President George W. Bush
has done wonders for the activist movement. Since he was elected (selected?),
folks have poured out onto the streets in protest. Protest of what? Just
about everything. But it is his decision to attack Iraq preemptively that
has really put the anti-war movement on the map. We're now seeing high
school students, retirees, lawyers, housewives, secretaries, teachers,
union auto workers, truck drivers, civic leaders, nurses, the unemployed,
university professors, CPAs, mechanics, politicians, young families--just
about everybody except Bush's inner circle--out on the streets saying NO
WAR ON IRAQ!...NO BLOOD FOR OIL! I personally have received countless emails
from visitors to my web site asking for advice on how, when, where to join
a protest demonstration against this war. For that reason, I have decided
to put up a simple "Activism 101" web page that would, hopefully, help
newcomers to the movement feel comfortable when they attend their first
anti-war demonstration. I will present it in a Q & A format. If you
have a question that I didn't think of, please email
me and I'll add it...if I know the answer, that is!
1. How do I find out when and where an anti-war demonstration is going to be held?
This might be the trickiest
question of all. For those of us who have been active in the movement for
years, we are on so many political listserves and have so many activist
friends that it would be hard to plan an event without our hearing about
it. But I have some ideas. You can do a Google search online and
type in "anti-war demonstrations--your city." You can go to a local coffeehouse
or food co-op and look at the fliers posted there. Your local bookstore
might be another resource for such information. Hey, even the newspaper
might give you advance warning of an upcoming anti-war event. You can call
their city desk and ask. If you live near a college or university, go to
the student union and check out their bulletin boards. Or call the university
switchboard and ask for the names and contact information of student political
organizations. Often the best idea is simply to ask around. You might be
surprised at who knows where anti-war demos are going to happen. Once you
get to your first demo, ask who organized it and let them know you want
to receive notice of future demonstrations, teach-ins and meetings. Of
course, the best way to know what's going on is to join the planning committee
yourself, but that might come later.
2. Can I go by myself or do I need to hook up with a group?
Of course, it'll be easier
to go with a friend or in a group, but maybe you don't know anyone else
who is ready to walk this path. I went to my first demo by myself and I'll
ever forget it. It was the spring of 1988 and the demonstration was being
held to protest US aggression and funding/training of the Contras in Nicaragua.
It was held at Detroit's Federal Building downtown, that, of course, I
had never been to before. It was scheduled to start at noon and parking
was a real problem. I finally found a place on the street several blocks
away and arrived late. When I got there, it felt as though I were
walking into a country that had an unfamiliar language and culture. And
it looked like everyone but me knew what was expected. They marched in
a circle like dancers who had long practiced together. Folks kept saying
"hi" to each other as though they were all members of one family. Do you
know that feeling? But people were friendly enough and smiled at me as
I marched with my sign. It went on until it was done, and again everyone
else knew when that was. Not me--I kept on marching in a circle until I
looked around and saw there were only a few of us left. It is because of
that experience that I'm writing this 15 years later. I would have loved
to have had some idea of what to expect before I got there. Hopefully,
that is what I will give you here.
3. Should I bring my own sign, and, if so, how do I make it and what should it say?
It's almost always a good idea
to bring your own sign, but don't let it stop you if you don't have time
to make one. Often there will be a pile of pre-made signs that you can
use. Just be sure to give them back before you leave. It's very easy to
make a sign. A large black magic marker is the best thing to write with,
and you can use the side of a cardboard box, or the poster board that is
sold at the drugstore for the sign itself. I recommend writing your message
first in pencil before going over it in marker. I can't tell you how many
times I've either misspelled a word or ended up at the edge with more letters
than I could fit in! Not fun if you've already written it in permanent
magic marker. In terms of your message, keep it short and punchy. I've
seen so many beautiful signs that no one could read because there were
too many words. The point is for folks driving by in cars to be able to
read your sign. A limit of six words is best if you can do it. At recent
demos I've seen lots signs that say No Blood For Oil, No War!, Not In My
Name, Regime Change Begins At Home. You don't need to be an artist, just
make it easy to read. You can either carry your sign in your hands, or
attach it to a stick (a wooden yardstick works well). If you put it on
a stick, it's cool to have two signs, front and back. To attach it, you
can use a staple gun or tiny nails. Some people have their signs laminated
in case of rain or snow. But that's only if you want to use it again.
4. What if I have to come late and/or leave early?
Just come late and leave early.
No one keeps track of who comes on time or stays until the end. It's a
pretty free flowing crowd.
5. How should I dress?
Comfortable shoes and/or boots
to start. Remember, you're going to be on your feet the whole time. Occasionally
there are benches nearby, but not always. If it's winter, dress very,
very warmly. Lots of layers, several pairs of socks, a couple pairs of
mittens or gloves, but mittens are best. A hat, even if you never wear
hats, and a muffler tied around your neck. On January 18, 2003 in Washington,
DC when the thermometer never got above +24º F, lots of us stayed
toasty with hand and boot warmers, the best invention since the toothbrush.
