"We're here yet one more time," sighed Alan Wolf, gripping his protest sign and the center column of a Metro train bound for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Most Saturday afternoons you can find Wolf on the corner of Main and Duke streets in Durham, displaying one of five different signs in a vigil for those killed in the Iraq war. This past Saturday morning, Wolf joined up with tens of thousands of protesters in our nation's capital to oppose President Bush's plan for a troop increase in Iraq.
A group of seasoned activists, Vietnam veterans and commuters listened as Wolf shared tales of his early protest adventures during America's disastrous war in Indochina.
"We surrounded the Pentagon one year and we were going to lift it off its foundation with levitation," said Wolf, referring to a stunt by "yippie" Abbie Hoffman. "We all said 'om' and waited." Nothing happened. The same can be said of past mass demonstrations against the war in Iraq, which have largely been ignored by the Bush administration. Last Saturday seemed different, though. With the country voting for Democratic leadership in Congress and a split in the Republican Party over our involvement in the war, many protesters believed an end was in sight.
At the corner of Jefferson and Seventh streets on the National Mall, a 25-member drum corps known as Cakalak Thunder drowned out the speeches being made by lawmakers and various Hollywood celebrities with a flurry of sharp samba rhythms, whistles and bells. This was the gathering point for the North Carolina contingent, which numbered more than 1,000 strong. It had all the feeling of a family reunion, with screams of joy at the sight of old friends and long-distance dissenters.
"We're taking power back. Those politicians don't know how to act. They never should've sent troops to Iraq. Now they gotta deal with Cakalak."
Nearby, a group of radical cheerleaders from Carrboro called the Rainbow ReSisters stretched out and ran through their routine.
"Ready? OK! Liar, liar, pants on fire. The law says what? Don't tap my wire!" Dressed in loud socks, black tights and a colorful array of T-shirts, the five-member squad was there to raise the energy level of those around them through a bit of irony and fierce cheers. As the march kicked off, Cakalak Thunder cut through the crowd while the Rainbow ReSisters danced along the way, stopping to deliver a routine and face off with another radical cheerleading squad—and ending with a group hug.
Six students from the Durham School of the Arts passed out "peace chocolate" in the form of Hershey's Kisses and wrapped themselves in caution tape meant to contain the crowd. DSA student Lena Eckert reflected on the day's activities: "I don't know what the solution is to this ridiculous mess of a war, but being here and being with people who I know have just as much energy and conviction as I do is really empowering." The students all agreed that apathy was the greatest threat to their generation.
"People have to realize that they're not alone and being helpless doesn't help," Eckert continued.
Regardless of its effect on the war, Saturday's demonstration gave many Triangle protesters a reason to continue; it's the same reason Alan Wolf tried to lift the Pentagon with his mind 40 years ago. "It didn't move then, but it moved us."