WASHINGTON, D.C.It struck again. That never-ending deception of how many people are at a protest rally. Is it a media conspiracy that the numbers reported are always inexplicably low? If you were among the quarter- to half-million people who marched Saturday through the cold streets of the nation's capital to protest the president's war plans, you might wonder where the bizarre number 30,000 came from.
That was the figure many newspapers--including The News & Observer--cited in Sunday editions as the number of people who marched that afternoon to the Washington Navy Yard. The N&O, in a story compiled from wire service reports, reported the morning rally contained "thunderous numbers" (that's one way to confuse the issue; modify a noun with an incongruous adjective) and said in a subhead that "tens of thousands" were present.
The N&O was just as bad reporting on the local anti-war rally in Durham, where presumably it did have reporters. It said there were 350 protesters, while the Herald-Sun was much closer to accurate, saying there were more than 1,000. One curious participant at the Durham rally did what a reporter should have done--measured the length of the protest, counted the depth of protesters, and come up with a count--more than 1,100 people.
The Washington Post got the Washington rally right, calling Saturday's march the largest in D.C. since the Vietnam era. The Post also reported that 30,000 was an arbitrary number listed on some permit applications--not an official count. In fact, there was no official count, but the Post also noted correctly that the march route from the mall to the Navy Yard--an hour walk--was a solid line of people. Marchers were still leaving the mall by the time the lead marchers reached the Navy Yard, the Post reported.
The point of it all: The anti-war movement building in this country is starting to be a force the Bush administration will have to reckon with as it plans for an invasion of Iraq. The silent peaceniks--the ones who have been in hibernation since the Vietnam War or the anti-nuclear protests in the 1980s --are back in the streets. Unlike Vietnam, the forces of opposition are already in place before the war begins in earnest.
I traveled to D.C. for the protest with Raleigh mother Liz Hubbe and five girls--all 14 and under. The so-called war on terrorism, and President Bush's threats to wage unilateral war has brought Hubbe back into action for the first time since the 1980s.
Last Friday, Hubbe, a mother of two teenagers, loaded up her minivan with backpacks, hand-lettered placards and sleeping bags, set the cruise control on 80, filled the CD player with peace tunes and headed for D.C. to add another mother's voice for peace.
In the van were three eighth graders from Exploris Middle School, a charter school in downtown Raleigh. The trio of girls--Marietta Stewart, Mary Owen and Gerilyn Hubbe--are members of United For Peace, a student group that focuses on justice and peace issues. Liz Hubbe said she hoped the experience would help the girls develop a social and political consciousness.
"There are so many people who don't ever develop a social or political consciousness their whole lives," she said.
Hubbe's efforts seem to have made an impression on her daughter, Gerilyn. In an interview with Free Speech Television, the 14-year-old said, "Definitely," when she was asked if the people had the power to stop Bush's march to war with Iraq.
Gerilyn, a petite blond-haired girl with a soft voice, used a whistle to make noise on the march. Her favorite chant, she told the interviewer was: "There ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop."
"It's really true, because we don't stop," Gerilyn said. "We keep going to all these protests, and we're not going to stop until the war ends. We're going to keep going until this violence stops."
With Bush's rhetoric about eternal wars and nuclear brinkmanship, Liz Hubbe says she's feeling a sense of urgency that she didn't feel during the Cold War years of Ronald Reagan. Attacking Iraq could be "a catalyst for something way beyond our imaginations," she said. "And I don't want to see that kind of war coming on this earth."
The rally on the mall featured lots of big names including Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Ramsey Clark and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, but it was Elizabeth McAlister, the widow of Philip Berrigan, who may have given the best summation of U.S. policy under Bush: "We live in a country whose government seeks to dominate, master and control all of creation," McAlister said.
Also on the streets marching was longtime UAW man Duane Adkinson of Garner. Adkinson, 67, spent 40 years in Detroit working for Ford. A lifelong Democrat, Adkinson is a newcomer to the peace movement. He was among a group that boarded a bus that left Raleigh at 4 a.m. Saturday to travel to the demonstration.
A supporter of John Edwards' Senate run, Adkinson says he's now "completely disillusioned" with Edwards and the Democrats. "They all go along with Bush," he said.
Adkinson says he's cynical, and the 2002 midterm election made matters worse.
"The last election really disheartened me," he said. "I thought more people felt like I did, and I was just really amazed at how many people who would go along with Bush in this unjust war. We're not under attack. There's no reason for it. Never before have we done anything like this. Pre-emptive war is a whole new policy, completely alien to anything this county's ever done."
Chapel Hill activist Dennis Markatos was less cynical. Surrounded by thousands of people near the end of Saturday's march, Markatos was smiling as he walked with a large contingent of Triangle folks who brought along a large state flag to identify themselves.
"I think the tide is turning," Markatos yelled, his voice competing with megaphones and drums. "We can prevent a war."
The best placard seen in D.C. included a picture of Bush and the caption: "Why should I care if the people don't want war. It's not like they elected me."