PEACE WAS COOL by Mark Gunnion
Friday night, I stayed up late printing posters on our black and white printer.  I made about 50, spread over 15 designs.  I had been writing the slogans all week while I was working on other projects.  I then edited my messages Friday night, picking ones I thought were appropriate for the purposes of the march (Peace) and which also covered my central political position (Bush is an unelected moron). 

Saturday morning, I collected a bunch of coat hangers, and cb found me some long garden stakes and a yardstick I could use.  I stretched the coat hangers out into long handles, then I used strapping tape to connect pieces of cardboard to the hooks, making a secure base for the posters. I also taped cardboard tops to the garden stakes and the yardstick. I then taped the posters onto the cardboard.  This created a pretty secure, easy to hold sign that was lightweight and, most important, cheap.  As the minutes clicked by Saturday morning, I hustled to create as many signs as I could before leaving for the march.   I managed to make about 30 signs, then jumped into my marching gear:  my marchFIRST polo shirt and marchFIRST hat (for a pre-emptive march against a pre-emptive war).  I then put on a vest with big, zippable pockets.  Into these, I put the walkman stereo recording unit and our old, battered digital camera, its battery door held together with four old rubber bands.  I put on jeans, comfortable shoes, and shades, and then got some cash - leaving my wallet home.   I grabbed up the posters, I could just about hold them all in one hand, and cb zoomed me over to the BART station. 

When I walked into the Balboa BART station, which is just a few stops from the end of the line, I could see the crowd was already gathering.  At 10:40 on a Saturday morning, there were lines at each of the four ticket machines 15 people deep.  I scoped out the shortest one and got in line.  In seconds, people were checking out my gear, saying, "Hey, cool signs!"  I said, "You want one?  Take your pick."  And immediately, this party of 4-5 college-age kids were leafing through the signs, which I was halfway clutching to my chest as I dug in my pockets for BART change, and they pulled two or three signs out and took off with them. 

I got my ticket and skipped down the escalator to the platform.  When the big BART train sighed in, I got into the front door of the front car.  As the train pulled out, I walked toward the back of the car, saying, "Anybody need a sign?"  and a couple of people jumped up right away and took a sign each. I passed into the next car, which was more crowded.  There were all kinds of people, an incredible range.  White, Black, Asian, Latino, moms with strollers, college and high school kids, lots of old grey ponytails like me, office drones, spike-haired punks and patchouli-scented hippies, frat boys with dates, all kinds.  "Anybody need a sign?"  One girl asked, "Are you selling them?"  I laughed "Hell, no, Iím just trying to spread the ideas."  People came at me from every direction.  People seemed to really enjoy digging through the different messages and shopping for one they liked, for a message they could carry all day.  One woman said, "Oooh, Anti-War, Anti-Bush, that's me". "Ooh, yeah" one frat guy said "War is for Morons, I like that".   One older dude in a jean jacket said, "The Real Drug Is Oil, that's a good one."  I said, "You'll probably like this one, "No War For Halliburton", and he said, yeah, gimme that. 

By the time I was through the second car, I'd given away all my signs.  I held up my empty hands, and proclaimed, "My work here is done!" and the crowd cheered.  I strode toward the next car and hollered back, "Dissent is patriotic!" and they cheered again.  It was the happiest, friendliest, buzzing-est crowd I've ever seen on a BART train.  Everybody was smiling, and looking each other in the eyes, and talking excitedly.  The car groaned under the weight of the growing crowd as we approached downtown, and more and more people piled on, politely scrunching together so everyone fit.

The march was scheduled to start any minute, at the top of Market Street.  I got out one stop early, at Montgomery, so I could see the front of the march.  I got out of the train, and there were hundreds of people in the station.  Coming up into the street with the crowd, I was immediately aware of the huge sound that a hundred thousand people can make.

Coming down Market Street towards me was the biggest crowd of people I've ever seen.  Holding huge street-spanning signs at chest height, and led by a Native American dancer blessing their path with smoke and rattles, a sea of people running from curb to curb across the whole width of Market, with hordes more pouring down the sidewalks on either side. The top of Market Street in San Francisco is the very heart of the financial district, and the wide avenue is bordered by gleaming skyscrapers reaching 30 and 40 stories into the sky.  The morning air was crisp and sunny, no breeze.  So, as the thousands and thousands and thousands of excited, screaming, howling marchers came around the corner, off the Embarcadero, and into the long, straight slot of Market Street, the sounds of their voices, chants, songs, and drums filled the air with a chaotic, swirling roar.  A helicopter hovered in a stationary spot a thousand feet above, and its rotors beat a fast rhythmic thud into the cacophony. 

