Bush made me do it.
apathetic all my life, I barely followed the issues,
never voted, and never much cared to.
September 11th, the United States had the sympathy
of the world. There was so much potential. But, in
a few short years, Bush and his foreign policy turned
that sympathy into hatred.
forced me to get up, get out, and take to the streets.
11:00AM on November 19th, I joined the anti-war
coalition at the London Eye for a protest march
against Bush. It was the first political action of
foreign leaders are invited for a state visit to London,
it is tradition that they travel around the streets
in a golden carriage with the Queen. Bush turned this
down for security reasons. The anti-war coalition
organized a fake state procession for the president.
They hired a horse and carriage to carry a masked
Bush and queen through the streets of London. I arrived
to find several hundred people brandishing the "Stop
Bush" posters I'd seen plastered around London
since the summer.
horses pulled a carriage with the fake president and
queen inside. Behind them marched a group of weapons
inspectors carrying a nuclear missile with the letters
USA on the side. 'We've found the weapons of mass
destruction' read one sign. I joined in behind them
with the rest of the protesters.
rounded the first street corner, and there was the
media. Dozens of video cameras were carefully aligned
an the same side of the street so as not to film each
other. I'm used to watching events unfold on television
- not being part of them.
into the throng of the march were many people I assumed
to be with the independent media. The amateur journalists
came with hand-held video cameras and MP3s recorders
to interview the crowd. I think it is a positive step
for democracy that with a minimal financial investement
and average technical skills, anyone can report an
event, and make their particular side and spin available
on the internet.
march started at the London Eye, and ended in Trafalgar
Square. Abruptly. I didn't know what I expected to
happen at the end, an appearance by the real president,
a regime change, a riot, a pro-bush protest waiting
for us, but I expected something to happen. Instead,
the organizer told us when the next protest would
meet, and thanked everyone for coming.
then we dispersed.
wandered off, and noticed that the fountains at Trafalgar
Square were turning a deep, blood red. I went over
to investigate. When I reached the edge of the pools
it seemed that someone dumped a large amount of red
powder in the water. I got some of it on my hands.
thinking, I tried to wash it off in the clear part
of the water. Immediately, my hands went from having
a small amount of powder on them to being completely
red. I also realized this didn't look good for me.
I was one of the first to notice the water, and now,
to someone else, it would seem that I was the purpotrator
of this vandalism.
my head I heard the words my mother spoke to me many
times: "I support you and hope you enjoy the
protest, but please, please don't get arrested."
walked quickly and (I hoped) unsuspiciously, to the
bathroom. Inside, I filled my hands with soap, and
washed furiously. It was no use. Cleaning my hands
was unsuccessful, but I did manage to dye the stainless-steel
sink red. Behind me, several Trafalgar Square workers
came into the bathroom.
can't believe what happened to the fountains,"
I hope we catch the guy," said another.
red hands in a red sink, it wasn't looking good for
me. Luckily, I remembered I brought gloves in my backpack.
I quickly dried my hands, put on the gloves, and got
the hell out of there.
half ran to Buckingham palace. The British police
sealed most of the area off from pedestrians. There
was no place convenient to sit, or for protesters
an enterprising group realized that motor vehicle
traffic was still allowed in the circular driveway
in front of the palace. They organized bicyclists
to go around endlessly, blowing whistles and yelling
'Not in my name!'
walked back to Trafalgar Square and discovered that
protesters covered it in chalk drawings and slogans
while I was gone. I walked around, and read most of
them. Bread crumbs covered a large drawing of a peace
dove in the center, inviting the ousted
pigeons of the square to join in the festivities.
As I perused the ground, a man in a wheelchair offered
me a piece of chalk.
had to use it.
I didn't know what to write.
remembered my hands.
picked out a clean spot on the ground and scrawled
in large, capital letters: "I am American. Bush
has covered my hands with blood." I removed my
gloves and sat behind the words in had written.
three and a half hours.
wanted Europeans to know that not all Americans support
Bush. I also did feel guilt at having lived my life
a-politically until now. I talked to many people during
my time in the square and had my photograph taken
hundreds of times. (As a side note, if you are one
of the people who took a photograph, I would deeply
appreciate it if you would contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd love to get a copy.) Nothing is a conversation
starter like upturned bloody hands. Most supported
me, but some didn't. One man asked if I would prefer
that the Iraqi people were still under the dictatorship
of Saddam. I explained to him my thoughts as best
world is not as black and white as protest slogans
portray it. I will not sit here and say that nothing
good has come of this war. But, I believe that far
more evil has been done than good."
