Discover more from Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
Somebody else's troubles
On the march, from the fringe
Living in DC, Land of the Lanyards, had many drawbacks, but it also afforded many opportunities to observe protests. I attended many of the various marches that came with the Trump era, about female autonomy and science and climate change and gun control and George Floyd and so on. With these I was very much on board. But I also attended a bunch of pro-Trump events in DC, including some of the later, loonier ones that set the table for January 6 (which I missed only by intervention ).
The MARC train is easy and cheap, and a friend would be in town for it, so I rolled in for the Palestine march on Saturday. I caught the end of the Liberty Plaza rally, where the rhetoric, and the crowd response, ran a good deal hotter than what I’d experienced at prior events.
I mean, there was expected and understandable outrage at the continuing mass murder of civilians in Gaza, and at its enablers, including Joe Biden and Antony Blinken, who are trying to split the difference by calling for a “pause” instead of a cease-fire, and getting neither.
But there were also overt calls for an end to U.S. support for Israel and even for the end of Israel itself. I didn’t hear anyone speak up for Hamas and their murders and kidnappings — though I’m sure some rightwing asshole has found a protest sign that does so and given it play in the prestige media.
Needless to say (though I guess in this world of fist-shakers and finger-waggers it has to be said) I don’t support Hamas either. But as absurd as I think it is to demand a loyalty oath before you’ll hear someone’s grief or anger over mass murder, I expect the majority of the marchers on Saturday would have found such a demand worse than absurd.
I’m an American and it’s not my fight. I’m more interested in the fate of my own country than that of Palestine or Israel (or the kingdom of heaven for which fundies imagine Israel their apocalyptic launch pad). I’m pissed about the injustice but I also expect the U.S. will have client states for some time to come, and in this region if it isn’t Israel then the way things are going it’ll be Saudi Arabia and that will be much worse. I look at the present struggle as an opportunity to change the terms of our alliance so that we’re not just automatically blessing the immiseration of Israel’s subject class every time we drop off some foreign aid.
And I think by calling every ambulance, refugee camp, and journalist they bomb “Hamas” and calling anyone who doubts it an antisemite, the Netanyahoos may be hastening that transformation. Maybe we’ve actually learned something since the post-9/11 War on Whatchamacallit. I hope so.
That’s as far as I go. But the people on the march had a different perspective. They don’t think of themselves as contestants in an intellectual exercise, but as oppressed people who are rising up. It’s one thing to lament your country’s lack of sane gun laws and the resulting awful but scattered preventable deaths and general atmosphere of menace. It’s another to see your homeland bombed to shit with your relatives in it.
So it was as an outsider that I marched — not with the natural affinity I’d had at the anti-Trump marches. But my interest wasn’t quite as detached as what I’d had for the pro-Trump marches, either. If these people were responding to a political program, parts of which I couldn’t share, they were also responding to oppression and slaughter. Jaded as I am, I can’t be completely detached from that.
Also I’m always interested in history, especially when I’m living in it, and this march, and the many others like it in big cities all over the world over the past few weeks, really was something new. It was a big as any I’ve seen since the first Women’s March. I ran with the pack up 14th Street NW and settled in at McPherson Square and watched the steady stream go by for an hour and a quarter. That’s a lot of people, especially for a cause Americans have been repeatedly told is too radical to even entertain.
At McPherson Square, I saw dozens of marchers pause to pray, laying their keffiyehs and Palestinian flags out in front of them on the grass to bow upon. There were kids playing in the park, elderly folks lounging on benches. There were also gestures of solidarity — one guy with two simple signs: “Glory to the martyrs” (outline of Palestine) and “Hasta la victoria siempre” (Puerto Rican flag). I saw a Satmar family, the men with beards, in long coats, white stockings, and round fur hats, the boys with payos in vests, all carrying anti-Zionist signs. (There were also plenty of secular Jews for Palestine.) Throughout, the call-and-response “from the river to the sea” chant — go fight with Rashida Tlaib about it if you think it’s a “To Serve Man – it’s a cookbook!” thing. One thing is certain: You’re going to have to do something with these people besides continue to try and obliterate them.
Roy Edroso Breaks It Down is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.