On Being Democrat

Political rhetoric against Democrats may become even more malevolent during the next two years. We need to listen to our own hearts and state our case with eloquence, passion, diversity and truth about why we are Democrats. This is not your typical blog. Democrats have an attention span that can handle philosophical discussions. Please help make this column become a voice to one another and send your thoughts to valsmith_4@msn.com

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Location: Spokane, Washington, United States

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Diary of a Demonstrator

Today polls are showing a majority of Americans are not supportive of the war in Iraq, I am remembering how it felt to stand in the minority two years ago. Val Smith

Diary of a Demonstrator: July 2003

Sometimes I struggle to capture the facts that back up intuitive leaps to conclusions. Sometimes it’s a no-brainer. Like the world wide intuitive response that an aggressive invasion of Iraq was a really offensive idea. (Pardon the pun).

I found myself demonstrating against the idea of war last November on the streets of Spokane, knowing intuitively there was a need to stand up and be counted.

I am 65 years old. This is new behavior for me. It is also physically painful and sometimes I think I cannot walk all the way. But the idea of innocents being maimed and killed, (including the men and women of our military forces) makes my pain inconsequential. I go back again and again, thankful that someone organized a way for me to express my concerns.

I did not have a sign, so I took my American flag. There was no other flag present and I wondered if I had broken some unwritten rules about protest demonstrations. Someone questioned the aluminum pole that held it up as being interpreted by law enforcement as a weapon. But no one said to put it away.

One person quietly said “Thank you”. An older man challenged me as to why I carried it. I stated “Because it guarantees Americans the right to protest”. He nodded and explained that as a youth, he been involved in miner’s strikes in Pennsylvania. The federal strike breakers sent in had carried such flags and the resultant pain he had suffered was associated with the flag.

On my second foray out, I brought the flag and again it was the only one there. A fellow demonstrator thanked me. “You are the ‘flag lady’ and have reminded us that this is our flag too and that we should take it back”.

The third time out, I brought three flags to share with other marchers and was amazed to see the idea had blossomed into a crowd of flags of all sizes. This was the largest demonstration with thousands from across the social and economic strata. There were elderly nuns and grizzled military veterans, business men in suits and punkers in costume, seniors and teenagers, parents with children in strollers, Democrats and Republicans. It was awesome. The crowd was extremely well behaved and there were no signs of wanting to do damage or inconvenience anyone. They stopped at the lights and stayed on the sidewalk and waved to the crowd.

Waving to the crowd continues to be an interesting experience. Drivers of tall SUVs stare straight ahead and pretend that we are not there. Folks in lowly Hondas tend to beep and wave. Guys in pick-up trucks are experts in one fingered salutes. I wondered if those who were unwilling to make eye contact …had not yet figured out how they felt about impending war. Certainly the smilers and wavers knew where they stood.

A couple of young women pull up at a stoplight. One leaned out to call me an “F…’ing bitch”. I lean back and ask “Are you registered to vote yet?” (Guess I broke the rule, not to engage, just keep smiling).

Passing a women bystander on Riverside who was weeping copiously, I stopped and asked if she was okay. She smiled through her tears and said “Thank you all, you are demonstrating my feelings about the war that I couldn’t say”.

Stopping at a light across from the Davenport Hotel, I am addressed by a polite young man who has just crossed the street. He sips from a large paper cup of what I presume is a latte. He asked my name. I told him and he introduced himself. He asked where I was from. I said “Spokane”. He replied “I am from the United Arab Emirates”. I shook his hand. He asked why I was marching. I said “ I cannot condone killing innocent people on either side of the war” He nodded, looked seriously at the scene, and quietly slipped into the crowd and walked with us all the way back to Riverfront Park.

Some teens in a passing car yelled “Shame on you…support the troops”. I yell back “I do and I want them home safe”.

A drunk stumbles out of a bar to say “Hey lady, give it up, don’t you know the war has already begun?” I respond “I know, ...I just want our troops home. Starting a war doesn’t mean automatic approval from me”. He nods…and goes back inside.

(I just can’t get the hang of keeping my mouth shut).

A pick-up truck roars by and a guy hollers “Traitor”. Two grade school boys yell “Iraqi Bastards’ while pointing and laughing. Some one yells “get a life”. I think about telling him that ‘I have a life, I want life for those in the way of war”

The latest march is over. A group of teen age boys at Sheridan’s schoolyard, yelled words at me that I know came from adults in their life. I walked around to the side of my car next to the fenced playfield and faced them. I very slowly begin to furl my large American flag, a few inches at a time, carefully straightening the yellow ribbons that now flow from the top. It takes a while, and I never stop looking at their faces. They fall silent. I drive away.

I read the letters to the editors and am amazed at the automatic assumptions about those who march against war. I try the words on. That’s not me.

I marvel at the generalizations, lumping all demonstrators in the same box, as though we are all out breaking laws, destroying property, being unruly and out of control, unpatriotic and uncaring about our military.