12:00 I went to Russell Square to meet with the American
expatriates against Bush. I went for two reasons:
I didn't want to be the only American in what I anticipated
would be a vast crowd of people; and, I heard that
we were to be one of the groups leading the protest.
I figured, if I'm going to do this, I might as well
go all the way and be front and center.
group leader brought out the protest signs for us
to carry during the march. This was the beginning
of the internal politics of the protest: there were
about five different signs, and people started trading
to get the one they felt best suited them. We all
wanted to be part of a group, but still maintain our
individuality. I traded a "Proud of my Country,
Shamed of my President" for a "Shamed by
your stance on Civil Liberties" and was happy
with the deal.
signs in hand, we went to Mallet Street where the
main protest gathered.
Stop the War Coalition had a plan for crowd control.
A group of about 40 people in fluorescent jackets
who, with their arms linked, formed a box in the front
of the parade. This, I was told, was to contain representative
members of all the groups participating in the coalition.
was lucky and got to go in with about 10 other Americans.
Among us was as US World War II veteran in full uniform.
In his old, knobby hand, he strongly held a sign denouncing
the war. We stood ready to march with the London Muslim
Organization, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament,
and many others.
this representative box was a good plan, the crowd
control fell apart as soon as the march started. An
over enthusiastic group went ahead of the front of
the parade and the box was submerged in the crowd.
The box of organizers stretched and broke. Arms can
only reach so far and hold fast against the strain
of 100,000 people. When the box burst, the representative
members dissolved into the crowd.
marched with the other Americans that I could find
after the initial chaos. On television, marches look
like a single, cohesive unit. They aren't. While all
the participating groups may agree on ending the war,
they don't necessarily agree with each other.
example, the American Expatriates didn't want to be
near the neo-communists. We thought it wouldn't help
our 'we aren't anti-American' image if we were photographed
with hammer and sickle flags in the background. As
we moved away, the socialist workers filled the gap.
But the neo-communists and the socialist workers didn't
like each other either. Each group tried to get as
far away from the other, while still moving forward.
It was like pushing the same poles of a magnet together.
seemed to be less media coverage of this march than
of yesterday's procession with the fake heads of state.
I couldn't help but think of what one man at Speakers'
Corner always says: "If the media didn't cover
it, it didn't happen"
this point, the dreaded hippy-mobile came up behind
the American expatriates. The hippy-mobile was a psychedelic
construction. Bicycles, wagons, and carts connected
together in a train, painted green, with a windmill
on top and lots of speakers blaring music. Hippies
with fairy wings and dressed in animal costumes maneuvered
it through the crowed.
was the physical incarnation of everything I hate
I appreciate their anti-war/pro-peace sentiments,
I'd rather be photographed with the anarchists than
the hippies. I know they want to help, but they only
succeeded in making the rest of us look foolish, and
they played into the anti-war stereotype. They were
leaning into a punch the anti-anti-war people were
waiting to deliver. My only comfort was that the rest
of the crowd didn't seem happy to see them either.
suggested to a no-nonsence-take-charge woman with
the Wesley Clark 2004 campaign that we should make
a break for the front and get away from the hippies.
She agreed. We then led a mad dash through the crowd,
dodging and weaving around hundreds of protesters
and police. The rest of the Americans followed as
best they could.
approached Parliament. There were so many police in
fluorescent uniforms that dusk turned yellow from
the reflection. All the police in London had their
leave removed for the three days Bush was in town,
so all the cops, from the grizzled veterans to the
guys who just got their billyclub issued yesterday,
were out in force. Faced with a wall of stern faces,
I tried to get the young girl cops to smile back at
me, but was not very successful.
I saw the riot police in full gear on mounted horses.
In a strange, am-I-really-seeing-this moment, I realized
that the horses were also in riot gear. Their legs
and body were padded and they had faceplates that
matched the riders.
amounts of police, especially in full riot gear, make
me feel very, very unsafe.
was especially uncomfortable when we stopped in front
of Whitehall, and I looked to the top of the building
and into the eyes of a police sniper scanning the
crowd. This was not a time for sudden movements. My
life was within a twitchy finger of ending. I know
that my chances of being killed crossing the street
in my everyday life are many orders of magnitude greater
than being killed a sniper. But the street is so mundane,
I cross it all the time. Being in the sights of a
sniper was a new experience for me. At least, I think
we marched along, a group of 16-year-old teenage girls
were singing "George Bush is a prick, Tony Blair
sucks his dick!" I couldn't help but laugh. However,
an older woman in front of them didn't find it funny.
