Why I Marched: Changing Minds One At A Time

Williams-Sonoma, a strategic piece of infrastructure which must be protected from the hippies at all costs.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s antiwar march on Michigan Avenue, I had several conversations with friends and acquaintances that for me, clarified the purpose of the march. They mostly had one question: “What’s the point?” And in attempting to answer that question, the real purpose of the march was revealed to me.

Yes, a march is about a show of strength, a display of dissatisfaction in large numbers, an attempt to influence the dialogue and to elevate one’s cause to national attention. But, more importantly, I think, the simple act of participation opened up avenues of dialogue that would otherwise go unexplored.

My Saturday began with some rock climbing with a friend at Lake Shore Athletic Club. My friend is pretty non-political and when I told him that I was marching that night, and invited him to join me, he gave me a quizzical look and we had a conversation along the same lines as the question above- “What’s the point?” he asked. I laid out my case, and explained my motivation, and he seemed to get it. One of the gym employees joined the conversation and she too questioned the effectiveness of marching- “What does it accomplish anyways?” After explaining my intent and rationale, she too seemed to understand why I felt compelled to participate.

What I learned is that many of my peers think an antiwar march is a radical political gesture that is also, paradoxically, pointless. They see joining an antiwar march as something only weirdos, radicals and hippies do. That it was an extreme act that “regular” people don’t participate in. I detected more than a hint of the sense that marching is not “cool,” that the preferred millennial and hipster stance is far too hip to “join a cause.” I explained that their view was far from the truth- that all sorts of “regular” people march, that we can’t expect others to change things, that there comes a time when we must stand for ourselves and make change happen.

My Saturday evening started with a cab ride down to the march. My cabbie, an Eastern European immigrant, asked me where I wanted to go. “Ogden School, on Oak, please,” I said. “Oh, it’s going to be hard to get you there- there’s a big antiwar march tonight,” he replied. Yes, that’s where I’m headed, I told him. He beamed a smile at me and said, “That’s great- I’ll get you as close as I can!” He got me within a block of the start of the march, I paid him (big tip!) and as I turned to go he called out after me: “I support your cause!”

I joined the march and it was a real experience- ALL kinds of people, men, women, children, hipsters, the elderly, the middle-aged, the middle class- in a word, Americans. Amongst the signs, banners, marching band, flag corps, “Billionaires for Bush” and chanting throngs, I felt at home, that I was among people that, whatever our differences in background, agreed that U.S. involvement in Iraq must end and that the administration of George W. Bush is a dangerous affront to American democracy as we know it.

Oh, and there were police EVERYWHERE. I have never seen so many police in one place. Not only were they in full-on, Robocop riot gear, they had their billy clubs at the ready- not at their sides, but in their hands, ready to crack hippie skulls. It was clear to me that they were there for one reason, and it wasn’t to protect the marchers. It was to protect the city from the marchers.

There was a smattering of counter-protestors- about 25 in all, I would estimate. They were drowned out easily by the marchers and made little to no impact on the events of the evening.

The march wound its way down Michigan Avenue, and ended in Daley Plaza. After the rally, I headed out for some cocktails with some friends. A friend met me at my place in a cab, and as I opened the door to the cab, my friend was involved in a fairly robust argument with the cab driver, this time, an African immigrant, who, in heavily accented English, was enthusiastically denouncing the Bush administration. I joined the conversation and by the time we had reached our destination, the cabbie and I were friends and allies, and my Bush-defending buddy was silenced. The cabbie had parked his cab and marched too, he told me.

It struck me that of all the Chicagoans I had met that day, it seemed that those whom were the most recent arrivals to our country had the strongest sense of what American democracy is all about, and were willing to speak out to defend it, while my peer group has been largely silenced by a misguided patriotism which tells them that dissent during wartime is unacceptable, by a belief that a dictatorship or similarly oppressive government could “never happen” in America, that America cannot be guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses, simply on account of our American-ness, that somehow the U.S. should get a pass for any abuses that do occur because, hey, “it’s war,” or because “we liberated Europe.”

In total, my single decision to march stimulated at least 8 different conversations with a variety of my fellow citizens, and while I can’t claim to have changed each and every person’s mind, I can say that at the very least I gave them something to think about. I gave them a different perspective with which to challenge their own assumptions and pre-conceived notions. I challenged them to go beyond their own notions of what’s cool, what’s acceptable, what’s patriotic behavior, and, I hope, that maybe, just maybe, I planted a seed which may yet grow.

