It was like old times this past Saturday. Me and my sign in front of Great Barrington Town Hall.
Unfortunately, my sign, bent and bruised after several years of valiant service – days of rain and wind and snow and sun – fell apart just minutes before I had to go out there. I made a pathetic attempt to revive it with scotch tape, but I really needed a staple gun and heavy-duty gaffer’s tape.
Standing there alone for an hour with my disintegrating “Cease Fire Iraq” sign, I had time to reflect on my almost seven years of demonstrating against the war.
I had a chance to think about a short conversation I had the week before with a young woman who, upon seeing me and Bill and Howie demonstrating, approached us with a concerned look on her face. She asked: “Did something happen recently? I haven’t been checking the news and saw your signs and wondered what might have happened.”
I was taken aback by the question. It was a Saturday was much like every Saturday for me during this war – Americans and Iraqis were dying, soldiers and citizens alike. I told her I didn’t know of anything particularly special. But that I had been demonstrating since before the war began. I’m not sure whether she was impressed or thought I was out of my mind.
I tried to explain: “At first I thought we could end the war. Now in many ways I think of myself as a Dodo, the flightless bird that failed to survive its encounters with humans. A species on the verge of extinction. A protestor.”
Alone a week later, it seemed to me a perfect time to evaluate what I had done these past years, and what I am continuing to do.
If I am honest with myself, the whole enterprise reeks of failure. The war I tried to stop before it started, happened with a vengeance. The war I tried to stop once it began in March 2003, continues on today more than six years later.
I must admit at one time I thought my “Cease Fire Iraq” sign offered a particularly clever tagline. I thought it was important to remind people that there was a practical solution to the War in Iraq – rather than suggest an immediate withdrawal of troops, there was the time-honored pragmatic way to end war. You get all the parties – yes, the enemies in the conflict – to sit down and negotiate with each other. In fact, the devastating Vietnam War ended that way. And the Israelis surprisingly found themselves negotiating with the Egyptians.
Well. so much for that good idea. It’s pretty symbolic that the sign disintegrated before my eyes. It’s my fault really. I could have made a new one, but the thought that I might be out there for another three years was too much for me to accept.
And the fact is, I am no longer a very good protestor. It’s really a young person’s game. I don’t have the reflexes for it. Traffic is coming from four different directions. Many times people are honking and by the time I figure out which car is honking, they are often halfway past me. The same goes for waves. People have told me later that I hurt their feelings by not responding to their sympathetic honks and waves. Some people have told me I don’t smile enough.
Not to mention the times I’m not really sure whether people are giving me the 2 fingered sign for victory or the single-fingered sign for ‘I respect your right to protest but I wish you were dead, you Commie bastard.’
The same goes for screams. Often by the time the high-pitched scream reaches my ears, the car is by me, and I barely register the insult.
A young protestor wouldn’t have these problems. I was hoping to take on a couple of youthful apprentices but it just didn’t happen.
I have come to understand I have a far more modest mission. To fail, but to persevere. To be one of the last of the Dodos. Hoping, of course, that somewhere there are younger Dodos slowly wending their way to the nexus of Town Hall and Subway.
In the meantime, I’ll try to be out there every Saturday to remind people there is still the war. As of today, as I write, 4,328 Americans have been killed; 31,431 Americans have been injured in combat; while more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died. We have spent more than $666 billion in Iraq, and another $222 billion in Afghanistan. My failure, our failure, has been extraordinary. It’s time for a new sign. Because I am a Dodo.
Thursday July 30, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved