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diaryland: sirilyan.diaryland.com: entry for 2003-02-16 (13:11)
In which our plucky young hero was there, were you?

All we are saying, is give peace a chance.

I got to Dundas Square at around quarter past twelve, thinking I was already late for everything. (I should not have worried; chronic misorganization plagues every event that isn't arranged by professionals on a daily basis.) The place looked a little empty, considering the numbers that had been promised. Tables had been set up by the usual suspects of large-scale protests - the Young Socialists, or the Socialist Youth, or the Socialist Young Organization, or whatever the hell Toronto's particular group of idealistic clove-smoking poli-sci frosh call themselves. They circulated around the crowd with their newspapers, trying to foist off copies on anyone who had a hand free. They also provided signs to those who hadn't brought their own: Not by the US, not by the UN, no war in Iraq.

I didn't take one. My views on the subject are a lot less stark than that, and I didn't want to cheer on any message other than not invading Iraq right now. (Even the "right now", I think, made my opinion more qualified than most.) I also turned down a sheet of chants, and tore up one flyer that began "When you consider the causes of war, you must remember capitalism..."

(If I'd known enough in advance to have time to make a sign, mine would have said Peace through trade: end sanctions now. That would probably have gone over great with the socialist-flyer guy.)

Among the early crowd were also a small number of people who were, well, off-message but had decided to show up to exploit the crowds. One pair, wearing sandwich boards, had some sort of gripe with the legal system. All I could be bothered to get from their 100-word screeds was that they have difficulty telling the difference between lawyers and communists. (Hint to future crowd-exploiting off-message protesters: hire an editor. If you cannot fit your entire message into fifteen words and optionally a clever cartoon, nobody will hear it.)

What makes a person so poisonous righteous, that they'd think less of anyone who just disagreed?

And, of course, there was the "balance": the one person there with a sign saying 9/11 was the smoking gun and God Bless America. How exactly 9/11 could be the smoking gun for a war on Iraq when none of the hijackers were Iraqi nationals, and the hijacking was funded by Saudi princes and Osama bin Laden's personal fortune, and bin Laden's most recent tape tells Iraqis to overthrow Hussein once the war with America is over, is not clear to me. But that is probably because I, like all the other millions of marchers around the world, am a dupe of international communism. (For those who wonder about whether media bias exists: In this entire crowd, already thousands strong, was one pro-war ranter. At every moment I saw her, she was being dutifully interviewed by a reporter. This is called "objectivity".)

Eventually, as the square filled up, the speeches began. A young girl who had fled Iraq four years ago with her family talked about what it had been like to be under attack during the first war (which her family had been watching on television before it became all to real). A union leader talked about how this was not about left versus right, and then made special mention of how we would pass by the house of the evil empire on the march route. (This is also called "objectivity".) And unlikable social-protest gadfly Judy Rebick demonstrated that as a chant composer, she makes one hell of an unlikable social-protest gadfly. Then, we were off.

The crowd snaked down Dundas Street to University. I ended up walking past all sorts of banners: elementary school teachers, the Toronto homelessness industry, one guy whose sign said simply Rumsfeld is Skeletor. (I tapped his shoulder, and told him I loved the sign; he grinned and flipped it over to reveal the reverse, Chomsky is She-Ra.) Thankfully there was a minimum of the, uh, well, the disquieting signs like Bush-Sharon-Blair War Criminals or Stop Zionist oppressors. I don't want to march with anyone with that sort of message; it's racist and wrong, the anti-war equivalent of the bomb with High jack this rag heads graffiti that got such wide publicity during the Afghan conflict.

There was no real coordination of the chanting. As we walked through the streets, the cheers ranged from simple rhyming slogans, to songs ("If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq"), to shouting "Shame!" at the U.S. consulate as the march passed it. (The simplest, and most effective one, was when a lone voice started singing "All we are saying, is give peace a chance". That I joined, enthusiastically.)

Finally the crowd arrived at Metro Hall, where sadly the off-message types were in their full powers. Signs tried to link animal rights and the Iraqi conflict, the speaker on the podium was a representative of the Toronto homeless industry, and one asshole had brought a fake U.S. flag with a swastika in the corner. (I only half regret not kicking him in the head.)

I left at that point; I was there to protest an Iraq war, not to listen to the TDRC harangue me for donations, not to read socialist newspapers and not to be a fundraising target for Greenpeace. The subway station was packed, but I eventually got on a train. And as I sat back, I wondered: did all this matter? Did any of us make a difference? Did we change any minds in Washington or London, did we stop anything?

But then I realized that it doesn't really matter if we changed things. We spoke out.

We spoke out.

And that's a good start to anything.

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