As Victor Hugo said, “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”

19 Comments so far

  1. Dave! (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 11:58 am

    “It struck me that of all the Chicagoans I had met that day, it seemed that those whom were the most recent arrivals to our country had the strongest sense of what American democracy is all about…”

    I think that’s absolutely, very, very true. I think a lot of it comes from the immigrant experience. I have so many friends who don’t vote. Do you know what my grandfather would have done to people who don’t vote?

    I think a lot of it comes down to complacency and hunger. I’m sure they are out there, but I’ve yet to meet a modern immigrant who was afraid of hard work and who wasn’t hungry for a better life. Yet so many of my own generation have some sense of entitlement and general malaise that is the luxury of the fruits of their own ancestors labor and struggles coming to this country.

    I’m getting off on a tangent here, but I think there is value in not taking our freedoms for granted and participating in the process like you did. I wish more people my age had the same motivation to participate as I see in the people who weren’t born in America, but now make it their home.

  2. nikkos (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 12:00 pm

    Thanks for your support Dave!

  3. steven (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 12:06 pm

    Good post, Nikkos. To those who think it’s not cool to march…please get over yourselves.

  4. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 12:39 pm

    i applaud u nikkos for getting out there. i dont agree with the ideals but i do agree that at least u are engaging in the discussion and not sitting idly by. i think that too many American’s do exactly what Dave is talking about; they rest on the laurels of what their ancestors or the country has done and they disengage from the political discussion. the fact that u even stood up for what u believe in is incredible and worth applauding. at least its more than just posting something in a blog. actions speak louder than words.

  5. gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 1:45 pm

    Gabe posted this on another thread but I think the discussion belongs here:

    “Ok, I would like to open a dialogue and not a trolling session.

    I would like to ask you what you think you accomplished? Yes, you talked to a few people and maybe even got some of them to re-examine their beliefs in this country (as you stated) but other than that, will the troops be brought home any sooner? Will your march make Iraq any more secure or stable? Will it protect any of the troops that are there? Have you changed any of the minds of the politicians that actually make these decision?

    I would answer no to everyone of those. In fact, I would say that all you’ve accomplished is making yourself feel better because you feel like you got out there and did something without affecting any real change. Yes, I applaud that you would stand up but if it doesn’t bring real change, what are you standing up for then? An act of defiance? To spark discussion that will have no real affect whether our troops leave tomorrow or a year from tomorrow?

    Ok, let’s say for the sake of argument that you do actually change one person’s mind about the war due to the march. What then? You go home, pat yourself on the back for a job well done but you still haven’t changed our government or helped bring home one troops. What then? You feel good for awhile that you actually did something but soon that wears off and you’re trying to find more to do. My point is that we all wanna change the world; to say that we had a lasting impact and be remembered for it but the memory of the world is fickle and history remembers those that wrote history. Not those that tried to change it but those who actually changed it.

    By the way, calling someone a dickhead does not show maturity but neither does patronizing someone either. I apologize for the “big people” comment.

    Let me restate this; I’m not trolling. You asked me about my position on the march and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

  6. nikkos (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 2:00 pm


    I disagree with your premise that marching serves only the egos of the marchers. Why do I disagree with that statement? Simple: because history shows that marches can work.

    From marches supporting civil rights for African-Americans, women and gay Americans to the marches in opposition to the Viet Nam war and the draft, public protest has played a significant part in promoting their respectice causes and in bringing about change.

    Do the protests have immediate and direct results? No, they do not. Is that then a good reason to dismiss marches altogether? Of course not.

    See also: Henry David Thoreau, MLK, Gandhi, etc.

  7. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 3:02 pm

    So does that make Sheehan your next Ghandi? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ;)

    Ok, seriously.

    While marches may have worked in the past, I think that they are no longer as effective as they used to be. I would point to the WTO riots and especially Seattle where all that the marches are remembered for is destruction of businesses and people getting hurt. It is remembered for the guy who was holding up a sign that said “Free Tibet” and another guy standing next to him that said “Free Checking”.

    You mentioned the riot police that were there in full force and the reason for that is because what has happened in the past. When I lived in Seattle, they began to train the National Guard in riot tactics because of what happened during the WTO summit. I know this because I was one of the trainers. They were preparing just in case the NG got called out to do that.