I was standing there soaking in the roar and the sweep of such a huge crowd.  A short, smiling guy ran up to me and said, "Look! It's the real preseident!  Are you going to take his picture?  It's Martin Sheen!"   I looked up, and there he was, marching along in the middle of the crowd, smiling and chatting with people around him.  I called out, "Hail to the Chief!"  He was being very gracious as he marched along, posing for photos with people. The Bartlet Administration really has been my government for the past two years, so I was very proud to see him out with us.  I jumped out into the tide of people, and worked my way over to him, and smiled at him and waved. Now, I wasn't raised in the South, I never was taught to call people Ma'am or Sir.  But I was just so impressed with his being there, I blurted it out: "Thanks for coming, sir!"  And he looked at me and said, "Thank you," very warmly.   A guy walking beside him had a big dog, and Sheen looked at him and said, "Hey, great dog", and the guy said, "Yeah, another dog for peace."  Sheen asked his name, and he said, Chango, and Sheen says, "Ah, Chango, that's one of the Gods!" and he was off into a very Bartlet-like discourse on Santeria cosmology. 

I faded back into the flow of the parade, drifting backwards and across to the other sidewalk.  I wanted to see the march go by this time, as at the last march I had actually marched, and so had not seen as much of the parade itself.  I jumped up on a concrete bench and looked up and back. Thousands and tens of thousands of people, back up Market Street for blocks and blocks, disappearing around the corner of the last building, and in the other direction, thousands and thousands and thousands more, streaming on toward City Hall. 

It seemed like nearly half the people marching had a sign of one kind or another:  "Whoa, Cowboy", and lots of variations on "Empty Warheads Found in Washington" reflecting the news of the day from Iraq.  There was every possible variation around one theme:  Axis of Weasels, The True Axis of Evil (Bush Cheney Ashcroft [or Rumsfield]), Axles of Evil  (with a toy SUV attached).  "Drop Bush, Not Bombs", and lots of longer, more detailed statements from people, long scrawls of black on white cardboard that they carried high as they marched along, petitioning their government for redress of their grievances

It was really thrilling and inspiring when, every ten minutes or so, you could hear a huge, distant swelling of noise - a building roar, bouncing down off the walls of the skyscrapers, twisting down the long canyon, and you'd realize it was just the crowd, randomly letting loose a howl - of rage, and pain, and protest - and then the wave would break over where I was standing, and suddenly everyone around me was looking up in the air and screaming as loudly as they could.  That was really cool. 

A group of clean-cut young people in shirts and ties, with caps saying "Homeland Security", walked by, holding a large ring of rope surrounding several gagged people.  As they went, they were grabbing people off the sidelines and pulling them into their roped-off, moving cordon, a "Mobile Detention Center", handing each person a white cloth gag to put in their mouth as they were rounded up and put in detention, and dragged along into the parade.  The young folks, girls and boys, were saying into bullhorns, "Thanks for your cooperation, you're going to be much safer now, thank you, move along, move along, nothing to see here, this intervention brought to you by the Homeland Security Office.  You'll be much safer now.  Oh, there, you , sir, you need to come with me..."

There were the very frightening Women In Black, about two score women, most with grey hair and all dressed in flowing black robes, silently marching along carrying simple black signs, surrounding a tall pair of mournful black female icons, ten feet above the crowd, their mourning robes flowing like wings around them, their stately stillness making them all the more menacing, and giving them great gravitas.

Further back, along the route, there was a capoeira samba school, with well-trained Central American marching drum corps pounding out a dance beat, and the crowd in front of them, ten across and ten long, were grooving back and forth across their half of the street in a huge, synchronized line-dance.  Truth be told, it reminded me a little bit of the LA Hustle we used to do back in the day.  I flowed back through the march, seeking out more drums and drummers, and saw a circle of guys in bright red rags and sashes, pounding out a furious, multi-layered beat.  As I approached, I recognized the lead drummer.  It was Jeff Mooney, the skinny red-headed right-hand man of the Bay Area's activist StarHawk, and the former drummer / bassplayer from my old Junglebook live band.  He seems to pop up at all the good demonstrations.  He was leading this wild drum circle, and I could see he was holding it together by sheer force of will, so I didn't try to talk to him, I just ran up, with my tape recorder going, and leaned over his snare drum while he pounded, and gave him a big kiss.  "You're beautiful man!"  he said, and I said, "You're beautiful, man!"  He leaned in towards my tape recorder and sang out, "Thanks for the money!", a lyric from one of my old songs we used to do.  I pulled off a snapshot, then I circled around him a few times, taping the sounds of his group, and then I was off, back into the march. 

I had smelled some clove cigarettes here and there along the route.  Then, standing on the curb by a group of grey-haired fellows who were having a good laugh, I detected a scent which brought me wafting back to me high school days, when I used to go to the heavy metal concerts.  I turned and looked, and I thought, "That guy looks familiar."  He exhaled, held out his hand, and said, "Dennis Peron."  Sure enough, it was Dennis Peron, internationally-known crusader for medical marijuana and the overall decriminalization of pot.  I said "Hello Dennis, thanks for all your work" and he was right on it, "I just got back from Utah, got busted in Utah, we're doing some work there."  The gentleman he was with offered me a taste from his huge, burning thing, but I really didn't have any, and I didn't enjoy it, and I didn't inhale. 

