Six anti-war protestors disrupted an Easter mass yesterday in Chicago, shouting and squirting fake blood on themselves. According to news reports, they were later charged by police with criminal damage to property and simple battery. Chances are, many people with anti-war views would not agree with their tactics. But writer and breast cancer survivor S.L. Wisenberg says taking part in an anti-war march last week made her realize you can’t always pick your fellow marchers.
I’m not sure what my favorite color is or what my favorite breed of dog is (dachshunds some days, beagle, others) but I know what my favorite chant is. It’s: Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like. Tell me what democracy sounds like. This is what democracy sounds like.
I like it because it’s accurate.
I am marching with the Code Pink women’s group up Michigan Avenue, holding pink signs and banners aloft, and the shoppers and other pedestrians flanking us on the sidewalk are either neutral or making the V peace sign. The cops are out in force at bends in the road. At the foot of the Michigan Avenue bridge there were about 60 of themâ€”a half dozen on horseback, a few with dogs, a lineup in riot gear, batons ready for action. But they didn’t use them. This is not Mexico City or Paris or Chicago, 1968, or Tiananmen Square, 1989, or even Chicago 2003, when anti-war protesters were blocked and arrested en masse, and this is not Lhasa, Tibet. This is Chicago and we have a permit, we are orderly, most of us, though there are a few young men in front of me jumping and dancing haphazardly in a way that makes me think they’re anarchists who wouldn’t mind disturbing the peace. They are examples of what anthropologist Esther Newton has called her “enema man.” He is the person in your march who you are ashamed of, who does not represent you and your lovely well-behaved and acceptable self. She describes him in her book Margaret Mead Made Me Gay. It’s 1971 and she’s taking part in a gay pride march in New York City, though she’s scared she’ll be recognized. And then she sees a pale man with a sign that says, Pennsylvania Enema Society and he’s carrying a disgusting enema bag, and she’s even more self-conscious, that she’ll be judged by association. But she writes (quote): “But the revolution is less authentic for every oppressed person it excludes. The enema man is … my forbidden self twisted into human flesh, just as I am the twisted flesh of the straight woman’s forbidden self.” (Unquote.) The anarchists, the people who want to overthrow the government, who believe that Bush was behind 9/11, who want Israel to disappear, these are the people with unacceptable opinions, whom I don’t want to be linked with, but who are part of the coalition against the war. I have chosen to be with them.
This is what democracy looks like, I’m telling the people on the sidelines. Maybe it’s because I want them to like me. To understand that our country allows freedom of speech, that we are not unpatriotic or un-American, that we are exercising our First Amendment rights. We’re all in this together, whether we agree or not. I am moved by these words, these thoughts, a little choke in my throat. So this is democracy and it’s good and it feels good.
And marching is just one thing that a citizen does in a democracy. And I wonder: Are we making headway? Are we being heard where it counts? Are we stopping the war?