    So either the marches need to learn to police themselves or your message will never heard.

  8. nikkos (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 3:44 pm

    First, let’s draw a distinction between a protest and a riot. The march which took place in Chicago was a protest, not a riot.

    If protests undermine their causes when they turn into riots, does that mean that the peasceful and legal protest in Chicago was a success? There was no violence to mar or cloud the message, so by your measure, it must have been a success, right?

    As for the heavy police presence, I understand why they are there- as I said, they are there to protect the city from the protesters, not to protect the protesters themselves.

  9. Dave! (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 4:14 pm


    Actually, I think you are wrong when you answer “no” to your own (rhetorical) questions.

    “will the troops be brought home any sooner?”

    Even a day sooner is a good thing for the soldiers in harms way. And it’s American public opinion that will keep them there. If Congress believes the American people don’t want them in Iraq anymore–enough to vote them out of office–they will bring them home. So standing up to be counted, even if you are just one person makes a difference.

    “Will your march make Iraq any more secure or stable?”

    Probably not, but is our presence there making it any more secure or stable? Three years and counting would indicate we haven’t.

    “Will it protect any of the troops that are there? ”

    If it even helps bring them home one microsecond sooner and stops one more troop from being blown to bits by a roadside bomb, yeah, it makes them safer. Safer than sitting on your ass and doing nothing.

    “Have you changed any of the minds of the politicians that actually make these decision?”

    Again, one voice… no… 10,000 “one voices”? Yeah, you can change the mind of a politician.

    The attitude of “you’re just one person” and “so you talked to a few people but it doesn’t matter” is defeatist and overly cynical. If through diaglog Nikkos changed the minds of one person, or spurred one person to action, he made a difference because those people might spark dialogs of their own.

    “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery. The revery alone will do, If bees are few.” -Emily Dickinson

  10. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 4:27 pm

    Ok, I understand the difference between a riot and protest. That wasn’t my point. My point was that protests that have turned into riots in the past have undermined the message of the future ones (hence my statement about the riot police).

    If there wasn’t a fear from city officials about what could happen at a protest (or has happened in the past), they wouldn’t bring out the police in riot gear. In other words, your message is obscured by the buttheads in the past that decided violence and destruction is a viable option in a protest.

    If it was a success, how come so few people new about it and the numbers were so low (i.e. salt lake had 50 people)?

  11. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 4:56 pm

    Dave, you are definitely entitled to your opinion and it’s always good to have debate in the public square but as I’ve said in the past, opinion is subjective and therefore subject to interpretation (i.e. one mans trash is another mans treasure or one man’s war is another man’s protest).

    “If Congress believes the American people don’t want them in Iraq anymore–enough to vote them out of office–they will bring them home.”

    So the fact that bush has said we aren’t leaving until the commanders in Iraq give him a thumbs up has no bering on this comment??

    “Probably not, but is our presence there making it any more secure or stable? Three years and counting would indicate we haven’t.”

    What indication are you talking about? All the businesses, schools, and hospitals aren’t a sign of stability? Especially when they didn’t have alot of them before. I find your negative attitude toward what our troops are doing very cynical. Again, perception. You choose to focus on the negative while I still look at all the good that is being done and has been done.

    “If it even helps bring them home one microsecond sooner and stops one more troop from being blown to bits by a roadside bomb, yeah, it makes them safer.”

    Finally, something that we agree on BUT only IF it brings them home sooner. I don’t see the planes lining up yet to get them here!

    “Safer than sitting on your ass and doing nothing.”

    Rather immature response don’t you think? If I don’t believe in a protest, I’m still obligated to attend???

    “Again, one voice… no… 10,000 “one voices”? Yeah, you can change the mind of a politician.”

    Again, how many people did we see turn out? 7,000 just in Chicago? You got maybe 10,000 total across the country? Stop trying to inflate the number of protestors.

    “The attitude of “you’re just one person” and “so you talked to a few people but it doesn’t matter” is defeatist and overly cynical”

    What I find very cynical and defeatist is your attitude about what our troops are doing in Iraq and the progress that we have made. The fact that MILLIONS of Iraqi’s turned out to vote despite the threat of death and violence. The fact that many now have basic services that they didn’t have before including the right to vote.

    I like your quote from Dickinson and I find it rather appropriate considering what we’re doing in Iraq.

