A Preemptive Peace March

by Kobutsu Malone

Photo courtesy of Mike Flugennock's Mikey'zine

It was a cold and rainy Saturday morning when my family and I left our home in northern New Jersey to travel to Washington, DC. The rain was heavy at times, but we had brought warm clothes and rain gear, prepared for the worst.

The date was October 26th, 2002, and we were all heading for the nation's capitol to take part in an anti-war march. This would be a historic march, the first "Preemptive Peace March against a Preemptive War" ever held in America and made even more significant by the gargantuan turnout present.

For me, deciding what to wear to a demonstration is always a problem. As an American Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest I have the option of wearing my full robes, but robes do not offer much protection from the weather if it is cold and raining. I also bear in mind that they are hard to move around in, and if I suspect that there might be police action against the demo, I usually opt for jeans, a t-shirt, and jacket, so I can move out of the way of tear gas faster. When I go "casual," I wear a "Rakusu," which is a bib-like vestment worn around the neck as a symbolic representation of the Buddha's robes. I used to wear my black rakusu. Now I choose my denim rakusu because the police seized my black one at a peaceful march in support of Mumia Abu Jamal in Philadelphia last December after attacking me and knocking me unconscious.

The rain let up as we drove the monotonous miles of the New Jersey Turnpike, punctuated by grotesque manifestations of poisonous industrial insanity. By the time we hit Maryland, the roads were barely damp, and breaks in the clouds could be seen by dawn's early light.

We pulled into a pit stop on the Maryland Pike to avail ourselves of the facilities and purchase the watered down beverage known in gourmet circles as "Rest Stop Coffee." As we approached, we saw crowds of people going in and out of the building - all heading for DC for the march. There were two guys in their mid-sixties with white hair, lots of middle-age women who would not at all appear out of place in a health food store check-out line, folks with kids, young folks pierced and dyed and covered with "tats," plenty of counter culture t-shirts, brothers wearing Kufis, sisters wearing scarves, brothers with dreads, a guy with a Mohawk "doo," and a host of other indicators pointing to them all being "our people."

We met a few friends from a bus that stopped on the way down from Boston. They had been on the road since midnight. Many other busses were in the parking area from parts unknown, all filled with folks prepared to take to the streets of the capitol and raise their voices in unified protest against George Bush, his cronies, handlers, and corporate bosses.

The sky was bright and sunny as we wound our way into DC, and we were delighted to see busloads of people disembarking near the Vietnam Veterans Monument on Constitution and 21st Street. We split up in front of a coffee shop, made a beeline for the rest room as our driver went to find parking several blocks away.

On reuniting, we walked to the site of the rally and saw that even more busses had arrived and were unloading. As we entered the Mall, we saw thousands of people in Constitution Gardens, overflowing into the street and still arriving in great numbers. We had arranged to serve as the "advance party" for the People's Organization for Progress, a political action group in Newark with which we are affiliated. I used a cell phone to contact the busses and fill in the Chairman, Larry Hamm, regarding the situation. They were just getting out of the tunnel in Baltimore, so they had some distance to cover.

We stood for some time at the entrance way at 21st Street and watched people arriving; the line of busses seemed interminable. Droves of people were pouring in; groups would arrive and unfurl their banners, raise their signs, and march together into the park. I saw many groups I recognized from other events, lots of local political action groups, and abundant signs, surpassingly creative - some shocking in their candor!

After watching for some time, we were regaled with a cacophony of sound coming from the west, and everyone turned to look as a group of young Korean drummers and activists arrived, carrying tall cloth banners. The beat of their drums was compelling, the sound mesmerizing, and their determination and movement impressive. They wound their way past us, and people cheered and clapped with their passing. I had seen a smaller group of their drummers at a demonstration for Mumia Abu Jamal in Philadelphia six months before and was impressed by their passionate playing and endurance.

Photo Courtesy of Diane Greene Lent Diane Greene Lent 2002

An amazing number of large puppet figures were arriving. The street-puppet phenomena has blossomed over the past few years, and the creativity, skill, and execution of these larger-than-life icons speak of the dedication and love of the folks who craft them. I saw at least three "Street Dragons," all cooperative efforts involving teams of puppeteers.

Creativity, wit, and unabashed willingness to express one's feelings came out in the signage. I have never seen such a plethora of signs at any demonstration, even those in the 60's. The slogans were plentiful, pointed, and those directed at Bush and Ashcroft were often quite rude. The themes ranged from "Regime Change Begins at Home" to "Fuck You Bush." There were signs saying "No Blood for Oil," "Stop the Racist War," "Stop the Bush Crusade," "Money for Jobs Not War," "Iraqi Children Are Not Collateral Damage," "Drop Bush Not Bombs," "Go Fuck Yourself With Your Atom Bomb," "My Oil Addiction Supports Mideast Terror," "How did Our Oil Get Under Their Sand?" and countless more. It was touching to see a large number of hand-lettered signs memorializing Senator Paul Wellstone who, with his family and staff members, was killed in an airplane crash the day before.

Speeches were still going on when we began forming up the march on Constitution Avenue. Our group, the POP contingent, was situated some 300 feet behind the beginning of the march led by the International A.N.S.W.E.R. group with their street-wide banner. Even as we were forming up and waiting, busses were still pouring in and disgorging passengers. One of our friends working Security said that they were still hearing by cell phone from busses that were approaching the city.

Photo Courtesy of Diane Greene Lent Diane Greene Lent 2002

I have attended a lot of marches in DC, including the biggest anti-Viet Nam War demonstration in US history, the Vietnam War Moratorium demonstration on November 15, 1969. The crowds that were assembling here appeared to be of the same magnitude as the ones that constituted that demonstration, which time has shown to be of historic social and political import.

The march began, and we walked chanting, carrying signs, drumming, and waving to folks along the way. The line of demonstrators was dense, 30 to 40 people abreast in the streets and on the sidewalks. We marched from 21st Street and Constitution East to 17th street, where we turned north and marched to H Street, turned right to march past the White House, then south on 15th, back to Constitution Avenue where we turned right, and began marching back to the starting point. Much to our surprise, we encountered marchers still turning onto 17th street from the starting point on Constitution. This was when people began to grasp the size of the demonstration.

Looking at a map later, I was able to determine that the march was 13,200 feet long - some two and a half miles! A few simple calculations put the numbers at an estimated 107,000 people. This is incredibly significant and powerful. During the Vietnam conflict it took four years before the numbers of protesters reached the 100,000 level. We are looking at numbers that large before this proposed war has even begun. Now that the American people have awakened and are on the move, the momentum and intensity of actions such as this one can only increase. We are beginning to throw off the pervasive narcosis of materialism, free ourselves from enslavement to the TV and the paraphernalia of consumption and addiction. In hauling ourselves out of the pit of addiction to corporate media and corporate news programming we are breaking the shackles of the corpocracy that has taken over our government.

If Bush, his advisors, accomplices, handlers and corporate sponsors continue on this path of madness, the streets of Washington will see crowds of historic proportion. I cannot help but recall one of the chants we heard on Saturday, "Woah! Bush -- Get out the way -- Get out the way -- Get out the way!"

At Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

The welcoming committee were impeccably dressed for the occasion.

A collection of pictures from the march can be viewed here.