Saturday, September 15, 2007

"this is what dem-o-cra-cy looks like"

I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue today. Along with other anti-war protestors, I started at the White House and walked toward the Capitol building to encourage lawmakers to get the U.S. out of Iraq. I wore flag pants and held a sign reading "PATRIOTS FOR PEACE."

Counter protestors lined the sides of the parade route, the reverse inaugural parade route. One of them looked me dead in the eye and spat, "traitor."

We walked past the new Newseum building, a place dedicated to celebrating the freedom of the press. Etched in bold letters from the top to the bottom of the building are the best placard I saw today. These beautiful words are carved into the side: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Today, I looked at those last 18 words in awe.

Earlier, I had turned to my Pakistani roommate and asked:
"Aliya, if you went to a protest like this in Pakistan---"
She interrupted me and smirked. "No, Bridget, no." She shook her head.

Just no. That's the answer. There’s no “if” because there is no protest like this in Pakistan. There is no situation where you stand dead in the center of the three branches of government, in the shadow of the National Archives, across from the banner of the First Amendment and hang out with a bunch of your compatriots and scream that you don’t like what the leaders are doing.

When the anti-anti-war protestors stood a few feet away from us and shouted in favor of staying in Iraq, the anti-war protestors responded even louder in attempt to drown out the opposing opinion. Feverish chants rose up from those I was walking alongside:

I looked from the peaceniks to the warmongers and laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of using those words as a means of silencing dissent. Yes. This is exactly what democracy looks like. It looks like furious, principled people screaming angrily at one another and at their leaders in a public place without fear of violence. It looks like people on both sides of the police tape who care so much about democracy that they are using its privileges to disagree with each other about how best to extend those freedoms to other people thousands of miles away.

I walked up to one of the counter protestors and shook his hand and thanked him for coming. Then I went back to narrowing my eyes at the enemy and yelling about peace.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Wish I'd been with you, Bridget. Especially wearing flag pants. :) Love, B