A Gathering Of Eagles
Congress shall make no law respecting Ö the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
- 1st Amendment to the US Constitution
I was part of the Code Pink / ANSWER Coalition demonstration, and the Gathering of Eagles counter-demonstration in Washington DC on 15-Sep-2007, and it was a lot of fun.
My wife and I joined the Gathering of Eagles group on the Mall at 9AM, and listened to speakers and singers until around noon. There were approximately 1000 people there, many of whom were previous or current military, the parents and siblings of people currently serving in one of the military branches, plus a lot of college age and slightly older people, with a good mix of ages.
There were lots of signs supporting the troops and their mission:
and there were a fair number of signs saying unkind things about the Pink/ANSWER people:
There were several interesting things which struck me about the Gathering of Eagles rally. For one thing, people were giving away lots of stuff. My wife was handed a t-shirt saying "These colors donít run" with an American flag, the singers gave away CDís with their patriotic songs, people were all over the place giving out water, and if anyone wasnít holding an American flag they had several groups coming over to them offering to give them one. Several of the groups were accepting donations, but the money was all to be donated to active military troop organizations such as "Adopt A Platoon" or a group which supplies (for free to any soldierís whose parents or spouses request it) a different type of helmet liner to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq which increases their safety and comfort, etc. Nobody was charging for anything.
Many of the speakers were either military people who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq, or the parents and/or siblings of people who were or had served. Some of the stories were just chilling and incredibly inspiring. One of the women had what I think was the best line of the day, describing how her son was killed in Iraq by an IED: "God chose to re-deploy my son to Heaven". Duncan Hunter (Republican candidate for President) also spoke at the rally.
At noon, everybody moved over to 12th Street NW and Pennsylvania Ave, and lined the street where the Pink/ANSWER march was held as they moved from their rally at the White House to their "die-in" at the Capitol building.
I didnít see the Pink/ANSWER rally, so I canít comment on it. But the one thing that was obvious was that there were **MANY** more people marching than there were lining the street: I guess-timate that we were out-numbered by at least 10-1, probably more.
The Code Pink women started off the march:
And they were followed the rest of the people:
Signs I saw relating to the war in the Pink/ANSWER march include:
which is a new record, since the talking points by Sean Penn and others usually tops out at 400,000Ö :^)
But it was an equal opportunity march, as many other groups were represented by signs having nothing to do with the war:
I have absolutely no idea what that large red thing is, but it took over a dozen people to push it along...
There was a fair amount of (how should I put this?) "interaction" between the marchers and the counter-demonstrators. While we were waiting for the march to start, a 16 year old girl walked by with her parents, and when she saw my wife wearing a shirt with "Pray for our country" under the American flag, she flipped us the bird, *in front of her parents*! They saw it and didnít react one way or the other, even when my wife called out "God bless you" to all of them.
And I thought some of the people who lined the march went too far when they called the marchers "traitors". I did observe one case where a marcher yelled at a middle-age woman who was on the sidewalk "If you like the war so much, why arenít you in Iraq?". The woman yelled back "My husband and son *are* in Iraq right now". The marcher stopped for a second, but asked "Yeah, but why arenít *YOU* in Iraq?" which makes absolutely no sense, and the marcher should have known when to shut up.
The other interaction I noticed was that there were people walking along with the marchers who were offering to sell the counter-demonstrators some of the material from the march, including "Stop the war" t-shirts ($10) and signs ($5).
On of the things that struck me was the lack of diversity in ages in the Pink/ANSWER group. There were either college age people, or aging hippies, with practically no people in the middle.
The marchers did a fair amount of chanting, which I found sad: these guys seriously need to get some new material:
of which only the last one is a new slogan. Either the aging hippies were in charge of teaching the college kids some chants, or the kids really liked what they saw in their history classes about the Ď60sÖ
I really appreciated one of the clearest expressions of the differences between the two groups, in this bus which had been decorated for the march:
San Francisco Values indeed!
The hippy types looked really angry and really committed to their position, which hasnít changed in the last 40 years. On the other hand, the college age people looked like they were having a very good time, with little or no relation to the march itself. Yes, they were chanting, and I am sure that many of them really do oppose the war, but it really looked to me like this was a social event for them. Hey, a chance to go out with a bunch of their friends, get the chance to meet thousands of new people (aka, the opposite sex), protest against the government, support a trendy position: sounds like a lot of fun! Iím sure that many of the people do agree with what they were chanting, but I have to wonder how much this level of commitment lasts after they go homeÖ
The most interesting contrast between the two groups was the American flag. The flag was *everywhere* in the Gathering of Eagles counter-demonstration (on sticks, on poles, on t-shirts, etc), and I would say that more than 90% of the people lining the march were holding a flag. Except for the above bus which did not take part in the demonstration or the march, for the Pink/ANSWER side I saw precisely one American flag in the entire march of >10 times as many people, and it was hung up-side down, which I interpreted as showing something less than respect (ie, contempt) for the flag. Is it possible to surmise the groupís different methods of displaying the flag to those peopleís different attitudes toward the country it represents? I donít know for sure, but strictly in my opinion I think I can make that supposition, which makes me really sad.
The Capitol police did a really good job. They responded well to the few Pink/ANSWER protesters who attempted to disrupt the Gathering of Eagles rally (and I assume that they were protecting the Pink/ANSWER rally the same way, but since I wasnít there I canít comment on that), and they were right on the ball when the "interaction" between the marchers and the people on the sidewalks got a little intense. It wasnít anything forceful, more like shifting their position lining the march to get between two people who both should have dialed it down and cut each other some slack, but it was clear that the police were ready to do what needed to be done to protect both sides. Kudos all around!
One really positive thing was the broadcast press coverage that I saw. The local news stations gave balanced coverage showing interviews with both the demonstrators and the counter-demonstrators (they did give more time to the demonstrators, but this is not unreasonable given the disparity in the numbers of people in both groups), and mentioned both sides and their points. Even CNN did a fair story, including an interview with two mothers who each have a Marine son in Iraq, but who have totally different attitudes toward the war and the mission. Good job, guys, keep it up!
The print coverage was less balanced but still not bad. The AP report estimated 100,000 Pink/ANSWER people (even though they acknowledged that this number came from the Pink/ANSWER people and could not be confirmed), which is ridiculous: we were out-numbered by more than 10 to 1, but 100 to 1 is completely unrealistic.
The weather totally cooperated. It started about 68 F and warmed up to about 72 F, under a brilliant clear blue sky with a mild breeze, really outstanding conditions. And I love wandering around the Mall and seeing the Capitol and the Washington Monument. At one point I went to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall and passed by the WWII Memorial, which I had previously visited with my WWII veteran father when it was initially opened. We could not have asked for a more perfect day for these rallies.
I am glad that we went. It totally points out how ridiculous the accusations of fascism and tyranny are, when you have thousands of people wandering down the main street of the nations capital holding signs calling for the impeachment of the political leadership in the nastiest possible way, and they are being *protected* by the authorities instead of being "disappeared", the way they would be under the Taliban or Che or Chavez or Castro or any of the other leaders who are revered by the anti-war protesters. The Bill of Rights works well, allowing both sides to express themselves freely, even to step over the line into insults and obscenity at times, and thatís a good thing. I love this country!