"Freedom is not free," the signs read, or "Defeat Islamic Terrorism," or "Keep the Promise to Iraq." The best was "All Troops Volunteer," which could be read to mean, "They asked for it!" and is particularly literal when it comes to National Guard members who signed up to help in disasters and now find themselves in the midst of an occupation overseas. A striking, massive American flag stood behind the stage, made off small panels painted by kids: "God Bless the USA" and "Support the Troops" were joined by "Infantry Leads the Way," "Fight for Glory!", "Israel!", "SHS Marching Band," "Drug Free," and "Job Opportunities."
What was interesting was how little the protest had to do with Iraq, or Islamic terrorism. Top to bottom, it was a counter to the antiwar folksnot their arguments, per se, but them personally. "You Don't Speak for Us, Cindy!" screamed one sign, where a personal message signed by "Army mom" Ruth Parkinsky read, "Cindy - Casey CHOSE to support the troops also and he did so with honor! You are not!"
Meanwhile The Right Brothers, a Nashville-based country outfight that bills itself as "issue driven, conservative music," was bashing the elites.
"Well, I heard some movie stars talking on TV," one song began, jabbing that favorite straw man of the right: those coke-snortin', peace-lovin', women-getting-married-but-not-last-name-changing Hollywood homos. The chorus went: "Hey Hollywood / We hear your message and it don't sound good / You're just running this country down with our troops overseas ... And if you don't love this land you're free to leave." Of course, neither the members of SEIU 1199 who packed busses in Brooklyn early Saturday to get down to the antiwar protest, nor the members of Military Families Speak Out who were there, nor the woman who drove from Seattle to attend the peace march in her first ever visit to the nation's capital seemed authentic Hollywood types. But what the hell: We hate those guys!
(Worth a look are some of the other truly bizarre offerings from this remarkable band, like the irrepressibly optimistic "Trickle Down" [Trickle down, trickle down let the money spread around / And one day it'll be my turn and mine will trickle down] or the rather nasty "The Illegals" [But those illegals sneak across our borders in numbers we can't believe / They're not worried about breaking our laws / That's just for citizens like me].)
Then there was Deb Meyer, a very pleasant and normal looking woman from South Bend, Indiana. Her stepson Jason Meyer, 23, was killed by friendly fire April 8, 2003 at the Baghdad Airport. Her own son Jonathan (almost 20) is at Fort Hood and ship out to Iraq in April. And she intends to sign a waiver so her youngest, Christopher, can enlist when he graduates high school; the waiver is necessary because he will only be 17. One wonders if having all these dear souls at risk bothers her. "When (Jonathan) joined, the first time he came home in a uniform with 'Meyer' on it, it was emotional," she said. "We've always been proud of all their service."
Deb thinks all the antiwar talk is undermining troop morale in Iraq. "I'm not pro-war," she insists, "just because I oppose what [the peace marchers] are saying. I don't think anyone in America is pro-war. I don't think the president is pro-war." Her brother is against the war. Jason's biological mother is against it. And one of Jason's biological brothers is so opposed to Jonathan going over that he's vowed to stand in front of the transport plane.
So is the war right? "I think we didn't have a choice. I think that we're in the middle of World War III. This is a global problem, not just an American problem. We can't let the terrorists win," she said, making clear that she sees the Iraq war as a nonspecific response to attacks ranging from the embassy bombing in the 80s to the USS Cole to 9-11. "We've been kind of passive," she said. "Now we're being active."
Later on, speakers at the rally invited Sheehan and the peace marchers to "go to Iran" and lambasted Jesse Jackson as the leader of the "rent-a-protest" crowd. Their words echoed across the nearly empty mall, mixing in with music from the merry-go-round in front of the Smithsonian, which started, stopped, and resumed endlessly.