Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Thursday, August 21, 2003  

According to at least one account, there were 2,000 protesters to greet the President this morning. Another called it "a few thousand." Honestly, I can't guage numbers in the best of circumstances, and in today's protest, we were sprawled down residential streets and around corners. Still, I'd say "a few thousand" is close enough.

A few thousand anti-Bush demonstrators gathered near the university where the police presence was heavy. One man wore a Bush mask and carried a sign that said "Stop me before I lie again." Along the motorcade route, one group, ringed by police in riot gear, made rude gestures at the entourage with their middle fingers. Several signs, carried by people against the war in Iraq, said: "Killer. Impeach Bush."

Still, the protesting crowd was more peaceful than it was it was in August 2002, when the president attended a Portland fund-raiser. Then, more than 1,000 protesters screamed anti-Bush messages, and police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to control the crowd.

That's a pretty accurate description. The crowd was divided up into two kinds of groups, and I wonder if we don't see in them something of how lefties are responding to things now.

The far larger group was the peaceful contingent, and interestingly, they were in a pretty joyful mood. I've been to a half dozen protests in the last year, and this was the first time I saw anything approaching joy in a crowd. Generally we're a grim lot, out there for something so offensive it seems hard to believe we have to protest it. But if hopelessness marked the earlier gatherings, I saw today a group who smelled blood. People were much more united in their messages, and their messages were good. One fellow standing next to me was hollering out to the police that they should fight the President, who would love to see them become un-unionized, low-pay workers. Another protester was dressed as a scientist and had a chart showing the increase in greenhouse gasses.

If you judge engagement by signs, we've also turned a corner. There were hundreds of hand-made messages, from the usual ("Bush lied, people died") to the personal "Turn Off Your TV--We're All Being Mislead!!") to the weird ("Milk of Human Kindness Project: Breastfeeding for Peace"), with everying in between. (My favorite: Dennis Kucinich Will Heal American Trauma.) A lot of people spent a lot of time thinking up messages and the method of communicating them. That's engagement.

The other group was far smaller (perhaps 5-10% of the crowd): the mad. These people were spitting with fury. As we walked along the side of the University of Portland campus, an older man was screaming at the police on the other side of the chain-link fence, calling them "gestapo," "fascist," and "brownshirts." Others screamed obscene names at Bush, Ashcroft, and the police. My sense is that these folks represent a very real group in America. If anything, the hopeful majority at the protests is probably a minority of liberals and Democrats in the US. They are the folks who see the tipping point of change on the horizon and are out trying to move the date up.

I don't know if today's protest can be generalized to illustrate anything about America. But we are Little Beirut, the most active liberal city in America, and so we bear watching. And today, we were mostly pretty happy.

posted by Jeff | 4:12 PM |
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