The signs say things we’ve heard many times:
WAR IS TERRORISM WITH A BIGGER BUDGET;
KILL ONE PERSON, IT’S MURDER. KILL THOUSANDS, IT’S FOREIGN POLICY.
And it seems that most of the 500 or so people gathered yesterday, January 11, for United for Justice and Peace’s anti-escalation protest outside Park Street Station have been to this sort of rally before.
It also seems that some, despite themselves, are wondering if protests like these actually mean anything anymore.
One protester stands silently in a black burqua, estimates of the number of Iraqi war dead written across her cheeks. Another is dressed in desert fatigues. One hand-lettered sign suggests, helpfully if clumsily, that we REGURGE . . . ITATE THE SURGE.
But for all the loud chanting, the jeremiads hollered into megaphones, there’s a also a palpable feeling of rueful resignation. The president, it’s clear, doesn’t listen to anyone. “The situation is quite clear to everyone except, it seems, this administration,” says Susan, a protester from Cambridge. “It’s completely deteriorated.”
So why should George W. Bush care what a bunch of people crowded in the cold on Boston Common think?
I approach Patrick, a bearded, middle-age guy from Plymouth.
Why are you here?
To protest the war and occupation.
Do you wish more people were here?
Are you disappointed a more sustained and substantial anti-war movement hasn’t emerged over the last four years?
Do you think that this rally will change anything?
[Pause.] Ugh. [A rueful laugh.] I hope so.
He sure doesn’t seem to be listening to anyone else.
No, and he’s probably not gonna listen to us.
John, from Brighton, is 22 years old. During Vietnam, people his age flooded the streets almost weekly, agitating for the end of a grinding and pointless war. Why does he think things are so different these days?
“A lot of older people have said that when they were younger, people protested the war. But nowadays, the people who were protesting the war back then are supporting the war now. I don’t want to believe that that’s gonna happen for us, but I believe it’s important for the young people of today to understand what’s going on.”
So why does it sometimes seem that very few of them do? “They’re being brainwashed. With the major media outlets, they read what’s gong on and they think it’s right. Their parents tell them it’s right. They’ve got to think for themselves I suppose.”
Dan “The Bagel Man” Kontoff, the veteran activist and former Green Rainbow Congressional candidate, draped in a kaffiyeh and stuck all over with buttons, sees something else at work: mindless consumerism.
“The problem is, back in the Vietnam war, you didn’t have yuppies. And now you have yuppies. The big, guzzling cars — there’s global warming, and who’s paying attention to that? It was 50 degrees last week. I drove by South End and Back Bay and could smell wood burning. The problem with people these days are their priorities. What are their priorities?”
The speakers take turns at the megaphone: Guantanamo ... Abu Ghraib ... stop-losses ... redeployment. Someone starts talking about Israeli depredations against the Palestinians, and someone tells him to stop.
“Why can’t he talk about Israel?” a protester yells.