Peaceniks in the snow

I went to the federal building for a peace demonstration today. As I biked, a stiff wind blew wet snow into my face, stinging me with surprising sharpness. No one was there when I arrived, so I speculated that maybe I was the demonstration, and this posed a problem because I had no sign. Then I saw a woman slowly approaching with a five-foot high poster that read “Vigil and Fast for National Repentance and World Healing.” Her name was Peg, and she said she hadn’t eaten in a week, and that her back was killing her. Her every word and movement was in slow motion, and, although she showed a friendly interest in me, she had trouble tracking what I said. Others began to arrive singly until we numbered five women and myself. Hearing my accent, someone asked what part of the South I was from, and said she had lived ten miles from there. Finally, another man appeared. I was the youngster of the group.

Unlike on Saturday, I was very much in the mood for a protest, so I stood right next to the curb holding a borrowed sign. I alternated between waving and smiling at the four lanes of traffic from the west, and—when they had to stop for the light—waving and smiling at the three lanes of traffic from the north. Hundreds honked and waved back, including a cop and a bus driver. I chatted amiably with my companions, all of whom seemed pleased-as-punch to be out demonstrating on one of the foulest days of the year. I commented that we were surely a scraggly looking group in our comfortable but unstylish raingear. Someone replied that, as peaceniks go, we were more scruffy than scraggly. I could but defer to the voice of experience. After an hour, we formed a circle, held hands, and chanted: “May all beings be safe. May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings be free,” before going our separate ways. Peg said she comes everyday, so maybe I will see her tomorrow.

This was my third demonstration in a month. I also wrote to Republican Senator Gordon Smith to thank him for his bravery in opposing the war, and I had a letter about bicyclists published by the Register Guard. Even if nothing I do makes the least bit of difference, I feel better for having done it. The hardest thing is to say nothing. The next hardest thing is to speak out alone. The easiest thing is to speak out as a member of a group.

I felt increasingly sick during the demonstration. My chest is congested, and the exhaust fumes were torturous. The cold and wet didn’t do me any good either. By the time I got home, I was close to vomiting. Two hours and a hot shower later, I am still close to vomiting.

I asked Peggy to go with me to the demonstration, but she said she worried that some Marine with PTSD might come by and blow us all away. When I told one of the demonstrators this, she said she had been spat upon and hit, but never shot. She speculated that the spitter must have been a smoker, because the sputum was green and thick.