Do marches make a difference?
The sun is shining as TV helicopters drone overhead and the huge crowds grow restless, listening to speeches that ring out over loud speakers in the Portland State University park blocks. The billions spent on war will be taken from our schools, says one speaker, drawing loud applause.
It's 2002 and Portland has joined worldwide protests to stop a war before it begins. The range of ages is astounding, from toddlers to folks in their 90s. Wheel chairs are pushed through the crowds, some holding Vietnam vets, casualties of another time.
One woman activist who I hadn't seen in many years remembers me.
This is a repeat of something we hoped never to relive. "Deja vu,' I say. We're at a loss for words. Both of us had young children then. Today, we're "senior citizens." We'd hoped wars were over forever.
The march has begun and the signs wave. From sections of torn cardboard to huge banners professionally designed, everyone expresses his or her sentiment. Lettered signs say, "Show Us the Evidence" and "This War is for Oil." Among 130 groups and faiths represented are people of many nationalities and color.
"Americans are not pro-war," says one organizer. Head counters say that more than 20,000 people flood the streets. The first marchers finish before the last marchers leave the Park Blocks as young children in strollers doze. Everyone I talk to believes the war will be waged no matter what the public demonstrates.
Comparing that peaceful march with many ages, races and causes back then, things had changed since the anti-war Vietnam riots occurred here. Marches that day had been smoothly organized with use of the Internet. Website petitions were signed, causes delineated, and millions of voices heard through chatrooms, email input and worldwide polls. Some speakers were participants in previous wars. We believed the country was older and wiser.
At the bus stop, one marcher recalls those earlier days of protest against the Vietnam War. "I remember construction workers and students meeting head-on in the streets," he says. "It was love it or leave it then."
His small child shows show me her little sign. It says: "I'm against hitting." Her parents stand in the background with signs that decry bullying the world. Future activists, I think, noticing many children carrying signs everywhere. I hoped it was something they'd never have to be.
Between Jan. 3 and April 12, 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq War. Despite the protests, the world's biggest ever, Shock & Awe was unleashed March 20, 2003, on Iraq by our country.
More than 2.6 million Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan in America's longest wars. Those young children carrying their little signs are now grown.
When I ask myself if marches make a difference, I am fortified by another mother activist of two daughters. Time magazine columnist Susanna Schrobsdorff gave me my answer as she marched again in Manhattan recently:
"I hope that even if they don't remember why they were trudging through Manhattan on that freezing February day years ago, they do remember the collective emotion, the feeling of standing together, of purpose, of speaking up even when the outcome is uncertain. Call it a family tradition. Call it an American tradition."
Syd Kanitz of Summerfield is a lifelong activist, journalist, writer/editor, public relations and corporate communications.