Gene Autry's Cowboy Code: The cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take advantage. The cowboy must always tell the truth.
Painted on a large banner at the February 16, 2003, Anti-War Rally in San Francisco
I see contingents at the rally from Illinois, from Montana. I consider the effort they had to make to get there. My wife sees someone she knows from Reno. But for many of us, it's just another weekend in the Bay Area. Sunday's to do list: Do laundry. Protest War. Buy groceries. Watch The Simpsons.
An anti-war protest in San Francisco is unusual in not being unusual. There's Joan Baez, Danny Glover, and Bonnie Raitt leading the march-- that won't even make the six o'clock news. Ho-hum. The hippies and the grandmothers and the Chicano student association and the young parents with strollers and the anarchist teens and the Vietnam vets all marching together. Seen it. Been there, done that. Bring your sign, or don't. Pick one up when you get there. Or paint your face. Or just march along. You're invited, heck, you're expected to show up. In my building, the upstairs neighbors leave early. "See you there." The across the courtyard neighbor leaves to meet friends. "Have a good time." Her upstairs neighbor leaves to catch the train to the march. If we'd realized this earlier, we could have marched together: "381 Adams Street Neighbors for Peace."
The time and meeting place for the rally is on the front page of the newspaper. While the editorial page pushes for Bush to show casus belli, the Datebook section has features on local artists preparing for the march. The business section runs articles on financing a protest march. The theatre critic is covering the giant puppet and street theatre angle. (Their eagerness to pay attention might be seen as penance for their community faux pas by underreporting the January march of 100,000 people). The organizers postpone the protest a day, so as not to inconvenience the 500,000 people who come out on February 15th for the Chinese New Year's Parade. The BART train and the ferries run extra trips, so you can get to the rally on time. It's all so... normal. By the time my son reaches his second birthday, he'll he already been to three anti-war rallies. It's just the way we live here.
We plant ourselves by a light pole and watch the march go by. It's easier to see everything if you let the crowd come to you. We plan to leave the rally before the end. Peace in our time? Not if our toddler isn't allowed his afternoon nap.
There are dozens, hundreds of signs, mostly on message (notable exception: Free Ed Rosenthal). Oil is a common theme, so are caricatures of Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld. Duct tape is new, as is Viva La France. But while the signs provide a riot of color and sloganeering, the experience of the march is profoundly an aural one: drums. Bells. Chants. And this:
The sound starts in the distance. Sometimes from the East, probably starting at Justin Herman plaza, five blocks away. Sometimes from the other direction, anywhere along market street between here and the Civic Center two miles away. It's the sound of the human voice. Shouting. Or cheering. Shouting, as if raising the volume would get the politicians in Washington two thousand miles away to listen. Cheering, to celebrate that there are other people who feel the way you do, and they've come out to the street today to be with people like you. The shout and the cheer become a roar, and the sound sweeps through downtown. The sound echoes off the glass facades of San Francisco's office buildings and storefronts. The sound fills our ears, our heads, we can feel it in our bones. We lift our voices to join in. The sound of two hundred thousand people.