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Free Speech: Reflections on an antiwar march
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It was barely dusk when we walked past two snow-covered human-sized rolls of blankets in downtown D.C. on the way to the Watergate Hotel for breakfast.

A cheerful, stout young man greeted us at the door of the Cup’a Cupa then later informed us that he worked for the State Department and that we may be seeing someone we would recognize soon.

Then he saw the protest signs we had tucked under our arms, made a quick phone call and left. So lesson #1: If you want to display a sign of protest to a dignitary during ad hoc breakfast encounters, use a sign you can fold up and tuck inside your coat.

We weren’t really there to display signs of protest. We were more interested in coffee and scrambled eggs after a ten hour drive. But the signs were quite legible propped up in the corner of the room.

Mine said “Just Bring Back the Water” (a quote from the Riverbend blogger/Baghdad Burning). It is part of what I call the “aim a little lower” strategy.

Lost in the flatulent promises of toppling a “ruthless dictator” and heading off a “weapons of mass destruction” program and “bringing democracy to the middle east” and tilting at terror, was the promise to bring drinkable, clean water and a working sewage system to the Iraqis. 35 percent of Iraqis (about 8,750,000) today do not have water clean enough to bathe in, much less to drink.

Try doing without drinking any water for a few hours, not to mention an entire day. After four days without any kind of water you will literally die.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that they really don’t have a place to live. A staggering 3.6 million Iraqis are known to have been displaced from their homes. About half of these have fled the borders and the other half are wandering aimlessly, trying the best they can to get away from Bush’s promises of “Democracy” exploding in the region (not to mention in their ears, under their cars and in the middle of crowded markets).

Imagine if you will the University of Georgia’s Sanford stadium filled to its capacity of 92,746 screaming fans and an air conditioned dog house. To get to 3.6 million, you will need to imagine almost 40 Sanford Stadiums filled to capacity. That is how many Iraqis we have allowed the Decider to make homeless.

Let’s not even mention how many of those fine American young men and women in uniform would rather be at an UGA tailgate party. At a tailgate party, it’s okay to lose sense of your purpose, to look upon drunken buffoons for leadership (as long as they are not driving) and to cheer loudly for ruthless violence among armored warriors.

A veteran peace activist during the Vietnam era was with our tiny Savannah contingency of 5. I asked him what the march then was like. He said they walked up around the Pentagon, formed a human chain with their hands then proceeded to attempt to levitate the building.

I attributed the part about levitation to the gentleman’s penchant for colorful turns of expression. But I soon found out at home that it was, indeed, the intention of the activists at the time, to levitate the Pentagon.

Looking around the rally and march, which was assembled by the International organization “Act Now to End War and Stop Racism”, (A.N.S.W.E.R) was like watching a tired juggernaut with a thousand tangled arms. There were signs to end the war on Iraq, signs for peace in Palestine, signs calling for an end to violence in Darfur, signs about South America and Che Guevara.

While these are all important issues, one has to wonder how they expect anyone to listen when the subject keeps changing and interrelating with itself. When the rallying cry came out “What do we want?” the answer was “Peace!” and “When do we want it?” the answer was “NOW!”

But in reality, the answer should have been “I’ll send you a list!” and “as soon as I can send it to you as an enormous e-mail attachment!”

The rallies are like tailgate parties where you can meet with friends and blow off steam. The real work is what happens at home. You don’t have to be an evangelist to influence people and policies. Just do your research, structure a coherent opinion and hold your ground wisely (not blindly).

With coherence, your social network will do the work for you. The more coherent your message and the more people you talk to, the farther down your chain of separation it will travel and the more people it is likely to influence.

Active-duty soldiers and military families made a great showing at this year’s rallies. Other than our elected leaders, only the soldiers who are fighting can ultimately decide whether and how wars will be fought. As long as there are enough willing soldiers and enough willing families to sacrifice their loved ones the fighting will go on.

Can soldiers pick which wars they fight? They are not machines. It is not the duty of soldiers in a free society to follow all orders blindly. It is the duty of leaders in a free society to make no unjust orders.