  12. nikkos (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 5:04 pm

    I don’t think past incidents have blunted the effectiveness of recent protests, and you haven’t really provided any evidence for that assertion.

    I think I’ve pretty much explained my motivation and why I consider Saturday’s march a success. I even blogged about it, although I did deceptively title it “Why I Marched.”

    I don’t think that purely quantitative measures are appropriate for the success of a protest. Sure, if no one shows up, you could deem it unsuccessful. But there’s no magic number.

    Maybe SLC had few people because it’s in one of the reddest, most religious, ignorant, inbred and jackassed states in the Union? Nah, that couldn’t be it.

    As for the police, don’t forget that in 1968 it was the Chicago Police that intitated the violence, not the protesters. The police are there in such huge numbers and in such attire to intimidate. They WANT to remind you of 1968. And I can guarantee that it crossed the mind of everyone that saw the police in their riot getup.

    In fact, contrary to your point, we tend to remember the protests and riots that got out of hand much better than the ones that were peaceful- for the simple reason that they make better news stories.

    They can also serve to galvanize opposition, and can reach those who would otherwise be unsympathetic to the cause- think Kent State. Incidents like Kent State have a radicalizing effect, because suddenlt people think to themselves that it could have just as easily been THEM shot down by the government.

  13. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 5:19 pm

    Very good point Nikkos. I agree. I decided to see how much I could find on the Seattle riots in 1999 and still 7 years later, you can find stories and pictures galore. Bad publicity is better than no publicity.

    The success of the protest/march is debatable but that’s where I’ll leave this discussion since we usually get to this point anyway; agree to disagree.

  14. Gabe (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

    And I want to add that this was probably one of the best discussions I think we’ve had. Glad to see we could get past the name calling.

  15. Danny Doom (unregistered) on March 20th, 2006 @ 5:33 pm

    I found the “crickets” comment interesting on the other thread and in general the focus on numbers by our pro-war friend. If indeed the amount of people responding to a post on a blog matters, or the amount of people who show up in the streets to protest matters, then it is quite plain to see how many opposing voices (those that are pro-Bush and pro-war) we have: a fraction of the 7,000 protesters were there to support Bush (30 people?) and here on this blog, well, the response is limited to pretty much one person who seems to believe that expressing dissent is futile in America. You could equate that to “crickets” for Bush and the war, I would think.

    Not that these things mean anything.

  16. Dave! (unregistered) on March 21st, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

    “So the fact that bush has said we aren’t leaving until the commanders in Iraq give him a thumbs up has no bering on this comment??”

    No, actually, it doesn’t. Bush is the commander-in-chief, he’s not King. If Congress doesn’t want the troops there anymore, they will come home. Why? Because Congress controls the money. Even the President can’t keep the troops there if Congress won’t pay for it.

    As for “sitting on your ass” I wasn’t saying you had to go out and protest. I was pointing out that your logic of “why protest since it doesn’t make a difference” was flawed. If you believe in the cause, doing *something* is better than doing nothing.

    Finally, I hate to break it to you, but there were hospitals, roads, cars and electricity in Iraq before we started bombing it. Are the Iraqi people better off than they were prior to Saddam? Undoubtedly some are… just as undoubted some aren’t. That doesn’t change the fact that we (the American people) were not lead into the war to save the Iraqi people from a despot. We were told there were weapons of mass destruction, going to be used against us. We were told that there were links to Osama Bin Laden. In short, we were told “misinformation” at best, outright lies at worst. If the President had come clean with the American people long ago, his approval ratings might not be circling the toilet bowl and maybe more people would support this “war”.

  17. Gabe (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2006 @ 2:16 pm

    “Bush is the commander-in-chief, he’s not King.”

    You are correct but I hate to break it to you, Congress voted for this (including the democrats). Add to that fact that there is no way in hell that Congress will pull funding. To do so would be to slit their own throats. They would lose all credibility with the military as well as the vote. Also, Bush as the Commander-in-Chief has the right to deploy the troops in a police action. It doesn’t have to be a war or with approval from Congress.

    “If you believe in the cause, doing *something* is better than doing nothing.”

    Apparently you think that looking busy is more important than actually getting some work done? Is that what you’re advocating? I hate to crush your high ideals but there are situations where the best course of action is to do nothing. The fine line is knowing WHEN to do nothing.

