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Tuesday, February 18, 2003
By Paul Ford
A march in February.
On Saturday morning I bundled up in my jacket and scarf and met some friends in Brooklyn. We took the train over to Bryant Park, behind the public library, where we met another friend. At least a dozen people I knew were going.
When we left the subway the air was filled with yells and cheers, and with pre-printed and handmade signs. The crowd was a mix of young and old, dozens of skin colors, thousands of ways of dressing. On 5th Avenue we entered a huge flow of humans, all with a single goal: 49th St. and 1st Avenue. We never got within 20 blocks of it.
For the last months everyone on television, from Colin Powell to George Bush to Fox News, has told me over and over that my gut instincts were wrong. Every day, some new voice urged me to face facts, to accept that this is how it has to be, that the only answer for our continued security and wellbeing is whatever we have to do, always leaving the exact actions and goals disturbingly vague.
Despite this pressure to believe differently, my own instincts haven't changed. So I've become increasingly depressed, feeling more and more distant from the rest of humanity, which, I assumed, wanted to go to war. But here were hundreds of thousands of people, people pouring onto Lexington, people climbing streetlights, people on top of vans. Midtown Manhattan - shut down by peace.
It was a liberating privilege to be one small fleck of protest, one of the blessed millions in 603 cities sharing a moment of empathy and awareness. It was liberating to feel for an entire day that hope, peace, and unity were not childish sentiments. And to feel no sense of competition: the more who came, the stronger we were.
We worked our way past police barricades to 1st Avenue and stood with the tightly packed throng, looking down at the 59th St Bridge, onto which had been hung a huge television screen broadcasting the scene at the speaker's podium. The Roosevelt Island tram went over the bridge every few minutes. At random, people chanted, cheered, and shouted. People handed out leaflets, beat drums, and laughed with one another. Signs with angry and comic slogans swayed in the air. Protesters carrying radios called out the numbers from other cities: “1.5 million in London, 2.5 million in Rome! 1500 in Tel Aviv! 46 at McMurdo station in Antarctica!” And somewhere around 500,000 in New York, an American city that belongs to the world.
This essay was funded by Oliver, a dog who loves peace.