I cringe at the evidence that some citizens think it is not okay to have an opinion different from the President.

I marched because I love my country. I want to be proud of how she wields her powers and uses her resources and influence in this world. I want our leadership to be that of statesmanship and diplomacy …leveraging our resources to solve the problems that lead to war. I do not want us to be bullies, just because we can…and there is no nation state to stop us.

I marched because like other parents and grandparents, I cannot countenance wanton waste of the life and futures of our sons and daughters on a dark cause.

Yes, I am proud of our military and want them to be successful and proud of themselves. But I note that they do not represent the full face of our nation. Where are sons and daughters of the old men who send them off to carnage?

I discovered that marching was not enough. It was only the beginning of acting on my conscience. I join those who work hard to support the troops. I fly and wear yellow ribbons for their return. I attend prayer vigils. I pack up gift baggies to show a sign of nurturing. I write letters to the children of my friends in the war zone. I try to find ways to support their wives and children.

I once wanted to lay the responsibility for the dead on the doorstep of the President and Congress. I now understand that we, the citizens, are responsible for the actions of our leaders. We elected them and then didn’t pay attention.

We have a power that we may have forgotten how to exercise…the ballot box.

Now I will fly my flags…and register voters.

10 Comments:

Blogger Ross Boy said...

Hi, i am very impressed with your story. I am a 19yr old student in Georgia who has lost a sense of value in the flag with 911 due to constant overexposure. I really felt that it was demmening how you can go to a truckstop and find an american flag even in the restroom, but with your story of protest, i can almost remember what its there for.Its also painful to hear the negative response that you recieved.It really goes to show how we can act so irrational at war time. But thank you for the reminder. -justin

2:46 PM  
Blogger Val's Desk said...

Thanks Justin....I am curious as to how you found my almost invisible blog. It helps to know someone is reading.

Thanks again

Val

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Ian Graham said...

Val -

I remember sitting in the control room of the college radio and hearing the bells go off on the wire machines. One after another they rang a rare drumbeat of five bells. . . the code for the death of a president, or of a nation. This was the night of the final fall of Saigon.

Outside, demonstrators marched proclaiming that we had a duty to stay until the "mission" was accomplished. Only no one could agree anymore what that mission was.

30 years later, I hear the same talk. Over a year after being draped in the flag on a carrier and declaring "mission accomplished" -Bush says this week that we must stay until the mission is accomplished. Only now no one can agree on what that mission is.

You are so correct. It is time for Operation Homecoming. It is time for America to realize that we have created our enemies best recruiting tool. It's time to bring the troops home.

You asked earlier How Much is Enough. I don't know. It is prettey evident we've had more than enough alreay though.

Ian

10:07 PM  
Blogger Val's Desk said...

Ian...I struggle with the decision to pull out and come home.

We made the mess...we disrupted lives and infrastructure....we created the political vacuum...we created the opportunity for civil war....we are responsible for the many Iraqi lives spent trying to bring order to their country and supporting us.

Will we be dishonorable to them and to our young men and women if we leave without establishing some sense of order and safety?

Val

9:59 AM  
Blogger Val's Desk said...

Ian...I struggle with the decision to pull out and come home.

We made the mess...we disrupted lives and infrastructure....we created the political vacuum...we created the opportunity for civil war....we are responsible for the many Iraqi lives spent trying to bring order to their country and supporting us.

Will we be dishonorable to them and to our young men and women if we leave without establishing some sense of order and safety?

Val

10:00 AM  
Blogger Val's Desk said...

Ian...I struggle with the decision to pull out and come home.

We made the mess...we disrupted lives and infrastructure....we created the political vacuum...we created the opportunity for civil war....we are responsible for the many Iraqi lives spent trying to bring order to their country and supporting us.

Will we be dishonorable to them and to our young men and women if we leave without establishing some sense of order and safety?

Val

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not one but 3 replies to my note! I'm honored. (wink)

I agree that "pull out and go now" is NOT the answer.

We should establish clear metrics for what conditions we WILL leave under. X numbers of troops trained, elections and constitution in place, etc.

We can also improve the situation internationally AND in Iraq by pledging PUBLICLY and NOW that we will under no circumstances have permanent bases in Iraq.

We can at least do THAT much.

Ian

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not one but 3 replies to my note! I'm honored. (wink)

I agree that "pull out and go now" is NOT the answer.

We should establish clear metrics for what conditions we WILL leave under. X numbers of troops trained, elections and constitution in place, etc.

We can also improve the situation internationally AND in Iraq by pledging PUBLICLY and NOW that we will under no circumstances have permanent bases in Iraq.

We can at least do THAT much.

Ian

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Sue said...

the american flag is a sign of destruction and oppression, its stars represent a state taken away from First Peoples and its stripes represent the blood of first peoples, asian peoples, mexican peoples, cuban peoples, haitian peoples, latino peoples, hispanic peoples, even some white peoples

6:57 PM  
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11:31 AM  

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