There was a Filipino youth group, with a soulful call-and-response chant, and beginner protesters who were still looking at their crib sheets for lyrics before they shouted into their bullhorms.  One of my favorite chants was the funky, syncopated, "THIS is WHAT dem-OC-racy LOOKS like!"  There were moms taking kids out to their first march, little 7-year olds with painted faces throwing the peace sign and wincing at the din.  Old hippie observers along the route encouraged them, throwing the peace sign back and saying, "Yay, Peace!" - which seemed to be the overwhelming theme of the day.  I saw only one sign criticizing Israel.  No Mumia posters.  Some references to civil rights and the quashing of dissent.  But overall, a remarkably focused, unified message from the huge throng.  At three or four spots along the parade, as I watched it and criss-crossed through it and moved around it, recording sound and taking pictures, I saw people with the signs I had made and given away on the train.  That felt really good. 

There were suburban gangs of moms and dads, strolling and singing along with a folksinger walking and playing a 12-string guitar.  There were lots of freelance, ad hoc conglomerations of people marching along playing percussion instruments, from agogo bells to fancy marching congas, to plastic buckets held on with Dadís old neckties.  Then there was a blast of intoxicated horns, and the flashback sight of whirling batons flying into the air, announcing the appearence of the Extra Action Marching Band, a ratty, punk rock marching band, complete with drum majors and twirlers, glockenspiels and tubas, wheezing out blurry versions of old midwestern fightsongs and halftime cookers.  There was a side-by-side tandem bike thing that was pulling a tiny trailer, upon which sat a guitarist with a tiny amp and a guy playing a snare drum with brushes, who sang sensitive folkie originals while being pulled up the street. 

But mostly there were people, humans, folks - wave after wave after wave of them, in Eddie Bauer and costumes and drag and rags and uniforms - singing, chanting, screaming, laughing.  Some folks covered one ear with one hand and clutched cell phones to the other, screaming  to someone at home, or holding the phone up so they could hear the pandemonium for themselves.  Thousands and thousands and thousands of people who feel that their politics are broken, that no one is standing up and questioning the administration, who feel their fears are not shown in the corporate media, whose voices are not heard amidst the drumbeat for war and the crazed, bloodthirsty howling of the talk radio clowns. 

After standing in more or less one part of Market Street and watching the parade go by, after two solid hours, the crowd was still streaming by me, solid with people from one side of the wide boulevard to the other.  I started heading towards the tail of the parade, upstream of the flow.  There were fewer organized groups under large banners as I finally neared the tail of the march, more and more singles and couples, with their own signs, some that looked like they had been drawn up on the bus ride in.  Finally, two and a half hours downwind of the start, the end of the parade was pulled up by a group of men and women, all in white, silently dancing pirouettes in the street, moving slowly along behind the end of the crowd, followed by one guy in a volunteer vest and a motorized wheelchair, leaving the empty, windblown Embarcadero behind.  The presentation of speakers had begun a mile away at City Hall a half hour ago, and the last of the marchers were just now dancing and rolling away from the staging area.  The cops later estimated 75,000, the organizers said 200,000, but it was huge, and sprawling, and mind-boggling. 

This sea of people, this river of voices, all came together peacefully just to show, with their bodies and words, that they want to be heard before all this madness is committed in their name.  It was very inspiring and encouraging, and I want to tell everybody who reads this, if you can get to a march, go, go and show yourself and be counted. 

Mark Gunnion
San Francisco
January 19, 2003 




Chango and the roar (612K)
This is what democracy looks like (372K)
What do we want (368K)
Yay, Peace! (144K)

A Tiny Polemic ready to hit the street
making posters
the signs on handles, ready to go
the canyon
My President - Martin Sheen, Profile in Courage
Hail to the Chief
Marching with Martin - Sheen, that is
Start of the march
Veterans for Peace
We're behind you, President Bartlet
Dennis Peron, medical marijuana crusader
in full, that one says, "Impeach the Dim Son"
one of many drum circles
filling the streets
The complete text of that one in the middle with the small type is: "DRAFT-DODGING BLOODTHIRSTY CHEERLEADER WAR-LOVING FRAT-BOY PUPPET IDIOT." 
The Women In Black
more Women In Black
Jeff Mooney, the redhead in the middle, leads a drum circle
Jeff bangs the drum for peace. 
King George with his crown
Hey!  I made those signs!
Hey!  I made those signs, too!
Not In Our Name
Not In Our Name banner
a giant peace goddess puppet oversees the street
The American Soldier and the Smirking Chimp, puppets of BP. 
ready to go
Hey, I made those, too. 
Sea of Signs
war is terror
Or for anything else, come to think of it
There's that yardstick. 
'til the next one...