Saturday, October 25, 2008

The March at the DNC

This post has been written in bits and pieces, and is so damn late as to be nearly irrelevant. But TSO called me out, so here it is. This will be periodically updated with videos, which is what the holdup was last time.

It’s (at the time) three days later, and it’s still hard for me to write about the march. It was such an amazing and emotional experience that I still can barely talk about it aloud calmly-and writing is just as bad.

Even the morning was incredible-watching everyone get up and shave and put their uniform on, one after the other, choked me up. I’ve always felt that my fellow IVAW members were in many ways my soldiers, but having it made more explicitly clear literally blew my mind. Walking around and brushing lint off Class As, straightening someone’s tie, pulling strings off someone else’s uniform…it was just like any other unit I’ve been in getting ready for inspection. Looking at Josh Earl in his dress blues, or Jeff Key and Liam Madden in their Marine dress uniforms, seeing them all smile and laugh and get ready…seeing the number of IVAW members who shaved entire beards off to put their dress uniforms on again…Hari Khalsa, who went from a scruffy comedian to a wise-cracking NCO again….everyone, too many to name. IVAW /was/ my unit, and I wished like hell I could have been with them in my own dress uniform. It pained me to be wearing civilian clothes and old black boots from my BDU days-the only part of an old uniform I could legally wear, which would help with the marching-and also with helping me march with one foot a mess of blisters from police liason the other day.

We rolled out in shifts to the Rage Against the Machine show, and I have to say that the consideration that the band gave us was amazing. Watching them salute the IVAW members in uniform from the stage, hearing the audience shouting for the troops to come home and seeing the wild, enthusiastic applause for IVAW and their points of unity was incredible. (Not to mention my amusement as the crowd chanted 'USA' for the IVAW members for probably the first time ever.)

I had given over my role as police liason to Robynn and Geoff Millard, as I was going to be marching and involved in the action. We had a good passdown and changeover, and were pleased to be met by Lieutenant Porter again, as well as the Chief of Police and Vice Chief of Police for Denver. The other two were stopping through, but had a good productive conversation with our liasons. Although we did not have a prior permit, they said that while they would prefer that we kept to the sidewalk, if there were too many people, they would block off a lane of traffic for us. We were also following a route previously suggested by them, for ease of flow and minimum traffic disruption.
The call to fall in was given, and we began to march out. I initially started the cadence calling, and I swelled almost to bursting at it. To call cadence that I had written for a platoon full of people that I loved was beyond intense.

Eventually my voice gave out and I had to turn it over to another of my brothers-in-arms, and contented myself with sounding off as loudly as possible so that the streets echoed with our sound.

There were some issues to marching in cadence with civilians following behind, though. I saw elsewhere on the internet that one of the civlians thought we were negotiating each time we stopped, but really, we were waiting for the civilians to catch up. The ones near the front of the formation were keeping up okay, but the ones near the middle and back were doing the accordion thing that happens at battalion runs, and my fellow IVAW members didn’t want to leave them behind. Marching is the way it is because the timing makes it a fairly efficient way to move troops at a good pace. Civilians, not so much. At one point we tried to 'rout step crawl', but troops, in uniform or out, don't make very good slow walkers, so we went back to marching and pausing.

Another thing occurred that I would not have expected-we had the devil of a time getting the media to respect formation integrity. So used, during our time in the military, to everyone honoring a formation, not going in front of a formation or through a formation, and giving it clear space on the sides, it had not occurred to us that the media and general civilians might not realize it was disrespectful. Some of them, who shall remain nameless, got quite upset about it, one of them even physically assaulting our media coordinator, Francesca LoBasso.

The support of the people of Denver, and the police themselves, was incredible. They lined the streets for us, parents bringing their children and people coming out on their balconies. For an unpermitted march, it was more like a parade, with even the police having somewhat of a festive atmosphere. Of course, they probably thought we were planning to go into the “Freedom Cage”-and yes, that really was its name. They even sent a golf-cart style vehicle ahead of us flashing ‘Welcome to Denver’.

(Below follows the more recent portion)
We had previously decided that no way, no how, were veterans and servicemembers who had served their country, many of them in combat, going to be forced into a 'Freedom Cage'. What purpose supposedly defending freedom abroad if there's no freedom here at home? Jeff Key says it better than I can in the below video.

Yet, as we marched, we found ourselves steered towards an elaborate cattle chute, designed to keep us out of the way, hidden from the delegates. In true herding fashion, there were no police at the front of the march that we could possibly have had any sort of confrontation with. I have to give the police of Denver their due. It was a brilliant move. Had they been dealing with any other protest group whatsoever, it would have worked. We would have been stopped, stalled, robbed of our energy, and eventually dispersed.

But military formations and commands were created for this. We simply passed the word back through the civilians that IVAW would be coming back through, and they parted like the red sea-allowing a simple about-face to place us in perfect position to march back through our following crowds, and find another point, closer to the Pepsi Center, and far better for negotiations.

