Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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The Antiwar Demonstration

My journal has been getting behind on my life lately, which does not usually happen. I will try to catch up. Before I forget, I did want to write about the antiwar demonstration on Saturday.

If I'd gotten up really early I could have driven to the San Francisco one, and I sort of wish I had, but I also reeeeally needed my sleep that day, so I slept in and went to the Sacramento one instead. (And then when I got home from it I promptly fell asleep for six hours even though it was only 4:00 p.m.) Anyway, I took the light rail train to it because I hate looking for parking places downtown. And, well, I very rarely have occasion to notice what Mikie and Katja are always talking about as "the implied threat of manhood," but when I got on this train I started toward the front of the car looking for seats, and every empty bench just happened to be facing a bench with a man sitting on it, and I turned around and headed to the back of the car instead but again all the empty benches were paired with benches across from them that had men sitting on them, and it was just somehow terribly disconcerting. So I found the only pair of benches on the whole train that had a female around; it was a mother and her children and the benches were already crowded but it was much preferable to sitting down across from any of those men. Interestingly, I don't think it was just that they were men either; I think it would have felt more acceptable to sit with them if there had been a pair of them together instead of just one man alone across from every empty bench, and it would also have felt more acceptable if they had been less . . . masculine-looking men. They were scruffy, 40-something, non-college-educated, manual laborers and the occasional homeless man here and there, who I knew recognized me on sight as being an uppity college-educated paper-pusher. If you're going to place yourself within conversational distance of a man and risk getting subjected to unwanted come-ons, it's preferable to at least not have the come-ons be laced with hostility from class warfare.

[Edit: And yes, I know this is all terribly problematic and that's precisely why I'm admitting to it, because it does need to be admitted to and talked about.]

Anyway, I got off the train downtown and soon found myself following a little behind a pair of trendily rebellious middle-class teenage boys on the way to the antiwar demonstration. We could hear the speeches on the microphones from several blocks away, and the teenage boys were interestingly taking out their antiauthoritarian aggression upon the antiwar speakers, despite the fact that they were ostensibly on the same side:
MICROPHONE: ". . . because this is still the United States of America, and we the people still have rights—"

TEENAGE BOY: "We do??? What rights? Name one for me!"

MICROPHONE: ". . . we have the right to question our government—"

TEENAGE BOY: "And be questioned by our government!"
This last was said while standing about five feet from several policemen, which pleased me immensely and caused me to conclude that if nothing else, the one good thing that definitely comes out of these antiwar demonstrations is that the police get a little practice having to hear people express hostility toward police without the police being able to arrest them all for it.

Unfortunately I did not stick closely to those two teenage boys after arriving at the demonstration itself. Although listening to their banter cheered me up immensely, they didn't really look like the types of people I'd really want to get to know - they seemed like they were in it more for the thrill of being antiauthoritarian and getting away with it than anything else - and I feared that following them around would eventually call attention to myself and I didn't want them getting any ideas about trying to engage me in direct conversation. But after I lost sight of them I missed them terribly, because everything else about the entire demonstration felt so conformist and un-antiauthoritarian. The microphones commanded people to chant certain words in unison and the people obeyed. This made me horribly uncomfortable and I did not chant a word. I'm sorry, I don't know how to function as an automaton like that, not even when those giving the orders are choosing good words to order people to say. I wandered around in the crowds for several hours reading people's signs - I like the signs, because the signs are people's own words - and wishing there were a lot more petition-signing activity, people actively walking around giving demonstrators information about specific antiwar group meeting places and times where specific concrete things could be accomplished. One of the speakers behind the microphones was a former college professor of mine from the Ethnic Studies department, which made me feel very slightly more at home except that I'd never thought he was a very good professor at all (his class consisted almost entirely of requiring students to cut out newspaper articles that discussed race and read them to the class, and frankly, I already knew how to read the newspaper and I did not need it read aloud to me every day all semester long) so his presence didn't really make me feel that much better. All the chanting made me feel uncomfortably like I'd wandered into some sort of church, and when they further cemented the parallels by having the crowd chant "No justice, no peace! Know justice, know peace!" I felt so alienated that I left entirely. It was only then, as I was leaving, that I discovered there were in fact booths selling booklets and such things, but it still didn't feel like as much of a way to really get involved as a thinking individual who contributes actual thought instead of just mindlessly repeating the commanded words.

Perhaps I'm being unreasonably picky. I mean, it's lovely that there was any demonstration at all, and I have no real business complaining unless I can go organize a better one myself. But it did leave me feeling more frustrated at my powerlessness rather than filled with a new sense of empowerment.
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