Tales from the Front Line
By Parker McPhinney

I just came from my second peace vigil. How is it different from the first? This one was on a corner of the strange intersection of Hollywood, Sunset, and Hillhurst. Von's is on one side, Blockbuster Video planted at the southwest corner, the grand old Vista theatre opposite it, and a used car lot as the odd puzzle piece that makes up this very busy tri-section.

We started out as four. Myself dressed in all black; head covered in a traditional Iraqi style scarf, with my 1960’s typeset “NO WAR” sign aimed high in the air. My fellow peace pilgrims, “local vocals” as I like to think of them, were Jim, a veteran with a sense of humor and a big sign to match it. Joe, our flower-power voice adorned with pink ones tucked in his head wrap, with an occasional foul mouth in response to the few war wishers that shouted from their moving cars. A self appointed drummer banging on an upside down white plastic bucket, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and goggles that made me think of the movie “ Around the World in Eighty days”. His comrade, the quiet one, his slogan sign written in black marker, and a clue to next two hours: “Free speech, if you don’t like it shut up.” I wondered about the approach, we were after all for peace, weren’t we? It was a clever play on words, but it seemed a bit confrontational to me, but hey I am new to this peace action.

Parker's philosopher stoneThe time was 5:10 pm. The evening was young. At first a few drivers honked in support, like a splattering of flowers just bloomed in a field. Then as the hour wore on, we got a series of honking support from the steady flow of the mass transit drivers. “How cool” was my reaction. They deal with a war zone everyday out there in Los Angeles, who would know better the casualties of war than them? It can be down right ugly.

That brought up the long held belief that I have, which is that most people who say “Let’s go to war” really haven’t embraced deep in the heart what that means. It is something that happens on foreign soil, far away out of sight. Not front and center. Before 9/11 most of us here in America had never seen its demon head. If we realized how many loved ones would die, how much suffering would be inflicted on innocent people, including children, that everyone but the bad guy would die; then, would one be so eager to support a first strike? In my heart I hoped for the answer, “No”.

Deep down no one wants to suffer or be the cause of suffering. But, alas this was shattered when a paramedic van slowed to a crawl near us, and in a deep echo, muffled, “ Destroy Iraq”. The sound was fuzzy so I thought I heard wrong. Nope, the male sector of our now 20 plus group confirmed that someone who made their livelihood saving lives, was promoting the ending of them. As I tried to wrap my brain around this dichotomy, I raised my sign higher and extended my free hand into the peace sign that Nixon almost ruined for me. Maybe he was just an adrenalin junkie and really didn’t care about saving lives. That made it easier to accept, but also a scary thought for emergency victims.

The honking by now, close to the prime time, was a steady John Cage composition. It lightened my sign to hear so much support. There is hope. One always needs hope in these moments. Then I noticed how the same LAPD Cop drove by a lot. My fellow female slogan carrier, Roberta, who shared a story of her local Catholic Church being extremely outspoken in opposition to war, also shared the fact that in October, LAPD had come by and photographed the protesters.

Was I going to spend the weekend in jail for speaking out for peace? The thought seemed so ironic, go to jail for trying to save lives and speak my say? I have enough years clocked up to know this happens all the time, just usually not to me. That was before Jan. 11th when I went to my first peace rally. I went to support the movement for peace, to be one of 20 thousand (contrary to the number, “about 2,000” reported by CNN.COM) to send a message to Bush that people are firmly planted in giving the UN inspectors enough time, to be diplomatic and not use aggression toward Iraq.

This first Rally was a joy, a force that stirred my heart and made me proud to be an American, thankful I could express a different view than our leader, and have so much variety in company. I had a great conversation with an elder on that walk, she must have been early 80’s, the brown spots on her hand carrying her slogan gave that away, and she copped to the fact herself, “It is so good to see you young people out here, there’s not many of my generation left.” The youth came too, some so young they were in strollers with Dad pushing the wheels. Others brought their dogs and adorned them with a message of peace. I paced behind Martin Sheen with Father Louis Vitale; got my first celebrity shot. Plus, my friends had all come with; Iva, from Czech Republic who escaped to America in the 80’s, Lynn, who carried an America flag, showing peace is patriotic, while she frantically wrote down slogans. Then there was my yoga teacher Heather, who generously carried my sign while I snapped away capturing in black and white the colorful images before me. Paul, an Irishman with an accent, a bountiful vocal to our chorus “ What do you want? “ “Peace” “When do you want it?” “ NOW!” added the element of yang energy to our group. Yes, that first rally was like putting on a woolen wrap that grandma had spun all warm and cozy feeling. We, all shades of America walked, wheeled, and strolled together on that Saturday afternoon headed towards the federal building and we were united. No one dare slide in a “Bad Americans” or “Bomb Iraq” less they be hung out to dry by this very joyful but serious crowd.

But today was a different demonstration with a different tone, perhaps one based closer in reality than I would like to admit. Some, plain and simple, believe we should go to war. And what I say to them is a word the vet I stood next to shouted at the war supporters: “ENLIST”.

Copyright 2003 Parker McPhinney

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