We faced off at the gate. There were lines of riot police, riot police on cherry pickers, riot police armed with rubber bullets and tear gas. As we slowly began to move the formation forward, a few steps closer at a time, I have to say that there was a point when I fully expected to be shot. It's not that we were a threat to the police force, and we had already explained that when the arrestable IVAW members reached the front they fully were prepared to cooperate with police and go quietly without struggle. But I am nothing if not able to put myself in someone else's shoes, and I could easily put myself in the shoes of the Denver police at that moment. We were relatively new in that city to massive, disciplined actions. There was a military formation of highly disciplined troops who were not breaking formation, not shouting and yelling and showing lack of coordination, but taking orders from our platoon leader. They had a good relationship with us from the other day, but still-if I were a police officer, I would not want to confront a company size element of troops (if you include the nonarrestable contingent, who historically is known for switching to arrestable when seeing other IVAW members go down). I especially would not want to confront a company size element who managed to get a protest crowd of over 5,000-10,000 (depending on different crowd estimates) to follow direction. They had no way of knowing what the mob was there for.

For local media video, and also to see more IVAW thanking the police, this is a good video.

Deep credit once again goes to the liasons, both on our side and on the police side. But even more credit goes to Jason Hurd and Kris Goldsmith, who took the megaphone and addressed the police themselves. As we in formation saluted the police, Jason Hurd called out to them as fellows who had taken an oath to protect, as the fellow veterans that many of them were. The Denver PD, we learned the previous day, had a large contingent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. We addressed them as the brothers they were, as seen below, and explained that we did not want to hurt them, and would not resist even if they decided that their orders meant they had to hurt us. That many of us had been the men with the guns, the men facing a crowd, but that we had an easier task than they did. We had never been asked to act against American citizens. We had never been asked to act against brothers.

We knew the police did not want to arrest us-nor did they want our lines to meet. They had worked with us the previous day and knew who we were, and respected us. But we also knew that they had orders, and their orders (and the orders likely given by the Secret Service) required them to keep us back from any possibility of reaching inside.

Impartial observers reported that five veteran-police officers had to remove themselves from the line due to beginning to tear up and one actually crying so badly that he gave his riot control weapon to another police officer and walked off the line without asking for permission first. We were all brothers that day, and no one, no one, wanted to hurt each other.

Fortunately, when we were maybe five or ten feet away from the actual police line, the Obama campaign sent out orders to the police to allow two of our representatives inside, where they were met with the veterans affairs liason for the campaign, supposedly to talk about getting our letter read to the delegates.

Initially, we believed that it was a victory, and that Obama had agreed to this. Someone even shouted that he had agreed to endorse our three points of unity. This later proved to be bad intelligence, but at the time, we truly believed that we had won. That the person most likely (at least given polls) to be president of the United States had listened to us, and would continue our goals into policy. That the burden of what we had done and still had to do might possibly be lifted. That there was a chance-just a chance-that this struggle so many of us have devoted so much of our lives to might be over.

I am not ashamed to admit that as the order was given to fall out, I cried as I hugged more people than I ever had in a single day before, as the crowd of civilians behind us chanted "Yes we can". I was whirled up by brother after brother and was awash with more intense joy than I had felt in years. The belief that my brothers would be coming home. That the world would slowly begin to be put right again. That the military would begin to change back to what it was when soldiers took care of each other.

We fell out onto the grass, exhausted. Many of us had gone without sleep, and had marched in the blazing hot sun for quite some time. The slowness of the crowd meant that we were out for hours in the heat, and the water resupply had given out as soon as the cattlechute got tighter. Many of us had eaten very little or nothing all day. We collapsed in peace, in that exhausted peace that comes with having done your work well and completely. We told the crowd we had achieved victory, and they mingled with us for some time before leaving. Food Not Bombs took a quick count of our numbers and headed off, later to return with the most amazing chili I had tasted in quite some time. Hunger is always the best sauce. They came out at night when they didn't have to, just to feed us. We felt one with the city, one with the police. We mingled with them all, laughed with them, shook their hands and talked about our lives. Some of them tried to recruit us to the Denver police department. Some of us tried to recruit them to IVAW. Everyone was in good spirits. It's always a good day when you don't have to shoot anyone. It's always a good day when you don't have to be shot or arrested. It's always a good day when you can find common ground.

In the end, the letter was not read to the delegates. As a veteran tribute was taking place inside, veterans were essentially ignored by many delegates outside. However, it did make it to the veteran liason, who read it and promised to deliver it to Obama. I have no idea if he did or not. But still, it was an incredible action. I only wish more could go like that.


Red Horse: War said...

15 yard penalty, too many paragraphs. It remains, First Down.

Army Sergeant said...

I'm trying to make up for two months of barely posting ALL AT ONCE.