“Free, Free, Palestine!”
That’s all I could hear. And there were these yellow signs, each saying different things. Some said, “Let Gaza Live”. Others said “Recycled Holocaust”. More just repeated themselves, demanding a reversal of the aggressions. I wasn’t planning to go to an Israeli protest on a Saturday. That isn’t usually how I spend my weekends. But I was on the Metro and I saw some people with signs, children holding colored poster boards, waiting patiently for their stops. I didn’t know exactly where they were going, so I followed them. It is one of the cool things you can do when you live in a major city and you are curious like a five-year-old kid. I followed the group out of the McPherson stop, where the homeless gather at the entrance because the warm air from the tunnel rushes up and gives warm relief. I followed them down the block and saw a gathering at the edge of Lafayette Square, this tiny little collection at the edge of the park. But then I looked deeper into the park and realized there were about four thousand people there, talking and shouting, chanting and holding signs and posters. Free, Free, Palestine, over and over again, creating that mob ability that what is going on is the best situation you could ever be in. Of course, I walked deeper into the crowd.
I’ve only been in the DC area for a few months, and I haven’t really allowed it to bath all over me. It takes time to make a home, and to allow yourself to become a little comfortable. And it’s strange to see the events that take place on the news suddenly come right into your face. People are dying in the Middle East because of a conflict that’s been going on for decades. I’ve also been curious about my spirituality lately, thinking about what I believe and how what I believe affects my lifestyle. I’ve straddled the religious question on both sides: I either want nothing to do with it or everything to do it with. Islam isn’t a relaxing religion. You have to pray and think and wear really cool scarves and cover your heads. Could I do that? During the rally, I watched men make the call to pray, get on their hands and knees. I saw men go to a storm drain and wash their feet in the cold. I have no Muslim friends, and to see so may Muslims opened my eyes to their reality. To them, they are being attacked by weapons that their government helps pay for, watch on the news as the attacks are explained. How would I feel if I saw Hickory, NC being bombed by Charlotte, with a little tool bar at the bottom of the screen showing the death toll? Being upset would be the small reaction.
There is a numbness that exists in bigger cities. Even with the massive crowds, with the shouting, with the chanting, most people either walked by or glanced at the crowd with slight indifference. I stopped by a Secret Service Patrol car, peeped in and said hello to the Secret Service officer. He could shoot me and get away with it. I was interested.
“Any violence?” I asked him. He shook his head.
“Most protests are peaceful,” he said. “Very rarely do things get out of hand. Where are you from?” He must have heard my slight southern drawl.
“Wilmington,” I said. He nodded, talked about how he used to go there when he was a kid, how there are only three states with jobs in the entire country, how there isn’t a way a man could make wealth living in the South. With thousands of protesters feet away, we were the most interesting people to each other.
Did I mention Ralph Nader was there? He got on stage and started speaking. I accidentally bummed into a guy holding a sign.
“I’m trying to hear what he’s saying,” I apologized.
“Good luck,” he said, smiling a bit. Ralph Nader’s words seemed to drown out by the chants of the crowd and the random sirens that flowed in every few minutes.
“That’s what we have to do!” he yelled into the mike. “Stop the massacre, end the occupation, and enter into negotiations, and free, free Palestine!” A few people started gathering around, taking pictures. One man asked another, enthusiastically:
“Did you vote for him?”
“No. I voted for Obama.”
“That’s the problem,” the man said. “That’s the problem right there.”
We just elected Obama, and yet there are already people asking if he was the right choice, if we did the right thing. One of the posters flying into the air asked, “Mr. Obama, where is our change?” That is how rough things are right now, how hungry we are to live in a world that we can actively affect. Protesting isn’t just about making yourself feel busy, or having something cool to say at lunches. It is about trying to move the world, even a little. It is about getting other people to think about something that they’d rather walk past.
War isn’t going away, and everyone that breathes is responsible for what is going on in Gaza, Israeli and Palestinian. Is it even possible to take a side in all this? How could you? No amount of yelling and chanting will fix the problems. But, we take for granted that we can protest, that we can publicly share our opinions without fear of abuse or attack. This country is rich with the wealth of its people. I was happy to see that yesterday.