Wednesday, April 22, 2009

March To The Pentagon: Travel Piece

“No justice, no peace. End the war in the Middle East!” rang the voices marching in unison. Looking around the chaotic cluster of people while snapping photos, my morning ran through my head like a running dialogue.

Passing by the homeless shelter as we arrived in Washington, D.C, a line snaked its way up and down the sidewalk; residents with backpacks in tow waited patiently for the doors to open. It was eight in the morning, and I sat inside the bus, rubbed my eyes, and continued to stare out of the window.

After our bus driver stopped for breakfast, I boarded the bus again, sipping my burnt coffee in hopes that it would make up for the tossing, turning night of cramped sleep in that window seat; the Progressive Student Alliance trip to Washington had left Central's campus at one in the morning, having drove all night long with just a couple pit-stops.

As fliers were handed out to students, voices filled the air about socialism and unions. Looking down at the piece of paper, it mapped the streets and locations where the march to the Pentagon began and ended; the march was an anti-war demonstration marking the 6th anniversary of the occupation of Iraq.

While everyone chattered around me, I had nothing to speak about; I felt uninformed, invisible. It wasn't long though until Marissa Blaszko, a fellow Central student, introduced me to the entire clan. Lamens terms didn't really seem to apply to the subjects that Blaszko and other students were rapidly firing at me; I felt as if I needed an Activism for Dummies handbook at my side so that I may have thumbed through the definitions to understand a little more clearly.

From a completely novice view, all I could really comprehend was the fight for unions to be recognized, and the general distaste for the government. Some students were socialists, like Jeremy Radabaugh, a Kent State graduate whom worked for unions in Ohio and Connecticut. Jeff Bartos, a medic from the Iraq War, was a Veteran against occupation, while others were either from Youth for Socialist Action, or unaffiliated; merely going to enjoy an activist movement.

A few slight detours later due to cycling marathon, we shuffled off of the bus; one individual was handing each person picket signs that read different slogans: “Stop U.S Wars,” “Occupation Is A Crime,” and “Fund Jobs and Human Needs.”

Taking a long winding walk towards the Mall near Lincoln Memorial, we passed the Federal Reserve, and the Washington Monument began to appear in sight. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, and framed the old architecture beautifully.

Arriving earlier than anticipated, a few of us decided to wander in and give Mr. Lincoln a visit. The reflecting pool didn't look in tip-top shape, but then again, the dead grass surrounding it was typical during the month of March.

Gathering information cards on the monuments from the information desk, we chatted with the older lady at the booth for a while as we watched robotic runners fly by in their striped running shorts, and looked above to see planes overpass every few minutes.

People from all over the country began flooding the Mall; booths filled with literature about socialism, anti-occupation, to going vegan were lined up in rows. Specific groups were in attendance: from the Pink Ladies to Veterans of War, interesting signs and demonstrations were happening at once. One accessory that adorned many necks of protesters was the kaffiyeh, a Palestinian scarf consisting of black and white stitching.

As groups approached us and handed out pamphlets, there was also a massive stock pile of different picket signs for anyone to grab. As a small army of individuals moved a giant banner displaying the words “Stop All Wars: Billions of Taxpayer Dollars Wasted,” a petite, older African-American woman sang into a megaphone, “What are we fighting for? This is a rich man's war.”

Among the other interesting sights was an older man with a beret and sunglasses in a motorized chair, holding a sign saying “The Pentagon Pillar Pillage Horror,” in heavy red marker, a group of artists with abstract drawings symbolizing some of Picasso's work, and fake coffins draped in flags representing those who have died due to occupation, whether civilians or soldiers.

Fast forwarding a few hours later, there were thousands clustered, listening to an array of protest speakers: bereaved parents of deceased soldiers, rappers and preachers, and even foreigners protesting the building of U.S Military bases in their countries. Around 30 speakers and a couple hours later, the crowd was growing impatient; they were ready to march.

Aligned a few feet away from the Mall were seven horse mounted police officers. Ignoring them, the crowd passed the Lincoln Memorial and over the bridge en route to the Pentagon. Empowered fists pumped signs into the air, many helped carry the coffins together, and megaphones lead vocal testaments to the grief and frustration fueled alliance of bodies.

“Who's streets?” questioned the loud amplified voice. “Our streets!” replied the crowd.

Adrenaline filled my body as I snapped photos of these twisted faces of defiance. Stepping to the side to glance back as we walked further, a massive serpent-like line of bodies twisted back as far as I could see. Media helicopters flew above our heads, and then we found ourselves running up a hill to a highway overpass to get the ultimate view of the event.

Running back down and continuing further, Blaszko began to yell into the megaphone. This caught the interest of a Palestinian woman and her three small boys. Looking over at the woman, Blaszko held out the walkie-talkie device attached to the megaphone up to her and said, “Go ahead, say anything you want.”

“Free Palestine!” declared the woman. Offering it to the boys, one of them took it and piped up, “Stop killing children!” A chill went down my spine.

The march wasn't actually to the Pentagon, but it was passed by; instead we were on our way towards the headquarters of a building that manufactured guns and artillery to protest outside and lay the coffins beside it. Passing into Arlington, Virginia and into the downtown streets, people peered out of their apartments and skyscrapers to catch the commotion.

Riot police were everywhere lined up on the streets in full combat protective suits; even a cop in a tank made an appearance. Nabbing some free bread from a group of anarchists, we arrived at our destination. People swamped the entrance of the building, or as much as they could, for the riot police convened and began attempting to push everyone away.

The coffins were placed, but not even moments later the police began walking over, even kicking them. Threats were surfacing about the potential threat of tear gassing, to which my phone rang. “Get out of there,” said Blaszko. “Head back towards the street!”

Fortunately enough, this did not occur; the march was finished. Sunburned and sore, the group reconvened at a restaurant to regain some strength in the form of noodle cuisines. After eating and regaling our individual experiences, we sluggishly boarded the bus to return home.

Conversing and playing word games with everyone on the bus, we all participated and laughed at absurd jokes; albeit once intimidating to me, they were a thought-provoking group who included me and treated me kindly. Pre-departure, it was a mystery, but now it was an enlightenment.

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