This piece is reposted from circus68.org
On March 19th I headed down to Washington DC to participate in protests against the United States occupation of Iraq. It was a beautiful thing to see so many people of different races, ethnicities, ages and walks of life, all standing together in solidarity to demonstrate against such an unjust and atrocious act of war. As we marched down the street, we were cheered on by nearly everyone whose periphery we happened to pass through: People yelling while waiting for the bus, people clapping from their office windows, everyone. Over the course of the day, the message became clear: Although not everyone was able or interested in protesting, the people were united against the war.
I will say that contrary to most media reports of arrests and police brutality, law enforcement acted in a way which was, for the most part, sympathetic to our cause. On our early morning march, we had a police motorcycle brigade escorting us and blocking traffic.
Along the march down K street we met up with Funk The War, a dance party protest, organized by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As we approached the students of SDS had already overtaken, and were occupying, the main intersection of K street and 17th. The purpose was to act out, in civil disobedience, against the war by dancing in the street where it impeded the natural flow of society; a society all too willing to forget and/or behave indifferent towards the events of the war which occur every day. Traffic was brought to a halt, and likely, much to their dismay, commuters were forced to take a time out and think about what the cause behind this action was.
It was here that our first altercation with the police took place. After a time, the police decided that it was necessary for us to clear out of the intersection and allow traffic to resume. As nobody would comply, they felt they were left with no choice but to use force. Although a few small skirmishes ensued, I perceived this process as being relatively painless. Nobody was arrested, or seriously hurt, despite the outraged chants to the contrary. We regrouped at a nearby park before setting out on the march again. This time the police followed us, not necessarily to protect us, but more to keep us from delaying traffic at any one spot for an extended period of time.
We marched to the national headquarters of Armed Forces Recruiting and joined up with protesters already there, voicing opposition to the military's wildly recognized strategy of preying on university students of low income by offering enlistment as a means of paying for tuition. Once again the police forced us to be on our way before too long.
It was on our continued march that I myself was thrown into a UPS truck by a police officer trying to force us on to the sidewalk. It was an entirely unnecessary use of brute force, however I simply returned to the street without acknowledging the officer who pushed me and continued on the march. We regrouped at a park before setting out to cover the White House fence with crime scene tape as a means of illustrating the war crimes committed by the Bush administration; an action which was handily overturned by the police. By this time it was pouring rain and moral was becoming more volatile. Again we marched back to K street where we overtook a main intersection and resumed our occupation.
Desks were brought out and students chained themselves to them in the middle of the street. The police diverted traffic for at least 3 blocks on all sides of the intersection and surrounded us with numerous squad cars and paddy wagons. It seemed as though the time for mass arrests was drawing near. The chants of the protesters no longer had anything to do with peace or ending the war, but rather simply about our right to claim the street. The overall demeanor of the crowd now seemed very antagonistic. I was actually extremely disheartened to see things evolve this way. My whole reason for being there was to voice opposition to the war, I had no interest in engaging the police just because I had the group mentality of invincibility. Nor did I have any interest in occupying the streets just to occupy them. In a way, chants such as "our streets" struck me as being ironic in light of the fact that we were protesting the US occupation of Iraq. I was reminded of a famous Karl Marx quote that Zizek often refers to: "They know not what they are doing, but they are doing it anyway." While I supported the cause and I supported the protesters, the main point of why we were there had been lost. No progressive change can come from empty militancy.
Soaking wet from the pouring rain and disenfranchised with how quickly the protest had become misguided I had decided to head home. From what I later heard, the police ended up allowing the protest to take its course and did not intervene any more. They simply diverted traffic, and stayed there to make sure things did not get out of hand, but the protesters were allowed to occupy the intersection.
Written by NYC YDSer, Jordan Seth Silver. He blogs at circus68.org.