FIRST-PERSON REPORT:

Local Activists March to DC

by Scott Loughrey

Notes from the first day by a marcher with blisters

Anyone who doubts the anti-war movement is alive and well in Baltimore should have been at the city's Washington Monument on Saturday, April 26 at 8:30 a.m. At this time about 80 activists were helping launch a three-day, 40-mile march to Washington DC. The first leg of the march was from Baltimore to Elkridge, the second goes from Elkridge to College Park, and the third will take us to the White House.

Rain, which continued until afternoon, failed to dampen participants' spirits on the first day.

Speeches were given; we sang and then set out on schedule. The local police, some of whom were witnessed beating up nonviolent anti-war Critical Mass bicyclist protesters a month ago [Four Arrested at Critical Mass Event], are on the scene and taking shelter in unmarked vehicles. There would be no complaints today from us about the men in blue. The cops in three Maryland counties ensured that the marchers were safe and not interfered with.

This march is a project of the Baltimore Anti-War Coordinating Committee (BAWCC). The [PROTEST THE WAR ON THE POOR: March from Baltimore to DC! ] slogan on our flyers, "The cost of war is paid by the poor," explains our purpose.We carry half a dozen large banners with captions like "Money for healthcare/Not for war."

About 55 activists, aged 10 to the mid-fifties, are marching the first leg, with half a dozen more lending support. We are, in my biased view, a beautiful sight to see. While motivated by the steady drumbeat and rhythmic chanting supplied by Ichikawa, a Japanese Buddhist nun, we march through some poor neighborhoods heading Southeast. Those people in this part of town who pay taxes have not seen much benefit from paying tribute to the Pentagon for decades. None of the 2.1 trillion dollars that the Bush administration plans to funnel to "defense" in the next five years will be spent renovating these buildings, many of which are infested with vermin and have lead paint at dangerous levels.

Besides the police escort, we are also accompanied by two support vehicles, one of which is equipped with a portable toilet. A blister is starting to form on my left foot when we make a bathroom stop at a McDonald's outside the city limits around 11:00 a.m. It is here that I violate all norms of sustainable decency by purchasing (and enjoying) a vanilla McDonalds "shake" (i.e., they are NOT milkshakes). Needless to say, this social faux pas, observed (and sharply criticized) by our indefatigable lead march organizer Virginia Rodino, will be repeatedly referred to during the day as an example of my insensitivity to progressive issues. As well it should be!

Thirteen miles into the program we arrive at the Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge and stop for lunch. We are a weary bunch. Thankfully the rain has just stopped. We have falafel, enjoy Marble Tag provided by Baltimore activist David Greene, and use stencils to decorate T-shirts. I ask some participants why they are protesting. Marilyn Carlisle says that she is fearful that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is the start of a pattern. Victoria Cunningham, an excellent singer and Code Pink member from DC, believes that the people who are seeing our protest are making it worthwhile for her. Mark Giffen, a pensive fourth-grade school teacher from Baltimore, believes that the protest is enabling him to "stay human." He also refuses to cooperate with the occupation of Iraq which he considers "to be a crime".

We start again under the direction of Penny Howard, another key organizer. We have five miles to the end of the first leg. This part is grueling for me. A second and third blister will be forming on my left foot during this stretch. With almost every step I am reminded that the sneakers I left at home would have been a much better choice than the rigid Doc Martens I am wearing.

Many motorists driving by honk at us in support of our message. Fewer still give us the time-honored middle-fingered salute. Some of the latter demand that we all go home. We respond that we are at home. Others yell, "support our troops!" We respond by yelling back we are. We want them to come home and want the unlawful militarism to end.

We complete the first leg, 13 miles into the march, around 5:00 p.m. Most of us are exhausted. The support team shuttles us to the nearby St. Stephens Church. The dinner that evening is glorious.

. We meet the members of the Howard County Coalition Against War (HCCAW). The HCCAW serves us generous portions of healthy food they have prepared. (They will also be putting most of us up for the night.) We go around the room, and briefly introduce ourselves and discuss why we are involved in this event. With about sixty people present, this takes a while. We pass a hat and collect for St. Stephens. When the satisfying dinner and introductions are complete we close the evening by enthusiastically singing a few marching songs from the 1960s that have been altered with contemporary references.

It is a dinner I won't soon forget. The sense of community I feel in that room is powerful and moving. The isolation that many of us felt after the terrible events of September 11, 2001, has been replaced with the feeling that none of us is now alone. The anti-war movement continues to give people hope that better tomorrows are in store for us so long as we work together to achieve it.

The Bush administration is a cancer on this Earth that will stop at nothing to obtain its global-strategic goals. Still, if we work together to fight it we can determine our own fate. A few blisters and sore feet is a small price to pay today if we can protect our democracy for the future.


Scott Loughrey is a media critic in Baltimore. He can be reached at scottL44@yahoo.com.


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This story was published on April 28, 2003.