    “Finally, I hate to break it to you, but there were hospitals, roads, cars and electricity in Iraq before we started bombing it.”

    What has been setup today is FAR superior to what they had. There are many cities that can now operate without fear of attacks and bombs. Despite what they show on the TV, the entire country is not gripped by fear of bombers. Plus we’ve provided better schools and public facitilities which makes the country a better place. So you can say that only SOME people are better off but the fact is that everyone is better.

    “That doesn’t change the fact that we (the American people) were not lead into the war to save the Iraqi people from a despot.”

    Ahh, the old standby argument. How many times do I have to hear “BUT WE WERE LIED TO”? I agree with you that the truth could possibly save the plummeting ratings of the Bush administration because history has shown that the American people will tend to forgive someone that is honest like Clinton. The problem is that Clinton’s affair with Monica wasn’t a matter of national security. The issue of Iraq has to do with security and is therefore subject to the laws of classified information. We may never know the truth about the war in iraq until 30 or 50 years down the road due to classified information. In regard to misinformation, if they had information that points to WMD but found that it doesn’t exist, is that still lying to the American public and does it still require an apology? I would answer no and say that it simply requires a change of tactics (i.e. we’re there, so that’s increase the scope of our mission).

  18. Spook by the door (unregistered) on March 27th, 2006 @ 12:24 am

    Dude you are the problem! With your rock climbing with a none politcal friend at Lake Shore Athletic Club!Your jetting around via cabs for the working class experince, which is the reason you gave for joining the march, to mix it up with the “help” who can’t afford your cocktails afterwords. I took the caption below from my blog and actually your in it!

    “Closing words for all you suckas who did the last anti war march. See that’s the problem with liberals and progressives today. In the 60’s mass marching meant something real/ a beginning, not an end to itself. In other words, it was about civil disobedience, i.e. people shut down streets and high ways to earned them trips to jail cells that over flowed with protestors women men and kids, which produced court cases, and fund-raisers, bail parties for those locked up. All of these things generating constant media attention that grew the “movement” for the next action to grow the movement.

    People didn’t march for the sake of marching! Pick up a Taylor Branch Book, Please! This is what happened two Saturday’s ago. Nothing new just another lame tired march to makes the marcher “feel good”, while accomplishing nothing, Zero, except helping drain the city’s financial coffers and depriving poor neighborhood of police “protection”, while you kids try on your radical chic.

    O.K, I did take part in the original march three years ago when we closed down lake shore drive illegally, which sent a signal of resistance! A signal that we would take risks and make sacrifices for the greater good of justice!

    The last march just assuaged peoples conscience for doing nothing except displaying radical fashion chic, in Che T’s, and the hippie the Acrombie Urban Outfitters Bucktown Boutique grunge look. Yea you with the cool puppets and better herb for the drum circle party after words where Jane will spread em, while you make love not war. Mean while the body count rises, the house continues to slow burn ala Rome. Course maybe its just time for it to burn down any way so we can build something fucking new. Happy Sunday yall and I’m out.

  19. nikkos (unregistered) on March 27th, 2006 @ 8:55 am


    A couple things:

    (1) Why should my choice of hobby (rock climbing) make any difference at all as to my politics?

    (2) Should I only associate with friends whom are ideologically pure? If you spend all your time talking with people whom already share your opinions, what good is that?

    (3) I took a cab for sheer convenience. You apparently think I should have taken my rickshaw, or corn bio diesel hybrid.

    (4) Your reading comprehension is pretty poor if you think I marched because of my conversations with the cab drivers. The point of the post was to point out how thoroughly these recent immigrants understood the stakes and what it means to be an American.

    (5) As for the effectiveness of the protest, again, I did not march to soothe myown conscience, but to publicly register my discontent. I agree that protests predicated on civil disobedience are more effective but that is not a good reason to decline participation.

    (6) As for “radical chic,” “Che t’s,” and “hippie the Acrombie Urban Outfitters Bucktown Boutique grunge look,” I think you’d be better served if you didn’t judge people’s politics based on their fashion choices. As for your hippie, free love references, you sound as though you’re trapped in the 60’s dude.

    In sum, only someone that did not attend the march could have such misperceptions. If you feel that the U.S. is going to hell in a handbasket, how do you justify your lack of participation? Because it makes you feel good about yourself to be able to play “holier than thou?” I’m not impressed.

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