lemon juice on a paper cut, Barack Obama’s order to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan and his lame August 2010 pull-out date for Iraq have brought all of these people here. That and the hope that someone, somewhere, is actually still listening.
There were enough police there to level the entire crowd. Horseback cops, riot gear cops, and even the LA Police Department’s Video Unit came out in their finest intimidation costumes. It was a tight-knit army of black shirts, each with the same gleam in their eye. It is the gleam of a meathead bouncer just hoping that he’ll actually get to beat the life out of someone on the job that night. The cops always believe the bouncer and the judges always believe the cops.
There was another, more demonic aspect of the police’s demeanor too. They all looked as if they were holding in laughter, as if a peace march was a screen door on a submarine. With evil grins, the police looked around the crowd like parents watching their children put their teeth under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy. The naiveté of the protestors was cracking them up on the inside.
An Iraqi-American was walking down Hollywood Blvd making sure to keep his head low. I don’t blame him. He just wanted to walk down the street without being bothered, practically impossible in the middle of the ever-growing zoo. He almost made it until he caught the attention of two men wearing Jesus paraphernalia and misusing the English language through a megaphone. From behind a circle of police officers, these two Jesus geezers, in their fishing hats, shorts, and pulled-up knee socks, screamed all kinds of racial slurs and damnations at the protestors well before I showed up and long after I left. They might still be there beating their Bibles. I didn’t hear what they said but it must have gotten to the poor Iraqi man because he started screaming at them. His eyes welled up with tears and he began to storm away from them and toward the march. In his eyes lay all the hopelessness of the entire world. Every time anyone has thought that there was no hope left for a human society without oppression and violence was staring back at me in this man’s eyes. His eyes said to me, “People kill people, they always have and they always will. We kill to live, we’re locust.”
He next found himself surrounded by a bunch of guys wearing shirts that said “Iraq War Veterans for Peace.” These guys were the holy men of the entire event, the most credible and valuable pieces of the anti-war movement. If there were more Iraq War veterans trying to end the war, the anti-war movement would at least be taken seriously by more moderates. On top of being vets, two of the men were head organizers of the rally.
One of them looked the Iraqi man in the eyes and said, “I’m sorry.” The Iraqi, confused, tried to walk away but the soldier wouldn’t let him. He put his hand on the Iraqi man’s right shoulder and looked him dead in the eye again. “I’m sorry,” he said. Another soldier came in from the left and put his hand on the Iraqi man’s other shoulder. “I’m sorry too.” The Iraqi man burst into tears and the first vet pulled him in for a hug. As they hugged and cried, the soldier said to the man, “I didn’t know, we didn’t know. We’re sorry. We thought we were doing the right thing, we’re sorry.”
I don’t know what they saw during their time in the war that made them change from killing machines to liberal protest organizers but I thanked God right there that I hadn’t seen it.
Everyone around us was in awe of the beauty of this moment, it was the absolute definition of human interaction. These people dropped every social institution that they had been beaten with to understand that all men are created equal. The head vet kissed the man on the cheek and hugged him one more time.
When the Iraqi man turned around, he made eye contact with me again. The sadness was still in his eyes. It was in the eyes of all of the veterans too. That spindling snake that crawls up the back of your spine and tells you that no amount of marching is ever going to bring the troops home or fix the economy. Its venom is the notion that Western Civilization has become a dying offering of bread and circuses. That hopeless sadness hung somewhere in the eyes of just about everyone who stood in the chilly early afternoon air. He nodded to me as he walked away. I think my eyes must have looked back at his and said, “You’re right, humanity is rotten at the core. Unless people just like to be miserable.” It was that kind of nod.
The string of pre-march speeches had already begun by now and seemed to go on for days. Every cause that banded together for solidarity broadcast their division as well as they could. The socialists ran around handing out business cards and promoting their next town hall meeting while the anarchists handed out copies of Zeitgeist and Loose Change. The entire spectrum of the human experience was laid out on the boulevard like a deck of cards.
Ten o’clock, the platinum blonde bombshell FOX 11 news reporter with the orange bottle tan stands about an inch away from her gelled-up pick-up artist cameraman. Both of their faces look like catcher’s mitts doused in pancake makeup. In their own minds, they are on the homecoming float staring at the chess team, AV club, and mathletes. They stare at the protestors straight down their noses. They are on a trip to the zoo and nothing more.
One o’clock, another speech pops off. This is speech seven of thirteen.
Three o’clock, the Jesus geezers have engaged an older Baptist woman in a shouting match. They use an electronic megaphone to spread hate in the name of Jesus Christ. She uses her powerful lungs to scream Bible quotes.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the Earth.”
“Thou shall not kill.”
“Let ye without sin cast the first stone.”
One Jesus geezer tells the crowd that she is a “commie, socialist, United States of America-hating woman.”
He says, “If there’s one thing God hates, it’s a mouthy woman.”
Six, Seven, Two, Four, Five, Eleven, Twelve, Nine o’clock: police officer with riot gear attached to his/her belt stares me down like I am a criminal.
