They came, as one participant said, to support freedom of the press, to express solidarity with Denmark, and for the prospect of free herring.
In one of the few U.S. rallies to date to demonstrate support for the Danish people since a dozen cartoons in one of their daily newspapers became the pretext for weeks of riots in the Middle East and bounties on the cartoonists’ heads, perhaps a hundred people stood outside the Danish embassy in Washington, D.C. Friday.
They waved flags, ate Danish pastries, chanted pro-Denmark slogans, and held signs aloft with slogans like “We are all Danes now,” “Submit to Havarti,” and “Kierkegaard Rules!” Another held aloft a sign that said “Free Speech” written in Legos.
“My children helped me with it,” its owner said.
While it didn’t match the size of the mobs in the Middle East — for one thing, this particular rally lacked any government’s backing — those who did show up did manage to get their point across cheerfully and peacefully.
Several flew in just for the event, including one fellow from California. It was invigorating for those itching to do something in response to the uproar over the cartoons.
“I studied in Denmark. I still have friends there,” said Jonathan Shore, who wore a Danish Flag as a cape and a Carlsberg T-shirt to the event. “They’re all shocked by what’s happened. 100% shocked… They’ll be especially happy to see something like this.”
Signe Wilkinson, an editorial cartoonist with Philadelphia Daily News, said she came to express solidarity with her fellow cartoonists.
“I just want the right to draw what I want,” she said.
As one participant noted, it was all done without burning down a single embassy or causing anybody’s death, so the day could be considered a success.
The event was organized and hosted by writer and professional “contrarian” Christopher Hitchens, who called the uproar over the cartoons, “The worst possible collusion between dictatorship and mob rule.”
He first announced it in a Slate.com column just three days before. Conservative and libertarian bloggers helped to spread the word. Not a bad turnout all things considered, he said.
“It’s a citizen’s initiative for Denmark, our ally, a democracy, a fellow member of NATO who was kind enough to send troops into Afghanistan and Iraq that has been disowned by our craven, pathetic State Department, which rather than denounce outrageous violations of diplomatic immunity, which is its job, comments on the cartoons in a paper in Copenhagen, which is not its job,” Hitchens said. Karen Hughes, he added, should resign.
Asked if he thought the event would cause the White House and the State Department to “alter its thinking” on the matter of the cartoons, Hitchens pounced on the interviewer.
“Alter its what? Thinking? I thought that’s what you said. Well, I don’t understand the question,” he said.
What he hoped rather was that the event inspired others people to hold similar rallies. At the very least, they should consider ordering a Carlsberg the next time they belly up to the bar. Addressing the crowd, he thanked his “comrades” for coming out, called for “Solidarity with Denmark, death to fascism,” and then said he’d promised the embassy they’d all clear out by 1 p.m. Hitchens then went off to lunch.
There was no word from the Danish Embassy — a few diplomats drove in and out during the rally but it wasn’t even clear if they waved — but Danish media was there, so at least the folks back home saw it.
The other question was, will this get noticed in the Middle East? Hitchens was pessimistic on that possibility. “Well, I very much doubt this is going to be on Syrian TV,” he said.
Writer Andrew Sullivan, who appeared, albeit a bit late, struck a more hopeful note.
“The great thing is people in the Middle East aren’t restricted to mainstream media anymore either,” he said. “They have the Internet access and they can also see these things. A tree falls in the forest now and it gets blogged.”