Saturday, March 18, 2006
We had been having a lazy Saturday when gf had a phone converstion that reminded her that today was the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. There was a rally planned in downtown Chicago and a big march down the middle of Michigan Avenue at 7pm. It was 2 o'clock, sunny, and in the 30s. We had no plans. Somehow we had missed the marches, rallies, and protests of the last three years. We talked against the war and taught against the war, but we hadn't marched against the war. Other days of protest had been busy, freezing, inconvenient. Other people had taken the trouble to represent us while we had done other things. I looked at her and sighed. There really was no getting out of it this time. "You realize we have to go," I said. She nodded. I knew we were both thinking that really, it was time to be counted.
At five we walked to the train with hats, gloves, a camera, and a flask of bourbon. We met a friend at the train and rode in. By 6 we were in a schoolyard, watching people decorate floats. A skinny boy in a studded leather jacket drew the anarchist "A" on a brick wall with chalk. Young people with fucsia hair collected money in buckets, and older guys who looked like Jerry Garcia passed out socialist broadsheets. Women wearing anti-war buttons carried home-made signs. Police in riot gear lined up all along one side of the street.
Then more and more people started to arrive. People with small children, college students, grandmothers, Gulf War veterans, high school kids, teachers. We wandered out of the yard into the street and realized there were already hundreds of people waiting to start the march. It began to feel a little exciting. A menacing hooded figure towered near us, rising from a float like the grim reaper, but when we walked around it we saw that there was no face, only the covered head of an Abu Ghraib prisoner standing with outstretched arms, its feet trodding the corpses of dead civilians.
The crowd swelled and grew restless, and finally stepped off with a roar. We walked, mincingly at first so as not to kick the people in front of us in the crowd. People played plastic buckets and blew whistles. Some tried chants and songs, or rapped into megaphones. The bucket drummer near us was dressed as a banana. He played a mean round-off, and I realized that I was unconsciously guarding right, checking to see that the people around me were marching in a straight line. They were not, of course, and this disturbed me for a while until I a) realized what I was doing, and b) got used to the anarchy of the crowd. Of course I had marched in many gay pride parades and protest parades, but apparently for some reason tonight, old high school marching band habits came rushing back to me. Is it because the dull ache of today's conservatism feels so much like the Reagan 80s come back again? Or did I just forget who I am, the way more and more I get moments where I can't remember what year it is?
Ever since 9-11, my mother's death, and my tenure battle lost, I feel moments of time vertigo creeping up on me, or rather, seeping into me like the water from little waves, diluting my sense of the here and now. Instead of feeling dizzy, I forget the year, how old I am, whether someone is still my friend or my lover, where I live now. Which things are still before me? Which ones are over and done with? Who have I lost and who is here walking beside me?
I wonder if these times, these politics and this war, feel so cyclical, so much like bad reruns of battles we thought were won and done, that maybe large numbers of us are whirling sometimes in little moments of time vertigo like this. Women on the internet are talking seriously, SERIOUSLY about how to set up illegal abortion clinics and emergency networks for each other. The lies about the economy being fine, about the war being just, about the future being bright, are wearing thin. It reminds people of something. What is it? Genocide. Teenage cannon-fodder. Class war. Back-alley abortions. Rich people who don't know how much milk costs. Gas lines. Hamburger Helper. Anti-war protests. Haven't we been here before?
When I was in third grade I told my father at dinner what I had heard from a boy at school about Americans being selfish murderers who killed babies in Vietnam and wanted to take over the world. My father slammed his milk glass down and pointed his finger at me. "Listen to me, young lady," he said loudly, almost shouting. "We are the greatest country in the world! We are the greatest, freest, luckiest country there is, and if you don't believe me, you just go visit other places and see how good you have it!" I remember being surprised at his emotion. I was just repeating something I'd heard.
My father doesn't believe in America anymore. He thinks all politicians are crooks and that the best we can do is keep our heads down and protect our assets. The people marching tonight feel something else, I think. I think they believe we can be something better. Walking down Michigan Avenue, listening to the songs and the cheerful banter and the earnest plastic buckets all around me, I felt the pull of cyclical time. It might be that the 60s and 70s and 80s and 90s, and all the sexual freedom and social dignity we fought for during those times, is over. But I think that's wrong. I think the underground is starting to come alive again, and on days like today, you can feel it rousing itself, like some hibernating creature, to shake off a long impermanent sleep.