Eight o’clock, a man walks by with a jacket that reads, “Question wars, not warriors.” A girl hands him a postcard that asks, “If the education system was as well-funded as the military, would anyone join the military?”
Just out of my peripheral vision, the world is unraveling. There is a tiny conversation stabbing its way into my eardrum through the din, like a hot ice pick through pig fat. Three Marines have stumbled onto Hollywood Blvd in search of a little R and R before they ship off and instead found thousands of hippies preparing coffins for a march. They are just out of boot camp, whipped into a frenzy for weeks and ready to kill anything that they’re allowed to kill. These men are now soldiers even though they have not yet seen war. This is the most dangerous kind of soldier.
They were all of nineteen, some shit-kicking kids who signed their souls away to another recruiter with a Cadillac. I didn’t want to look directly at them. Making eye contact with an animal when it is enraged will only cause the animal to engage you directly. Just as the ringleader of the triumvirate seemed like he might start swinging at random 9-11 Truth people, the Iraq War vets who talked to the Iraqi-American man earlier stepped in again.
The three young leathernecks’ main complaint was that none of these protestors would ever put their own life on the line to protect their country. The vets promised that things had changed since the 60’s, no one would be yelling “baby killer,” no spitting on vets. Protest is patriotic too.
The leathernecks wouldn’t back off the issue. They did calm their tones in the presence of other enlisted men. When the vet asked who won the Vietnam War and one of the kids called it for the US, I had to stop listening.
I was taught from infancy that the Vietnam War was the biggest lie that the United States ever perpetrated. My father told me that he had friends dress as women, join the police department, and get married to stay out of Vietnam and they all got drafted anyway. Most of them died. Everyday they would show the death count on the evening news. Everyday he would come home from school and think there was a death sentence in his mailbox.
These kids think that we won the Vietnam War. Regardless of whether or not you can justify that pointless mess, there is no way you can say that we won. Find me South Vietnam on a map.
Kovic gave a decent speech, one of four good speeches given in a day that saw over 30 separate lectures. There were enough words spoken to lull a thousand high schools to sleep. People were exhausted before Kovic even started his speech, barely responding to his sing-along rendition of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance. When the best speech of the pre-march rally came from the mother of a soldier who called her with his gun in his mouth because he had killed so many innocent people, no one was even listening anymore.
We began to march west on Hollywood Blvd with a perimeter of police walking with us. There were twenty horse cops, a line of bike cops, and a golf cart mounted team of officers patrolling the rear of the main crowd. Up front was another line of bike cops leading a human wall of police officers who were walking backwards. If you got too close to the backwards-walking cops, they would yell at you to walk slower. About five people had police jumpers on with Video Unit patches on the back. They filming everyone right in the open. There were also ten cop cars on either side of the mob as well as cops and cars camping on every side street from Gower to Formosa.
Traffic had already been cleared along the entire route. It felt less like a protest and more like a parade. We were funneled down Cahuenga and onto Sunset to pass the CNN building. Everyone stopped to chant for a moment. “Stop the war, stop the war, stop the war.” The entire building had a shoulder-to-shoulder line of police officers just waiting for someone to breathe the wrong way. Their eyes were gleaming too.
No one even looked out the window.
I ran ahead of the mob as they walked back to Hollywood towards Highland. I wanted to see how people were reacting to the oncoming mob from down the street. After all, the whole point is to get people who aren’t actively trying to stop the war in on the fun. A woman stepped out of a beauty salon with tin foil in her hair. Her and several of her cackling friends smoked Virginia Slims and said things like, “the Sixties are over.” As the truck pulled up with twenty people on the back screaming chants into microphones, an old woman looked at the banner hanging on its side. The banner read, “Occupation is a crime.” Giant speakers blasted the piercing voice of a female who was dancing on the back of the flat bed.
“More money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation. We want money for schools and medication, not for war and occupation.”
Her record had been skipping to that tune for about six blocks now. The old woman looked at her husband as if she had just seen a rape.
“How obscene,” she said.
When the die-in started, huge speakers blasted the sounds of air raid sirens and explosions. All of the protestors lay down on the ground and pretended to be dead. It was beautiful. It looked like over a thousand people had been killed on Hollywood Blvd, exactly how it was supposed to look.
The tourist crowd was taking pictures of the die-in with the same soapbox grins that they had on when they took pictures of Batman. All of the costumed performers that are always working the Walk of Fame were out and staring as if aliens had landed. I’m not sure what the most captivating image was, the die-in itself or the scene of Shrek, Batman, Barney, and Jimi Hendrix standing side by side and watching the die-in as if they weren’t dressed like lunatics.
More chanting, more marching. The mob moves to Hollywood and La Brea to drop off the coffins at the steps of the Armed Forces Recruitment Center. The police are already there in full force and everything is already roped off. There are choppers everywhere. They took the most sacred part of the protest and ruined it. No one came out of the Armed Forces Recruitment Center to yell. The cops didn’t arrest anyone for littering. We were basically allowed to drop those coffins off. It was like a game of little league baseball where no one keeps score so everyone can win. A half hour after we left, another recruiter lied to an 18-year-old kid who didn’t have money to go to college.
