American President and Commander in Chief of the Safekeeping of the English Language, George W. Bush was in the country this weekend to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of WW2. (Note: The W in Bush's name does not stand for the same thing as either of these two W's, apparently.)
As ever, there were protests. Not about WW2 or the liberation of the country by the Americans or Canadians, but about a more recent conflict, namely the liberation of mineral deposits from the Iraqi authorities.
I mention this because reading about it reminded me that here was a president whose policies and those in his international alliance had inspired even me to protest. ME! I am the laziest, most indifferent, most cynical man who ever put digit to blog (modern equivalent of pen to paper), yet I got off my skinny, uninterested arse, went out into the cold and joined hundreds of thousands of others who marched the streets of Amsterdam along a path marked out for us by police-horse shit (or is it police horse-shit?). Twice!!
"Do you think this will change anything?" asked a co-marcher on one of those days. "No," I relied with my own version of absolute certainty, which probably didn't sound like it. But I was sure it wouldn't. I was not there because I thought I or even we could change something, I'm far too cynical for that. I was there to make my views felt. I was there to increase the number of official count of protesters by 0.5.
When I was in the US a few months later - after the war was won, but the peace being very hard fought - I was introduced to the concept of counter protesting. This is where you march at the same time as the protestors and protest at their protesting. Or rather you promote that which is being protested about. My fear for this method, apart from the fact that it can appear to be anti-freedom-of-speech, is that if there is much less of you that the protesters, it makes them seem like the majority. And it is not as if the other side needs to be made any more visible. In this case every time Messrs Bush, Rumsfelt, Blair, Rice, and Fox News open their mouths, this point of view is promoted.
One of the reasons people feel compelled to counter-protest is that on protest marches there are usually people shouting to go beyond the changing of immoral foreign policies and to bringing down the whole country. The trouble is, any protest, from Keeping the Library Open to bringing about an end to WW2 and restoring Europe to the German people is going to bring out extremists. These people are always there and protesting is part of what they do. No, it isn't such people that the pre-Iraqi-invasion protests were remarkable for, but for the sheer number of people out protesting for the first time. People like yours truly, who have never protested at anything in their life - except at the age of 10 when they threatened to remove a mobile classroom from my school (but that's a different story) - and probably never will again.
My favourite image from around the world was from the London march. It showed a little old lady who probably lived through the Blitz and waved flags when the fleet came home The Falklands, holing aloft a placard saying "Make Tea, Not War."
Hear, hear. I take milk and no sugar.