Monday, February 05, 2007

Rusty, or, Notes from the Echo Chamber

Thirty years from now, I don’t think I’ll be sitting around and saying ‘I was there’. I really haven’t told many people in the eight days since it’s happened, so I doubt that I’ll be recounting it decades from now. But I was there, in DC, watching and sometimes (mainly through a combination of chance and police barricades) marching around the Senate. I was there.

And I wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of them (‘us’?) on Sunday. The obligatory hippy crowd was there, and yes, they were drumming and dancing. But most of the crowd was pretty clean-cut; one marcher raised his DoD badge in front of him. There were some grandparents there as well. There were lots of people: I hesitate to put a number on it, because whatever I say, I’ll be wrong. Tens of thousands. Maybe a grand?

Yet despite its size, despite the behavior of the crowd, despite the cross-generational representation that marched through the streets, the entire protest seemed like a giant tree falling in a forest. The Senate is surrounded by other Federal buildings and a neighborhood to the east. The marchers seemed to be marching for themselves, seemed to be marching in an echo chamber. The lack of an audience—not necessarily of an opposition force but of anyone—seemed unnatural to me.

I don’t have much protest experience (the best I could do was think about what Hunter Thompson was thinking in Miami during the Republican National Convention) as reported in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72) and I admit that I didn’t really understand the goals of this march: despite its grandure, despite the spectacle of watching an idea marshal itself or a common cause becoming animated by possessing its acolytes, it all seemed, well, self-reflexive at the time. Marching for marching’s sake. Marching for the marchers.

I knew that the idea was to send a message to the Democratic congress (This Is Why We Put You In That Building, And Should You Forget It You Will Be Removed) but without an audience there, and, indeed, with the likes of Danny Glover and Jane Fonda speaking, it didn’t seem like a message that would necessarily permeate the capitol dome.

But the Democrats seem emboldened. This might be the after-effect of their sudden victory, and the persistent numbers that are transforming President Bush into a lame duck—indeed it might have nothing to do with the march. But something’s gotten into them. I can almost feel it now, can almost see the winds changing. And I think everyone can: Democrats, in power, and not making complete jackasses of themselves.

The Democrats can’t continue to attack the war in Iraq: eventually that chorus will turn into some distorted version of the ‘Remember 9/11’ that won 2004 for President Bush. Americans seem to have finally woken up from the effects of that incantation, so the Democrats will have to win at home. And they’re off to a good start. Their first 100 hours realized a Minimum Wage increase and a stem cell package. Personally, I think the Democrats should put a stem cell package across the President’s desk every week and make him get in front of a podium every week and explain why he vetoed it. Eventually the children that he used as a backdrop during his first explanation will start getting ill, and each week we’ll have to hear why it was his moral obligation to veto the bill, right up until 2008, right up until the voting public has seen how crippling a Republican President has been to biomedical research. But I digress.

It all feels too good right now, all feels like the other shoe is about to drop (Joe Biden has come close to letting it go). But if the last few years have taught us anything in politics, it’s that if you’re not playing offense, you’re playing defense. And for now the Democrats seem to have learned.

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