April 20, Washington, D.C. — Normally I try to avoid large public demonstrations on Hitler’s birthday, but ostensibly that’s not what this one is about — the anti-globalization protests in April are practically becoming an annual event in Washington. But I’m guessing that in previous years there were not large numbers of people holding signs and flags with swastikas on them.
This year with the war on terrorism in full swing, the anti-globalization movement has made some strange bedfellows. In addition to the “Mobilization for Global Justice Rally,” “United We March for Peace and Justice,” and the “International Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.)” coalition, the “Palestinian Solidarity March” has been added to the docket. As thousands of demonstrators converge on Freedom Plaza to make the final march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, a quick survey of the crowd reveals that the most popular sign is the blue and white Israeli flag, only the Star of David has been replaced with the aforementioned swastika.
But even for the other groups at the March who believe in the Palestinian cause, it’s hard not to believe that they don’t find the swastika hyperbolic and offensive. Of course that’s not the least of it. A man is holding his child with one hand and sign that reads “Sharon Can’t Live Without Drinking Blood: VAMPIRE” with the other. It’s especially ludicrous that he’s repeating this old racist libel, marching 50 paces ahead of a large group of people holding a 30-foot banner that reads “Jews Against the Occupation” — one of several Jewish anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian groups in attendance at the march.
Similarly I wonder how the aging hippies and hordes of college students holding signs that say “World Peace” and “Stop the Violence Now” feel about showing solidarity with Palestinians holding signs that say “God Bless Hezbollah” and keep cadence by chanting “Viva Viva Intifada.” (Such is the state of multiculturalism, that people now call for violence simultaneously in two different languages.) And once I hit double digits, I stopped counting the number of signs that spelled “Israel” wrong.
Yet, give the Palestinians their due: while they may not have produced the numbers of the pro-Israel rally the previous Monday they are nothing if not committed. As for the rest of the anti-globalization crowd, they’re committed as well (40 of them were arrested for blocking traffic the night before), but what they’re committed to is hard to tell. A running tally of what they’re marching for: Reforming the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization, the U.S. Navy out of Vieques, legalizing marijuana, striking factory workers in Ohio, Free Tibet, Animal Rights, protecting old growth forests, stopping the war, Coca-Cola’s treatment of workers in Africa, Third World debt, Marxism-Leninism and, hand-to-god, one marcher is wearing a T-shirt that says, “The English System of measurement sucks. Go metric now!”
Desperate for anyone that can explain this hellbroth of ideals, I turn to one last remaining cause: The anarchists. Dressed in all black with jackboots and bandannas covering their faces, they’re more conspicuous than they realize. I approach one who can’t be over 20 years old, wearing an “Anti-Flag” T-Shirt, the name of a punk rock band with radical politics. He won’t give me his name.
I recite the laundry list of causes I’ve seen that day and ask him: Do you believe in any of these causes? All of them? Or because you are an anarchist, is this exactly the kind of random, shapeless dissent you want?
He pauses for a second and responds with a resounding “F—K You,” and walks away. I look up at the sky, which is now the color of old dimes — it’s quite literally threatening to rain on this parade. I tuck my notebook into my pocket and head home, realizing this kid has just given me a better explanation than I ever could have hoped for.
Mark Hemingway is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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