They are small plastic packets of iron and other heat generating chemicals
that you place on your palms between two pairs of mittens and under your
toes between your socks and boots. My friends bought them at a sports store
and a large retail outlet. If it looks like rain, bring a poncho or plastic
raincoat and hat. By the way, demos go on no matter what
Definitely not for the faint-of-heart. If you bring an umbrella, remember
you'll be carrying your sign too. If it's hot, please, please, please wear
sunblock and a hat. An activist's sunburn may look cute but it doesn't
feel very good.
6. What about bathrooms?
Ah yes, the call of nature.
Well. This is definitely an issue and one that can be of great concern
to an activist. If it's a mammoth march like the national ones in Washington,
DC, San Francisco or New York City, they usually have porta-potties. But
never enough. I wear Depends diapers anyway because of my disability, so
I'm OK, but for you able-bodied folks things can get a bit chancy. Actually,
my able-bodied friend borrowed one of my adult diapers for the Washington,
DC march on January 18, and even though she didn't end up needing to use
it, she said it gave her great comfort. You can certainly take preventive
measures like no coffee or tea ahead of time, no pop or any other liquid
that you know has a short-term rental. But if you take little water on
the day of the demonstration, be sure to drink lots the day before and
the day after. Don't want anyone to get dehydrated on my advice! By the
way, nearby restaurants, shops and even the building in front of which
you're marching, might have bathrooms you can use...but not always. Yes,
a good strong bladder is an activist's friend!
7. Am I going to be arrested, pelted with tear gas and pepper spray? Am I doing anything illegal?
Of course, there are no guarantees
of anything in life, but it's pretty unlikely that you will be arrested
or attacked by the police unless you consciously choose to put yourself
in a situation where it might happen. Usually, arrests are made of people
who are committing civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the nonviolent
resistance technique used by persons like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,
Jr. and Gandhi. In our movement, anyone who chooses civil disobedience
has been trained for it ahead of time, and are members of an affinity group
that will decide things by consensus and support one another in any action
that is taken. It is also called "direct action." Those who are planning
to perform such actions have their own place in the demonstration. You
will not "get caught" in such an action unless you choose to stay with
those who are putting themselves on the line in this way. At least for
now, anti-war demonstrations are legal and safe. It's when activism gets
into the global justice arena--or what the media call anti-globalization
protests--that "security" forces can look pretty damn scary and be very
unpredictable. Especially if delegates to the WTO or G8 or the World Bank
are in town, then things can go bad very quickly. There are a lot of tales
of terror told by activists who got caught during such protests, even if
they were not planning civil disobedience or were nowhere near the "action."
But, as I say, anti-war demos are even safe for the kids. Lots of parents
bring their little ones along. In most cases, the organizers have gotten
a permit for the march and rally, meaning we often march in the street
with police holding up the traffic for us. Sometimes it isn't possible
to get a permit ahead of time, in which case, you will be clearly instructed
where to walk and where not to walk. Even then, you're not doing anything
8. What's the difference between a demonstration, a rally, a march and a picket line?
As I use the word, "demonstration"
is a generic term to describe any gathering of persons with a shared message
to proclaim. At a "rally", people are asked to stand around a platform
or spot on the sidewalk where speakers, singers and such are going to use
either a microphone or a bullhorn to say or sing their message of solidarity.
By the way, "solidarity" means to be together as one. A "march" is when
you physically walk either in a circle or from one place to another. Usually
marchers carry signs and banners and chant slogans as they march. A picket
line is a union action designed to shut down the work of the company or
business by standing at the entrances holding signs and not letting workers
9. Should I go to an anti-war rally or march that is organized by a group that holds political beliefs different from my own?
This can be a stumbling block
for a lot of folks, but it isn't one that really concerns me. If we agree
on the main purpose of the rally/march--ie., no war on Iraq--I'm happy
to join with almost anyone. I mean, of course, anyone who is respectful
of differences and not using this demonstration as a platform to proselytize
their own personal ideology. You'll need to use your own judgment here,
but figure it this way: you can try it and if they go off the deep end,
you can always leave.
10. Does this kind of demonstrating make any difference in the long run?
Oh, I was afraid you were going
to ask me that! You mean, will George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld
change their minds and not attack Iraq because I and 500,000 other folks
travelled hundreds, and in many cases, thousands of miles, to freeze our
tails off on the streets of Washington, DC on January 18 as we cried out
in the loudest voices we could muster: NO WAR ON IRAQ!!! Will our cry be
heard and acted upon? Who knows. But if I got out there on the streets
only when I thought my doing so would change the outcome of things, I would
have stopped doing this long ago. I get out there because I HAVE to. Within
myself, I must know that I have done everything in my power to bring
peace and justice to the world. I wouldn't be able to live with myself
otherwise, especially when those bombs start raining down on the people
of Baghdad. IF they rain down on the people of Baghdad. ( This is being
written on January 26, 2003). I am responsible for my own attitudes and
actions and George, Dick and Donald are responsible for theirs. I cannot
make the decision for them any more than they can make it for me. But I
sure can stand strong and say what I need to say. And that is why
I'm out there.
©2003 Patricia Lay-Dorsey. Please use with attribution.
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