When I look back at the things I’ve done in my life one of the things missing is that I have never been part of a political protest. I’ve never taken a risk for a cause I believe in. The farthest I've stuck my neck out has been in the voting booth and conversation with friends. The more I thought about it, the more firmly resolved I became that I simply couldn’t die without taking some kind of a risk for my beliefs. So I decided to march.
I've taught Sunday School to a lot of young men who are now in the military. Evan Gray returned home without a scratch after riding a tank into Baghdad carrying a shoulder mounted missle launcher. But Chad Kueser didn’t. He lost both of his legs. Now Matt McCormick is over there and Matt Cottingham may go for his third tour. And Nathanael Gold is in the Marine Corps reserves. I've watched these kids grow up. It’s time to stop this war. So I decided to march.
I’ve never been to a political demonstration before. I attended college in the 60’s yet somehow managed to miss out on civil rights marches and all the peace demonstrations. I wasn’t sure of the drill. I mean, what do you wear to a peace march? Good shoes, for sure. But should I wear out a T-shirt that made a statement? About all I could come up with was church mission shirts or college sweat shirts. I decided to go for the classy and uncontroversial look. So I wore my newest polo shirt. Better in a mug shot, I decided. I don't think people get arrested at these things anymore but it's always best to be prepared. I wanted to avoid carrying anything so I wore my jeans with the biggest pockets and stuffed them with car keys, camera, cell phone, chewing gum, note paper and pens. I probably looked like a kangaroo.
I showed up at Mockingbird Station about thirty minutes before the march was to begin. But the DART station there is just huge and I didn't see a gathering of peaceful looking people. For the longest time I just walked around trying to figure out where everybody was or where they were supposed to start. Then I started seeing cops and people with cameras on tripods. This looked like the place.
But first I had to tend to a couple of business matters. Namely, I had to pee. Something told me this was a matter I needed to take care of before setting off to God Knows Where. Also, the weather was windy and overcast. It looked like it might be cold. So, I did what any good American would do. I went shopping. I spotted a shop across Mockingbird and marched off to buy a jacket and use their bathroom before setting out. I had no idea just how long a peace march takes.
I found a really nice long sleeved shirt that matched my short sleeved shirt perfectly. For once in my life I looked rather fashionable, if I do say so myself. I was probably the best-dressed marcher they had except for the kangaroo pockets.
When I got back to the parking lot enough people had gathered that I knew I was in the right place. One clue was a solid crowd of old hippies with long gray hair wearing t-shirts with one slogan or another. A lot of the men had not only turned gray haired but suffered from pattern baldness and refused to give up their ponytail so they ended up with that pony tail of only the lower half of their head. The more mature folks outnumbered the young kids. There was even a gray haired woman walking with a cane. I am not kidding. So, this is where all the old hippies went to.
I found the most main-stream looking woman I could and struck up a conversation. Dawn came all the way from Fort Worth for this. She had fashionable clothes like myself. I noticed one dignified man wearing a suit and tie. He appeared to have come straight from work.
Someone came up and asked Dawn and me to carry a banner. We held it there for a while before we realized we didn’t have a clue what the banner said. For all we knew it could have said something way out of our comfort zone. But it had a slogan I could carry with conviction: “One Planet – One People” I couldn’t have come up with a better one if I tried.
Dawn was an experienced seamstress and we spent a lot of time critiquing the banner. It needed holes to lessen the wind resistance but was made from very sturdy material. I looked around at all the banners and realized somebody somewhere has a garage full of these banners for most of the year. I wondered if their neighbors know. We stood at the DART station for about 30 minutes before we actually did anything. A television reporter came and asked me what I was trying to say by my presence there. I gave him a few sound bites and Dawn told me I was both eloquent and succinct. So far, marching is a lot of fun and we haven't even taken a step yet.
We didn’t really walk very far, we only went from the Mockingbird station across Central Expressway and to the edge of the SMU campus--maybe a half a mile or so. But the people in charge certainly knew how to run a peace march. We made very orchestrated moves. It reminded me of all the times the Girl Scouts marched in the Labor Day parade. There was a lot of stopping and standing around. We stopped several times and deliberately stood in the intersections. Our police escort waited for us as we blocked traffic. It seemed to be timed because after a while the police would then tell us quite politely that we needed to move because he needed to let traffic through. I’m not a really vindictive person and I felt kind of bad when I realized what we were doing to the residential Highland Park streets. The traffic there is bad on good days. We had a whole lot of big black SUVs mad at us. I looked up to see three helicopters hovering over us.
Several cars honked at us. I told myself these people had read the banner that said “Honk for Peace” and, sure enough, some people gave us the peace sign. There were others, of course, that gave us the Unpeaceful Sign. On the whole, however, we got a lot more positive vibes from traffic than bad vibes.
We passed La Madeleine, where I had made arrangements to eat dinner afterwards with a friend, and turned right to skirt alongside the campus. At this point we encountered a bunch of very conservative SMU boys who shouted at us from their cars. This was unusual- I thought all college kids were against authority and wanted to demonstrate against the status quo at the drop of a hat.
Somehow the march now shifted from being against the war to being against the proposed location of the Bush library at the SMU campus. My interest waned at this point. I really don’t have a beef with the library being there. I don’t automatically foam at the mouth over Everything Bush. I’m a little more ambivalent than some of the folks I was marching with. About a block more of walking and the march ended up at a grassy spot where they had set up a platform for speeches and music. There were a couple of non-descript speeches against a variety of things, including one in Spanish about immigration reform. Another lady offered to take my end of the banner since I was letting it droop. I passed off the banner and faded into the crowd. When the entertainment started I walked back over to the shopping center to meet my friend for dinner.
Within 30 minutes I had a calls on my cell phone from friends who had already seen me on the news. I tried to remember what I had said and all I could remember was something about war not being the answer to the world’s problems. I think I said war is never the answer. But, in retrospect, I’m not sure I feel that way. Sometimes there are reasons for military action. Certainly it required a war to stop Hitler. And the more I thought about it the more gray the whole issue got and the less black and white it was. Yes, I'm against the current war. I'm worried not only about the people on both sides who this war is killing, maiming and mentally re-arranging. There are a hell of a lot of innocent civilians being permanently affected by all of this. They don't deserve what we are doing in that country. I'm against what we are doing to our own reputation in the world. I want us to be team players in the global neighborhood. I think if we were issued a report card now we'd get a D minus in "Plays well with others." I worry what we are doing to our planet with all these explosions making craters in the surface of Mother Earth. Actually, the banner I had been issued expressed my beliefs better than I had: "One Planet, One People."
I didn’t go to the march with a statement for the press prepared. I certainly never expected to have a television reporter ask me to explain my beliefs. Beaven and I have plenty of ideas and opinions when we sit around our house and watch the news on TV. In my rush to give a short answer to the television guy I took the risk that I wouldn't give a complete answer.
In the end I found the risk I had been looking for and it wasn't the one I expected. I thought I would be risking physical injury or arrest or at the least a lot of walking and shouting. The real risk I found was in misrepresenting my own beliefs. I risked trying to make something extraordinarily complicated into something simple. The risk came not from outside but from within myself.