WASHINGTON -- Emerging from the Metro station onto the National Mall Saturday morning, I saw a beautiful movement to right a vast wrong. Protesters of every age, race, and nationality stood together as one. Their songs were full of joy and their steps punctuated with righteous indignation. They cheerfully exhorted passersby, who joined the cause, impassioned by the spectacle before them. In that moment it seemed a great evil could be vanquished, and truth prevail.
The seeds of Utopia took root. The sun shone down. Oh yeah, and a bunch of dirty hippies and black-masked anarchists were holding their own pow-wow across the way.
My cold skeptic's heart was on the verge of melting until I realized I'd stumbled into the Walk Against Diabetes, not the much ballyhooed war protest held in the capital of the American Imperial Empire on the same day. Up until this point I'd always had a "hate the disease, love the candy bar" philosophy with regard to diabetes. But the marchers won me over with focused, intelligent arguments, and the passion of recent converts.
I arrived at the anti-war rally primed for discourse, but, sadly, it came up short. The whole affair was a bit regressive, like the second season of "Joe Millionaire" or "The Bachelor." Sure, there's still an audience for it, but it isn't nearly as vast as it once was. The sensationalism is gone, the novelty worn thin. I had the feeling that an opportunity to accomplish something truly great had been wasted: At the height of the march around the White House I was convinced that if someone called in the Guinness Book of World Records people, they could have verified the biggest hackeysack circle in the history of mankind.
The protest organizers, led by ANSWER, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, was undeterred by the underwhelming turnout at this rally. "The movement has gotten a very big gust of wind in its sails at the very moment that the Bush administration is slipping in the polls," ANSWER Chairman Brian Becker optimistically opined.
Now, there are many cogent, logical arguments that can be made against the war. Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak, and other conservatives made these eloquently throughout the run-up to the recent fracas in Iraq. But can you imagine ANSWER getting into bed with any of those guys? Indeed, an entire gaggle of protesters walked by with signs that read, "Stop Terrorism: Deport Republicans."
ANSWERites have embraced an over-hyped, Stalinist, and sometimes silly approach to the anti-war cause. The plethora of Kucinich for President placards and buttons on hand at the rally was one strong indicator that they were out of touch with mainstream America. Kucinich is running at less than one percent in national polls, which, considering the margin of error, means he has captured the imagination of anywhere between three and negative-three percent of the American people.
Another signal was the abundance of Palestinian flags and similar symbols. Many protesters wore red and green scarves with the Arabic script across the bottom. Until this rally, I had only seen them in martyrdom videos that make the news from time to time.
Maybe we're just dealing with the vanguard of the party here, but if this is the vanguard, I'd hate to meet their proletariat. ANSWER's platform is a confusing mess which was echoed by the chanting crowd. Protesters called for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and for the immediate withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq. Not exactly the most humanitarian or realistic approach, given the circumstances, but an understandable position. However, rolled up in the war protest was a potpourri of strange causes. Here's a smattering of slogans from the rally (all caps and lowercase in originals):
"End Oppressive Schools: Youth Shouldn't be a Prison."
"F--- Bush: Deport me to Amsterdam."
"Defend North Korea, Cuba, and China."
"End Imperialist Occupation of Puerto Rico."
Some of the groups taking to the streets included the Raging Grannies, a group of older women who sing anti-Bush folk songs; the cross dressing Universal Women's Peace Organization; and four dogs with a sign that read "Barking for Peace."
Sure, there were more serious people on hand -- namely, veterans and those who, sadly, have lost loved ones in Iraq. One can appreciate their sacrifice and loss. But they were certainly a minority. And while there was much lip service for "patriotic dissent," the few hundred pro-American counter marchers provided the only truly challenging rhetoric of the day. Organized by the Free Republic and ProtestWarrior.com, much of the true blue contingent hitched rides to the protests on ANSWER buses by posing as revolutionaries.
The anti-protesters carried signs with slogans such as, "We Gave Peace a Chance, and We Got 9/11" and "End Arab Occupation of Jewish Land." For their troubles they faced a near media blackout, were threatened and harangued by the pacifists, and their porta-toilets were stopped up several times by activists.
I don't mean to underplay the entertainment value of Saturday's protest: It beat any number of new movies hands down. But if the anti-war movement continues to be spoken for by muddle-headed Stalinists, it may suffer some blowback of its own. If a vote for Bush becomes a vote against the dread-locked girl in a ripped tank-top that reads, "Bleed Capitalist Pigs," it isn't even going to be a close call.
Shawn Macomber is an intern at The American Spectator. He runs the website Return of the Primitive.