On April 28, 2006, I took a half shift at work to join my brother Sam on the steps of Northrop at the U of M campus for a metrowide student walkout war protest. The last antiwar march I went to, the United States wasn’t even at war yet. This was over three years ago, yeah, how does it feel. To be reminded of that—reminded not that I’ve been sitting on my ass but how quickly time passes when you’re having fun? when you and yours are not under the gun, when you don’t see it daily or you see it so much—headlined or page foured body counts and counting—it means nothing. The normalization of mobilization, the camouflaged fatigue.
Sam, a first-year law student, was asked by the National Lawyers Guild to be a legal observer. In turn he convinced me with the nudge wink you can take pictures! when I can take ‘em anytime, anywhere, of anything. But yeah, sure, it’d be a great opportunity—to be an artist! to be an American. The rain was relentless, the cold unforgiving. Walking toward the campus mall for the noon rally, capped and gloved but short-panted shivering, I figured myself in for a miserable time. I was wrong.
I found Sam amongst the swelling throng. He gave me an umbrella. I gave him a sandwich. Along with two other lawyers, he wore a dorky red cap marking him important and kept the appropriate collected, cool distance, right beside or behind or in front of but never inside, a part of the fervor. While under no such regulation of mere observance as Sam, I attempted neutrality in my run about snap shot but soon fell into it, off the sidewalk and into the street, following the chanting following the beat of banged on buckets and screamed out voices, Money for schools and education, not for war and occupation! Who is the terrorist? Bush is the terrorist! Bush is what hypocrisy looks like. We are what democracy looks like. We are what America looks like.
We are what America looks like. Teenage kids with faces smeared red and me caught up and near crying. I never forget what it’s like to care. But I forget other people think and feel the same. I don’t forget that people are dying, but I forget sometimes that it means something. I don’t forget my sixteen-year-old brother considers the military a post-school option. But I forget that he’s entirely serious, I forget. How quickly time passes. When I haven’t been there to watch him grow up. When I and mine are not under the gun but this war will go on until he’s ripe for shredding. Army recruiters organize kickball games at his high school. They like Joe. He’s big and strong and quick. He plays soccer and shoots guns. He knows how to clean a deer, and by clean I mean cut open.
The protest Friday was aimed at high schoolers, and it was a terrific My First March. A girl got to yell “Fuck war!” in a loudspeaker and the Sister’s Camelot folk handed out free fruit. Red paint was splattered on the Army recruitment office in Stadium Village, bystanding kids were weirdly arrested, we stopped traffic for blocks around and sat in the street in the rain shook up and what is going to happen? nothing, really, the protest almost too clean cut, a choreographed chaos with just enough drama minus total terror to make for great retelling to the classmates too chicken to ditch.
In high schools around the Twin Cities, controversy has flared about whether students should suffer academic consequences for skipping class for protests. Sure, yeah, it was generally a rabble of goof-offs, Kool-aid hair and giggled cigarettes, hoarse voices and face painted peace and just like our parents then just like our teachers in their suburbs now in the mock zone, the out of touch. But I can think of nothing more educational, more rounding, more citizenship and agency affirming than exercising free speech, the right to assemble, the duty to stand on your feet and march against a war dependent on the blood and debt of you and your generation. Cheers, children, and all others who participated and those who daily resist in thought, word and deed.