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News ::
In Darkness, Light (english)
20 Mar 2003
Looking past the war.
In Darkness, Light

The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.

-- George Orwell, "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad"

This past weekend I traveled to our nation's capitol, driven by the urge to be present at the last major protests before the war. I deliberately traveled by train, rumbling through the night-shrouded Eastern seaboard sprawl and arriving in DC just after dawn.

The city was quiet, its streets empty and intimate. I wandered for a while, past the monuments and federal buildings; how solid they are, reassuring in their bulk and solemn splendor, silent testaments to the timeless ideals that their current inhabitants have forgotten. The first blush of spring was in the air: a crisp sweetness, fresh and green, a faint but undeniable sense of life reborn.

It was this feeling, rather than any slogans or chants or speeches, that I sought. In the moments before war, do any of us really want to hear more arguments, more documentations of the lies our leaders have told, more indictments of their hypocrisy and meanness? What I want is some clarity, some insight into what these heady months have meant, when we have felt newly united with millions at home and around the world, and seen so many who were once quiet or indifferent now determined and proud.

There is a growing fear that the antiwar movement will be shattered by the coming war -- first by the disappointment that our energy and intention was not enough to stop it, and then by the possibility of the war's "successful" prosecution. In a public sense, it is not what actually happens in Iraq that matters, but the propaganda that is produced. Tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, a few thousand American casualties, Saddam deposed and a sham democracy installed -- all this will be portrayed by the Bush administration as a victory, regardless of how many terrorists are bred, how much suffering is to come, and how much farther our world is from peace.

At the rally speakers repeatedly proclaimed that the war could not be waged unless the people went along with it. Perhaps it has been necessary to tell ourselves this, but it has never seemed believable; and I hoped that nobody believed it, for fear of their coming disillusionment. It is important to understand that, just as the war in Iraq is only a stage in the administration's larger plans, resistance to the war is only the first step in our struggle to stop them. The protests have given us a chance to find our voices, to link arms literal and figurative; to lay the foundations of a true movement. A great deal of work remains -- but how successful we have been!

For every sign of darkness -- the war, of course, and also rising xenophobia, unveiled neo-McCarthyism, reactionary legislation, police-state surveillance, and renewed threats of terrorism -- there are glimmers of hope. In the face of madness we have come together: not just the traditional Left, but average citizens who realized that democracy requires the stewardship of its citizens, that the corporate media is not the only source of history, and that power should not be blindly trusted. Compared to the first year after September 11, when it seemed like dissent would forever be forced to creep in shadows and corners, this is a time of promise.

As the rally progressed I retreated to a distance where the words of the speakers ran together, and the signs were so much color. The sounds of drummers wove through the din, throaty chants, claps, cheers; ceaseless streams of people joined the mass from every direction, and the crowd surged slowly around the Washington Monument, resembling nothing so much as waves on the ocean, a natural and irresistible force.

Spring has arrived, and we are only just beginning.

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