I was downtown today.
First I noticed the cops. Everywhere.
I noticed the “No Parking” signs along Broadway.
I went about my business and then, when the drums and the chants started, I remembered.
Iraq War protest today. Three years.
I agreed with the protesters, but wondered if protest marches are really very effective.
I snapped a couple of pictures.
Then I got on the bus to head home.
Delays. Streets blocked off by cops and marchers with signs and drums and chants.
And, during the delays… whining from the passengers and bus driver.
Honking horns from the other drivers.
The march went on and on, and circled around and then came around again. Blocking traffic. Because they went in a circle it made them seem infinite, never-ending.
I was comfortable, I was inside, I was sitting down. It was Sunday. And the marchers made me think about why they were there: men and women, American and Iraqi and Afghanistani and others are all dying somewhere in the world. Because of lies. Because of a Republican power grab. Our leaders claim to make us “safer” but I don’t feel safer.
Who are the black-body-armored, mirrored-visaged police protecting? The protesters? The bystanders? Or all the pretty corporate-owned buildings? Who feels safer when unarmed citizens are voicing their concerns while armed nervous men stand around and uninvolved citizens are only seeing their own selfish delays?
An old bearded man on the bus, in well-worn faded jeans and a denim jacket and a jaunty leather hat, made a comment every time he heard a horn honk – “Oh, now they’re getting nasty.” The bus driver agreed with him. They both complained, noisily, for the cops to “do their job” and let everyone through.
They didn’t think about why there was a protest. They only thought of themselves, being inconvenienced, being impeded.
A middle-aged lady in front of me kept calling people, apologizing for being late, explaining it was the protest that made her late.
A lady behind me snapped pictures with her camera phone, sent them to others, called them and explained.
Two white vans with riot cops looking like giant black beetles clinging to their sides drove past us, lights strobing hypnotically.
A girl in her early 30s, frustrated, carrying shopping bags, asked the driver to let her off. She was tired of waiting and wanted to move. Another passenger joined her in leaving.
Frustrating for me to see them so blithely unconcerned about the reason for the protest. It seemed that they were confirming my earlier thought – the protest does not awaken any consciousness of the ongoing deaths and destruction. It only irritates people, people who take it out on the protesters, of all people.
Old man with the beard said, “That’s what those cops are doing there. They’re afraid someone’s going to start a riot.”
I had to speak up. “You mean we’re afraid the cops are going to start a riot.” My voice was raw and low and shaking. I don’t normally speak up. I had to force the words from my head down into my lungs and out again, push them up beyond my normal soft-spoken-ness in order to be heard. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to make these impatient unseeing people think.
“No,” the man said, “those protesters might riot.”
“Right,” I said, again forcing the words out, “all those unarmed people might cause some damage to those armored police.” Sarcasm: “Scary.”
The old man with a beard turned back to the bus driver, the one in agreement with him, the man who felt his impatience and didn’t think beyond their own little world. “Why won’t those cops do their job? Let some people through?”
Again, as loudly as I could manage, I spoke up. “Yeah, it’s really tough to have to sit for 15 or 20 minutes… while men and women are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
At that moment, I had everyone’s attention. There was a pause. I felt the people in front of me and behind me shift, uncomfortably in their seats. The old man had turned to watch me, his eyes guarded behind his glasses and shaded by his hat.
Then, as if they were all one person, I felt them all ignore me. They tuned me out. They didn’t want to think about the reason those people were holding up traffic. They didn’t want to think about some far away land and our sons and daughters and foreigners alike, dying daily from bombs and bullets.
Rather than think about that, they simply… erased me in their heads. I could feel myself become invisible.
The old man commiserated with the bus driver, but this time, he tossed in something he thought would absolve him of his selfishness, something he had not mentioned up to that point. He said it to the bus driver but I’m sure it was meant for my ears, because he said it sadly and softly, not proud. “Y’know, I served in Vietnam, and it messed me up good, but…” His voice trailed off. He was unable to complete the thought, because thinking it would remind him of the people in the far-off lands dying and killing.
Until he could get back to what was important, his plaintive whine: “Why don’t those cops do their jobs?”