Interviews with demonstrators
day of walking and intensive talking still gave me only the smallest
sampling of such a demonstration. To my amazement, on my way to the Metro
heading back to New York at about 5:30 (almost seven hours after I first
set out for the Mall), I was still passing people marching. So I can't
claim that what follows are the voices of the Washington demonstration,
just that they're the voices of my demonstration, some of the thirty-odd
people to whom I managed to talk in the course of those hours. They are but
a drop in the ocean of people who turned out in Washington, while the
President was in absentia and the Democrats nowhere to be seen, to express
in the most personal and yet collective way possible their upset over the
path America has taken in the world. As far as I'm concerned, we seldom
hear the voices of Americans in our media society very clearly. So I turn
the rest of this dispatch over to those voices. Dip in wherever you want --
as if you were at the march too.
Angry Graphic Designer: On the corner by the Metro, we meet Bill Cutter and
a friend. Cutter is carrying a sign with a Bush image and enough words to
drown a city. We stop to copy it down. It has a headline that asks, "What
did you do on your summer vacation?" Inside a bubble is the President's
reply: "Well, I rode my bike, killed some troops, killed even more Iraqis,
raised lots of money for my friends, ignored a grieving mom and, for extra
credit, I destroyed an American city!" Cutter, a forty-five year old
Washingtonian with a tiny goatee, says simply enough, "I'm just an angry
graphic designer with a printer." The previous day he made his sign and his
friend's (an image of Bush over the question, "Intelligent design?"-- and,
on the back, Dick Cheney with quiz-like, check-off boxes that say, "Evil,
Crazy, or Just Plain Mean, Pick any three!" We're all looking for the
demonstration's initial gathering place, and so we fall in step and begin
to chat. A sign-maker will prove an omen for this day -- the march will be
a Katrina, a cacophony, of handmade signs, waves and waves of them,
expressing every bit of upset and pent-up frustration that the polls tell
us a majority of Americans feel.
Cutter explains his presence this way: "I figure that if we live here and
don't do something, it's ridiculous. Cindy Sheehan's sacrifice is so much
huger than anything anyone has done, so how could we not?"
On what is to be done in Iraq itself, he first says, "It's a tough one" --
a comment I will hear again and again, even from those intent on seeing
American troops withdraw immediately. On this day, you would be hard
pressed not to come away with a sense of Americans in protest over Bush's
war and the mess he's brought to our very doorstep, and yet deeply puzzled
by what is now to be done and how exactly to do it. "We've gotten ourselves
down a rat hole," he continues. "I don't know what to do. Ultimately, I
think it's going to end up as a civil war there and we'll have caused it. I
only wish the Democratic Party had the balls and would seize the moment.
It's like they're practicing the politics of safety. Do what's safe, not
what's right." He pauses. "It's the politics of expediency," he adds with
disgust just as we arrive at a plaza filled with a sea of pink balloons --
a sign that the antiwar women's group Code Pink is gathering here. We part
at this point with him saying brightly, "I'm not sure 'enjoy yourself' is
quite the right thing to say... but enjoy yourself!"
Disabled (Peacetime) Vet: On the plaza we run into 48 year-old Steve
Hausheer ("How-ser," he says, "but if you look at the spelling, you'll
never pronounce it right.") -- or rather he rolls past us at quite a clip
in his wheelchair. He's dressed severely in black, but has a kindly, open
face. When I stop him, he swivels around, removes his black-leather
wheeling globes ("my hands are a mess...") and shakes firmly. "I'm
disabled," he says, "but I was in the peacetime military. I'm a peacetime
vet. Seventy-six, seventy-seven. I just missed the Vietnam War." He's
unsure about giving an interview. "I get really excited. I'm impassioned
about this cause, but then everything just flies out of my head!" He's from
New York, he tells me, and adds, excitement in his voice, "I've looked
forward to doing something more than just talk to my friends and donate.
I'm just so tired of seeing this country head in the wrong direction. It's
time to get proactive!
"We need to support the troops," he insists with feeling and then, after a
pause, "by bringing them home. We're stuck now. We've torn Iraq apart and
there are going to be no easy answers. George Bush has taken us so far down
the wrong road that it's going to be very difficult to find our way back.
My wish is that the people speak up until Congress and the other forty
percent of America that still thinks he's doing a good job change their mind.
"The men we're trying to bring home are true heroes and we need to treat
them as such. It isn't bad enough that he put them in harm's way through a
lie, now he's working to treat them as anything but heroes. Can you believe
it? He wants to cut their disability payments!"
I thank him, we shake hands, he begins to don his gloves and then, at the
last second, he calls me back. "One more thing," he says and begins to give
me this final comment in a slow, measured way as you might dictate to a
stenographer: "I want to put this country back into the hands of men and
women who are dedicated to serving the American people instead of
themselves and their cronies." He stops, satisfied, and then adds, "This
would be my quote, if you have to pick one."