(Fictional account of the events following the announcement beginning the Iraq War)
March 20th 2003, Chicago:
We stopped the traffic on LSD hoping to stop the war….
The crowd of people pressed against her back and the line of nightsticks pressed into her breasts. The front line of protesters wore bandannas across their faces; the girl in the center of the line wore red. Underneath her bandanna a piercing whistle hung around her neck. She held it between her teeth and the air she blew into it caused the bottom of the bandanna to flap up with each screech. She was so close to the line of cops in riot gear that her breath made a steamy imprint on their plastic shield masks.
The cops stood shoulder to shoulder looking like something out of a science fiction movie. They wore black pads on their arms and legs, black shining armor, and large plastic shield masks. Underneath the plastic shield a gas mask hung around each cop’s neck. There was a single strip of electric tape placed across the numbers and names on their badges. In their gloved hands they held night sticks out in front of them end to end. They were a barricade made of men, or at least that’s what the girl expected.
Directly in front of the girl in fact the cop whose night stick was pressed against her breast, was not a man. She was a small blond woman, even shorter than the girl. She had blue eyes like the girl and kept her lips in a thin line, behind the plastic the girl couldn’t read anything in the woman cops eyes, except they kept darting back and forth across the mass of protesters. The protesters were massed across all four lanes of the northbound side of Lakeshore drive. The march was so long that the stragglers at the end of the march were still around the corner of Jackson and hadn’t turned on to the drive yet. Back only a few blocks the mass of people made their way through stopped cars. Most of them had turned their engines off, but a few flashed their lights in solidarity, a few drivers hung out their car windows and doors their fists raised in the air, or their fingers flashing peace signs. Horns honked and people shouted. The thick mass of people kept getting bigger and bigger but the cops stood in their path, three cops thick and as wide as the four lanes.
The people pushed forward into the cops and the cops pushed back. From somewhere a few blocks back a whisper started. Like a game of telephone it was whispered from one person to the next, the suggestion, no command rose over the crowd that was already pushing, it massed with the anger. Charge the line, it said. A woman pushing a stroller with a sign hanging from the side, that said “use your words” passed it to a young woman in long skirt that billowed around her and a drum around her neck, she passed it to the man with the yellow bandana and the man with a yellow bandana and a thick beard that came out the end whispered it to the girl, she held the whistle in her teeth and then leaned over to the boy with the mega phone. Charge the line. The whole front row simultaneously linked arms…well not quite but to the blond woman cop in the middle of the line it must have seemed that way. The held out their elbows and linked their elbow inside each other like in a dosey-do only the only way their were dancing was through that line. The girl wasn’t sure she was ready but she felt the push of the crowd and they pushed hard, and because her arms where linked she pushed too. She blew the whistle looking into the blue eyes of the woman cop. “Whose streets? Our Streets!” the chant began.
As if there was a silent and instantaneous count of three the crowd waived forward like a child about to jump into a pool, One…small push…two…a little bigger…three…jump. The feeling of being pushed from behind by so many people was overwhelming the closet thing she could think of was it was like your feet being swept up by a wave, the line of cops snapped down in the middle and first people were walking and then they were running down lake shore drive through the break in the police barrier.
Towards where the traffic was still moving. It was hard to tell where directions came from, but you followed the group and they were jumping the barricade and moving west toward Grant Park. The cops chased after a few people and claimed a few, but most of the people rushed past and they seamed to be standing without orders not knowing whether to follow them or let them go. From the top of the barrier between the northbound and southbound side of Lake Shore Drive the girl paused for just a moment. She couldn’t see the end of the march, what she could see is instead of the normal streaks of light one would see this time of night watching the drive, for miles and miles the cars were stopped and the headlights were standing as still as the cars. And it wasn’t just cars either, a city bus had been stopped, a large delivery truck, taxies, motorcycles, SUVs, family station wagons. The power rush was tremendous. When they walked past the stopped cars grinning and the cops where bewildered. “ This is what democracy looks like” was the chant when the cops tried to block the natural flow of the marchers.
Over the four lanes of southbound LSD they ran west over a wire and wood fence through a brush filled muddy section of Grant Park onto Columbus Avenue. The cops had not expected that flank at least that was the first thought because when the girl got there, there was a lonely patrol car that was completely surrounded by protesters. A few protesters were standing or sitting on the car. Peace signs and “fuck bush” had been written in chalk across the windshield. One protester, a young man, tall and black had his sweatshirt hood pulled so tightly around his face that it puckered up and only his mouth nose and eyes popped through. He bounced on the car rocking it back and forth.
The cops figured out what’s what quicker than you thought because all of a sudden there was a league of equestrians blocking their path to Michigan Ave. The horse snorted and clicked their heels up and down on the pavement. The group was surrounded. Then all at once with the same fluidity as the protesters had charged the line, the cops lowered the plastic shields across their faces and secured the gas masks over their mouths. The girl could not see this because she was thickly surrounded in people, but another whisper rose through the crowd, cover up, gas…they’re going to gas us…the girl looked at the people next to her and there was an old woman with wild white hair and a beige pants suit. And there was the woman with the stroller from before. She handed her scarf to the old woman. Then she nudged her way to the front. She stood in front of the horses and looked up. Even the horses wore armor on their shins and had smaller plastic shield masks over their faces. The blond cop looked down at her. The cop breathed through her mask. The girl spit the whistle out of her mouth it hung on a lanyard against her chest. She lowered her bandana and looked straight at the blond woman cop. “ No don’t, there’s old people and children here.” The woman cop didn’t answer her the pudgy bald one on the right of her did.
“ Tell them to lie to down on the street.” The girl was so mad that the she turned her back to the cops and made her way back to the old woman and the woman with the stroller. She planned to cover them up the best she could. She thought she heard the hissing of the gas, but what she really heard was another chant rising, two chants actually. “ The whole world is watching!” was the first and the second, from mostly protesters in black, or wearing bandanas or waving black flags, “ Remember 69!” “The whole world is watching!” And when the hissing did start instead of falling to the ground the crowd stood and chanted. And the hissing was turned off.
A line of cameramen and media stood on the west side of the street and a high-rise apartment building was directly in front of the crowd. People pressed their faces against window pains on almost every floor, and the door man at the Hilton on the east side of the street stood on the edge of the side walk. Nothing would happen here, because the world was watching. So back over the muddy park the group went merging with the rest of the marchers who had finally caught up.