Newspoem 13 March 2008  

Five years


It's the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, and with great anticipation I go to the University of Illinois quadrangle to attend the demonstration. 17 years ago, during the first Bush's invasion of Iraq, we filled that green space with protestors carrying candles, chanting, circling the grounds in  peaceful revolution  at dusk. If the size of this protest has grown is proportion to the atrocity, there will be a sea of Americans in a full-on riot. On Lincoln avenue I pass a police cruiser parked in the street, lights revolving. I push my way through throngs of students toward the distant echo of amplified rhetoric, and come upon... about fifty people.


A sequence of guest speakers deliver orations beside a table where Girl Scout cookies are sold. "We have the power," one of them intones, drawing a shower of wishful applause. Last night C.D. Scoggins and I were complaining about the Summer of Love—how all the bands that seemed to emerge from the precise time and place (Haight-Ashbury June 1967) considered to be the locus of the 1960s are awful, especially the Grateful Dead. Listing such relics as The Electric Boogie Band, The Flying Burrito Borthers, and Quicksilver Messenger Service, we paused to allow Country Joe and the Fish their well-intentioned "Feel Like I'm Fixin'-To-Die-Rag." She asked why there weren't any such iconic anti-war songs being written now; I groped for an excuse. Clear Channel Communications? An undergrad assumes the microphone to deliver a seriously lackluster version of "Blowing in the Wind," a vague, meaningless, overplayed, iconic, toothless cliché of an anti-war song.

What do we want?

This isn't a real protest, I think, this is how TV news would portray it. Not at all to my credit, I expected to join the margins of a turbulent crowd here, to be put off and alienated by face paint, chanting, drumming, counter-cultural conformity, mob psychology and police brutality. I expected a riot, but it's my bad for not bringing the bricks. Here are just a handful of angelic, innocuous people holding signs in the sun, apparently so the speaker behind the microphone can read them. I blink in the sun and for a moment these signifiers go as blank as an empty gesture, communicating only "protest." The things we wear so we can say we tried.

Carl Estabrook speaks, well-dressed, professional, lucid, articulate, and without any overt emotional appeal. He offers the perspective that, as far back as the Eisenhower administration, controlling Middle Eastern energy reserves has been an ongoing agenda in U.S. foreign policy—not so that Americans can hoard or consume that energy, but as a lever to control the economies of Asia and Europe. He points out that all the presidential candidates are war criminals, future war criminals, or spouses of war criminals. He does not have to shout. And why should he shout at those who are listening? And how can I shake my fist at the thousands who aren't here? How can I shake my fist at myself?

When do we want it?


Newspoetry at Spineless Books