"During the Vietnam War, Nixon always claimed that the people on the streets didn't matter," says Kelly Campbell, Portland peace director with the American Friends Service Committee. Last weekend, Campbell organized the PDX Peace Coalition's bus caravan to Seattle, to join one of 11 coordinated regional protests around the country—and try to prove naysayers wrong.
"Later, we found out [Nixon] was considering dropping a nuclear bomb on Cambodia, and didn't because of the demonstrations," Campbell explains. "Even though the Bush administration looks like they're not paying attention, they are."
Of the 269 Portlanders on the PDX Peace buses, about two-thirds appeared to be middle-aged protesters who teethed on the Vietnam War. The other third were very young college students eager to express their newfound voices and opinions—they were still in middle school when the war began.
"Most young people want to do something, be part of something," said Katrielle Lauren, a punked-out freshman at Portland Community College who was thrilled to be at the protest.
Though the old and the young showed up, very few people in their mid-20s or 30s came out to protest—and several of those who did acknowledged that their cynicism and hopelessness was cemented by the failure of the huge, ultimately futile demonstrations that happened before the war, including large demonstrations in Portland.
"This administration doesn't care what the world thinks," said Ryan Talbott, who works for a conservation group in Portland. "The failure of those protests deflated any sense that we can make a change."
But his friend Allison Miller, a graduate student at Portland State University, hopes that protests can still grab the attention of fellow citizens.
"I think a regional demonstration might get noticed by the mainstream audience," she said. "Also, there is a sense of wanting to be connected, longing for a sense of solidarity."
Dr. Goudarz Eghtedari of the Portland-based American Iranian Friendship Council spoke to the crowd of 5,s000, and expressed his belief that America was heading toward war with Iran.
"Unfortunately, I don't think there's any way out of it," said Eghtedari, in a speech that was more doom and gloom than rabblerousing. "The Democrats can't do anything. I have no illusions that the situation will be different if Bush goes out and someone from another group gets in."