I didn't hear what she said, but a yelling match ensued
between her and the girls.
my five months in London, I never heard a British
person raise their voice in anger. I never want to
again. They British girls, whoes voices are delicious
when then sing or speak, are poison when they yell.
All that is good, and beautiful about the accent is
inverted in anger. The foreign vowel sounds, different
word stresses, and speaking rhythm, all of which are
so perfect for communicating class and intelligence,
are also surprisingly ideal for transmitting pure
edged away from the tangle of women and made a mental
note: If I am ever lucky enough to marry a woman with
a British accent, never, ever, ever, make her so angry
that she yells. Ever.
two and a half hours after we started the march, we
arrived at our destination: Trafalgar Square. A twenty-foot-tall
statue of George Bush holding a missile awaited us.
A large television screen was erected so everyone
in the square could hear the speakers and watch the
never seen so many people in one place. The whole
square was filled, and all the streets leading into
it were clogged with people. As I angled for a good
spot (very difficult in the tightly packed area) an
announcement came over the speakers "We estimate
there are 200,000 to 400,000 protesters in the streets
of London today. We shut the city down."
cheer went up. The guest speakers starting their talks.
There was a Vietnam veteran against the war, and many
local and foreign politicians and anti-war activists.
of my legs suddenly gave out from under me, and I
hit the ground. I had been on my feet, standing and
marching, for seven hours straight - something I don't
think I have ever done in my life - and reached a
point of physical exhaustion. I stayed on the ground
for quite a bit and listened to the speakers, who
now sounded oddly muted from below the crowd. I felt
like a kid hiding under the dinner table during his
vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
recounted that this was the 7th time in the year he
had spoken to groups larger than 100,000. "It's
becoming a habit," he said with a warm, grandfatherly
speaker encouraged the crowed to yell "Go home
Bush" loudly so the president could hear us at
Buckingham which is less than a mile away. I think
we succeeded, even though I only half heartily participated.
As an American, sending Bush home didn't solve my
Galloway gave a rousing speech. He had been kicked
out by the Labour party for speaking out against the
ended with "I want you to know that this is not
an anti-American rally. God bless the people of the
United States, and GOD DAMN GEORGE BUSH!" The
loudest cheer when up, my voice was among them.
statue of George Bush toppled, and the march finished.
my unintended, red-hand protest yesterday was such
a success, I had planned ahead this time - a tube
of crimson paint waited in my backpack. I flipped
my 'shamed of your stance on civil liberties' poster
over, and wrote with my fingers in red paint: "I
am American. Bush covered my hands with blood."
I then smeared the paint over my hands. I held the
poster in front of me and walked around the square
with what I hoped was an appropriately sad-but-serious
look on my face, while at the same time trying to
smile back at everyone who gave me an encouraging
look or wanted to shake my bloody hand.
many people came to congratulate me on my poster and
take my photograph, I was really surprised. Several
British asked me what it was like in the United States,
and I did my best to answer. (Once again, if anyone
has a photograph of me on that night, please contact
that the leaders of the rally were no longer in charge,
things got a little scary. Huge bonfires lit the square.
Smoke filled the air, and it was difficult to breath,
but I wanted to stay and see what happened.
was an uncertain moment as we wondered what would
happen now that control of the crowd had been relinquished.
It felt like violence was going to spill over, but
it never did. It became like a concert. Music played
and people were just happy at the success of the day.
the National Gallery, two people were passionately
kissing on top of a platform. 'Kissing against the
war.' A little sign said. '18 hours straight. Bring
a partner and take a shift.' Now that's a protest.
the crowd began to thin, and I remembered I hadn't
eaten anything since breakfast. It was time to go,
and I headed to a Chinese take-out in Leicester Square
to get food.
stepped out of Trafalgar Square, and stepped back
into the everyday world. In Leicester Square, I was
suddenly out of place with my painted hands and poster.
The chinese girl gave a screech when I handed her
wrong with your hands?" she asked, and I explained
where I had been.
pointless," she commented. "You won't change
not." I replied, "But, I think I'd rather
try and fail, than do nothing."
is an American living in London. If you liked this
article, you can read more of his journal here.
Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews +
Letters + Archives