(For those looking for the best protest poster ever, it's down at the bottom of this diary...). The weather was cold today, but the mood was very warm - there was a big crowd of all ages - families with kids in strollers, old people, college kids, senior citizens, people in wheelchairs . Lots of groups and visitors, a majority white, but a more diverse than usual (for an environmental rally), crowd. What I mostly noticed was the good energy - a lot of enthusiasm, creative hand-made signs, and just a happy peacefulness. Everything flowed well. I would have taken a lot more pictures, but my camera was almost dead.
I'm slightly crowd-phobic, so I don't do very well trapped in a swarm of humanity. When I go to rallies and protests, I usually choose roles/perspectives that allow me some detachment - shooting video or pictures, biking around the periphery, or just observing. This time I ended up handing out posters, which felt like a useful role. I was standing at an intersection at the entrance to the rally, and it was interesting to watch the humanity flow by. The main thing I noticed was that a lot of people really weren't dressed well enough - I wished I'd had hats and gloves and sweaters to hand out - standing around in the cold is rough! I'd brought extra layers, and ended up wearing most of them.
It was interesting to watch people flow through the sidewalk intersection - it was a decision point for many people, and often people would stop to look at a map, or call friends, or just chat, which obstructed everyone else, who would try to flow around them. After awhile a volunteer organizer showed up, and started talking people through the intersection, telling them which way to go, and asking them to keep moving. I started doing it too, and it was satisfying to watch the flow move more efficiently as a result - a bit of guidance can be really helpful.
I'm reading Carlo D'Este's Patton: A Genius for War, which has several instances where Patton encounters a traffic jam during an operation, jumps out of his jeep, and starts directing traffic. My little role today definitely made me more appreciative of Patton's style.
When I ran out of posters, I wandered over to the rally, which had already started. I was looking for friends that I never ended up finding. I listened to Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation's speech (unfortunately this recording is incomplete), which was powerful and moving, and then I drifted toward the starting point for the march, along with others. Constitution Avenue had already been blocked off by the police, who were courteous, professional, and discrete - they did a great job. There were already a few hundred people lined up, restless from the cold, and ready to march.
This was one of those chaotic human swarm moments. One volunteer organizer was trying to hold the crowd back, to have them wait for the organizers, so they could "officially" march (the speeches were still going). There were 20-40 other volunteer organizers, but they were mostly just standing around. The crowd was ready to march, but they were still mellow. It was a moment that could have used stronger leadership - I could see that the woman trying to keep everyone from marching was stressed and felt alone, but I didn't have a defined role, so I didn't get involved.
There were some "rebels" dressed in black standing in front of the crowd. They tried to jump-start the march, working against that one heroic woman's will. They were a bit too cute to be the Black Bloc, but I think that was the role they were trying to fill, which included flicking off the police helicopter when it flew over. It was a bit annoying to watch them try to hack the event, but they just came across as adolescents.
I stood on the side of the road and watched the march go by, which was very moving. There weren't many bystanders out, so I figured I could fill that role - someone's got to be the audience. It really was beautiful to see so many people marching - there was a brass band, dancers and drum troops, sculptures and wind turbines, and everyone just proud and happy to be there. Once everyone had passed, I went the other way around and stood by the White House, to watch everyone go by again.
I participated in several antiwar protests during the Bush years, which always had a heavy/militaristic riot cop presence, counter-protesters and provocateurs, and a feeling that things could go wrong fast. I once watched police cars drive into a "rogue" march to break them up, and fighting with protesters. I saw snipers and observers on rooftops, anarchists committing property damage. There were also plenty of beautiful moments - the majority of the participants were peaceful and creative and passionate and well-intentioned, but there was also a strong undercurrent of fear and anger.
I saw none of that today. My feeling is that the best protests are the ones that parents bring their kids to. There was one very pregnant woman holding a sign that said something along the lines of "Don't let me die!". A guy beside me said, "I'm surprised she's using her child like that", and I answered, "I don't think she's using her child. I'd be proud to know I was at a protest like this before I was born". This was the most moving poster I saw: - it says "Save the Earth for Us!", with a bunch of different-colored people standing around the world, and a killer whale in the center saying "Help Me! (heart)" - some child really put a lot of care and attention into making this sign!
So in all, a successful event! I have the friends I never found to thank for getting me there. And respect and gratitude for those who participated, and those who organized it - this was a good step in the right direction!
And just because I can't observe without criticizing, I think there's room for improvement on the communication/organization front. I don't have a modern phone, so I don't know how good the online communications were onsite, but I definitely observed a lot of people who needed some guidance and direction. Having quick access to online info that clearly communicated what was happening where and when, eg a map of the rally site, a map of the march route, and real-time reports like "X is speaking" and "The march is starting" would have reduced the strain on volunteer leaders, and empowered participants. We have the technology, and the organizers did an amazing job of outreach and organizing. Having an effective online feed to communicate with volunteer organizers, and another to communicate with participants would take events like this to the next level.