A strong sense of déjà vu infiltrated the event on Saturday as 6000 anti-war demonstrators poured into downtown. There was an anxious but friendly sense of anticipation. Like last Spring, thousands of residents, from all walks of life, looped through the downtown blocks to protest the Bush administration and its military operations.
A year ago, President Bush ordered the start of a "shock and awe" campaign against Iraq. At the time, marching protesters chanted and screamed for the war to end on almost a daily basis. Many of those demonstrations turned desperate and angry, as pleas for peace fell on deaf ears. During a few protests, activists shut down bridges and even I-5. There were tense, war-like scenes as police in riot gear pulled down protesters and pepper-sprayed crowds.
But as US troops settled into Baghdad, the demonstrations in Portland eventually simmered down. The Bush administration was clearly determined to stay its course, in spite of public outcries and lacking proof of Weapons of Mass Destruction--the justification for the invasion. In late April, the anti-war demonstrations all but stopped, when President Bush declared victory and the end of the war. But the one-year anniversary of the (ongoing) war reopened the debate and brought back a certain sense of immediacy. As the crowd packed into Pioneer Square, speakers and protesters pointed out that, unlike last year, there is finally a real reason for optimism: The upcoming elections.
"It's just getting worse and worse: We're deeper in debt and we're not taking care of ourselves or others," said Ralph Woutz, an onlooker who stood quietly in Pioneer Square while anti-Bush speeches sparked cheers from the overflowing crowd. But he quickly added, "We have a chance to change direction." Just then, a young mom pushed a stroller by, with a baby holding a sign reading, "War Is Expensive."
Dozens of activists carried signs reading: "I now have a reason to vote." (A noticeably large contingency carried signs for Kucinich, who will be in town Friday at Lincoln High, 1600 SW Salmon, 7 pm.)
"I came to demonstrate because it's important to physically show the number of people who are against the war," said David Spritzler, a 25 year-old teacher. "I have never come out because I thought I could change Bush's mind. I came to show other people that they are not alone, and to feel less alone myself." Spritzler said that he marched regularly last year and that he was on the Burnside Bridge when a group of protesters broke away from a peaceful anti-war march and staged a sit-in, shutting down the bridge.
Reflecting back on last year's protests, Spritzler observed, "After a year, I think that we did more harm than good." He added, "The longer we remain on the fringe of society, the harder it will be to change things. We don't want to alienate the people sitting at home watching TV."
Saturday's event remained peaceful. There were no reported conflicts with police. In fact, there were more police on horseback and riding bikes than in riot gear.
But after a mile-long march, the crowd returned to Pioneer Square. As they did, a man in a black pick-up drove by and yelled out his window at demonstrators. "Loooosers! You're all losers," he shouted. No one paid much attention. As one observer pointed out, he was one person; they were 6,000.