Another mother of a soldier serving in Iraq gave a speech about her child. One of her children is in the war and the other already went and came home paralyzed. She wants the recruiters to be honest with the kids they’re dealing with. The recruiters always make military life look glamorous by lying their asses off. They got two of my friends like this. The recruiter showed up at our high school with a bunch of tattoos and a nipple piercing. He kept talking about all of the girls he had met while traveling the world and how once you get in you can get really drunk all of the time. The scumbags running my school actually took us all out of history class to have a talk with recruiters. Next thing I know, I have two friends in the Air National Guard.
A veteran of the Iraq War steps up to the podium. This is the same veteran who talked the three leathernecks down and who helped talk to the Iraqi man.
If no one talked all day except the two mothers and this vet, the day could have been saved. He was well-spoken and, most importantly, he had credentials. He told us that before he went to Iraq he was asleep. He thought that Iraq was full of terrorists who were trying to harm America and that joining the military was in his and his country’s best interest. He said Iraq was his wake up call. He saw children getting killed, men losing their minds, chaos everywhere. He realized that it was the United States that was terrorizing the people of Iraq. He called on the entire crowd to wake up. He screamed it at the top of his lungs into the microphone. Right there, it happened again. It was beautiful.
After his speech was over, it was like the end of awkward sex with everyone putting their clothes back on and running out the door. No one even tried to stick around past the permitted protest time. Nobody mentioned that the government printed a trillion dollars the day before. There are 400 American citizens living in a tent city outside of Sacramento because of the economy while companies are getting bailed out. No one mentioned that either.
The war didn’t stop. There are still 17,000 new troops going to Afghanistan. It seemed like all that noise was for nothing, like no amount of rallies can ever stop rich people from throwing poor people into combat situations. It has been happening since we came out of the caves.
My generation is jaded. We know that the politicians are lying to us about the war. We also know that even Woodstock didn’t stop Nixon from bombing Cambodia. We know that Jerry Rubin became a yuppie and that Martin Luther King Jr., RFK, and Malcolm X all got shot for trying to change the world. Many people in my generation believe that humanity is already doomed by its own presets to rape the Earth and destroy itself.
Are we doomed? The one thing that the March for Peace of March 21, 2009 did prove was that no movement can gain strength without leadership. If there was one person with great oratory skills up there making good points instead of thirty people mumbling maybe there would have been a bigger impact. Or if all of the banners read “End Occupation” instead of each cause bringing their own cause’s banner. It seemed like it might have been more effective if we had gotten permits to march down Hollywood Blvd and then ran down to Sunset. When the march ended, not one protestor refused to exit the middle of Hollywood Blvd. Some people will tell you that the only way to bring the power back to the people is to throw bodies at the situation. Throughout history, major transfers of power have always been accompanied by intense periods of violence.
Other people will tell you to stop buying things, stop paying taxes, stop voting, just drop right off the grid and the map. Thoreau said, “That government is best which governs not at all; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”
You must remember that civilization is a relatively new experiment. It’s only been ten thousand years, compared to 5 billion years of Earth. Maybe the experiment of animals living in civilizations is a failure. After watching the Soviet Union and now the United States of America fall apart, it seems clear that neither socialism nor capitalism work on a long scale. History is constantly showing us that once humanity extends beyond a tribal level, things fall apart exponentially.
The one constant in the entire random mess is that simple fact that no single human being can ever be doomed. Humanity as we know it can be doomed, civilization can be doomed, even the planet itself can be doomed but that doesn’t have anything to do with the individual human being. Like all life in the universe, the human being will go on and forge through any obstacle that time lays before it. Along the way, the wrapper may change but at the core there will always be the undying flame of the human spirit that refuses to die and refuses to go quietly into martial law and concentration camps.
If someone can figure out how to harness the renewable energy of the human spirit for the betterment of society on all levels, we might just have a shot. Waiting for the Starting Gun, Hollywood and Vine
Peaceful Jesus vs. Militant Jesus, Hollywood and Vine
Orwell Was Right, Hollywood and Vine
The March Begins, Hollywood and Ivar
The War Comes Home, marching down Cahuenga towards the CNN building on Sunset
The Apex, in front of the CNN building, Sunset Blvd
Message for Anderson Cooper, Sunset and Cahuenga
The Die-In, Hollywood and Highland
Death in Hollywood, Hollywood and Highland
Rolling, Hollywood and Highland
Power to the People, Hollywood and Highland
Occupation is a Crime, Hollywood and Highland
Give Peace a Chance, Armed Forces Recruitment Center at Hollywood and La Brea
The Statement, Armed Forces Recruitment Center at Hollywood and La Brea
To the War Machine, Armed Forces Recruitment Center at Hollywood and La Brea
Eagle Eye, Armed Forces Recruitment Center at Hollywood and La Brea
The Final Speech, Armed Forces Recruitment Center at Hollywood and La Brea