It was mid-February, 2003, when I was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a conference. The weather was pleasant enough – 70’s and 80’s during the day, 60’s in the evening. But there I was, in my hotel room, with the heater kicked on high, wearing sweats under the blankets. I must have had it up over 80 degrees in the room, but I was still chilled to the bone.
The reason I recall this is because Common Dreams published Phyllis Bennis’ article reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the worldwide protest against the United States’ push for invading Iraq.
I remember it being a very very cold day. A group of us met at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, and together we walked to Grand Circus Park. I had my photo-journalist vest over my winter gear, to carry both my zoom and normal lenses and plenty of film. We arrived after the speeches had begun, the crowd surrounding the Hazen S. Pingree statue. Then, we walked. The group holding signs, chanting, and walking in step with the cadence of drummers, proceeded down Washington Boulevard toward Cobo Hall. I snapped off photo after photo, while chanting with the crowd. The cold seemed less severe for a while.
As the march concluded at Cobo Hall, many sought warmth within. The annual Boat Show was taking place, yet anti-war protesters occupied the vast lobby. My wife, not comfortable in confined spaces, backed away towards the windows as I moved in to stand with a circle of drummers. The drumming echoed within the great lobby of the hall, drawing protesters and curious Boat Show visitors. I noticed a ring of Detroit Police Officers begin to circle the drummers, but I maintained my position, snapping photos in rhythm. The officers were rather close, standing mere steps behind each drummer, but no action was taken.
After several minutes, I decided to turn around, locate my wife, and decide what we were going to do next. I was surprised to find her standing within steps of me. We maneuvered our way out of the crowd and she informed me that something almost happened. She told me that as the police officers were converging, one held a radio communicating to the others. An officer next to her tapped her shoulder and pointed directly at me (I did not see this happen), and called the troops off from breaking up the drum circle. I can only assume that they thought I was the press and photographs of officers breaking up the drummers wouldn’t reflect well on the Department.
Upon reflection ten years, we didn’t stop President Bush from engaging in an illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq. We didn’t prevent the deaths of 110,000-120,000 (and counting) Iraqi citizens. But as Bennis said in the soon-to-be released “We Are Many” documentary, the February 15, 2003 protest “set the stage for movements to come;” movements like the Arab Spring and Occupy.
Frederick Douglass said, “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” Well, at the 2-15-2003 protest and all marches I’ve attended up to Occupy, one of the echoing chants is “Ain’t no power like the power of the people cuz the power of the people don’t quit.”
I needed the heat within that Fort Lauderdale hotel room in 2003 to restore my physical body to full strength from the flu I contacted that cold Saturday. Little did I conceive the long-term impact of our participation. Thinking that the chapter of the history book had closed with Bush’s invasion a little over a month later, it was just the first page of a story that is still being written.
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consultion with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph…
A noted one, who kept a tavern at Amboy, was standing at his door, with as pretty a child in his hand, about eight or nine years old, as most I ever saw, and after speaking his mind as freely as he thought was prudent, finished with this unfatherly expression, “Well! give me peace in my day.” [A] generous parent would have said, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.
Thomas Paine, from an address written in 1776, and read aloud by order of George Washington to the encampment at Valley Forge. (Source: Occupy: Scenes from Occupied Amercia Verso Books, 2011)