Friday, March 21, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Life During Wartime, Day 2
Chicago protesters block Lake Shore Drive Thursday March 20th. Photo copyright Chicago Tribune
Whew. Last night I narrowly escaped what could have been a harrowing - but exhilarating - experience: the "civil disobedience rally" that took place yesterday in downtown Chicago made the national news when thousands of anti-war protesters left the confines of the Federal Plaza and decided to march north up Lake Shore Drive, effectively blocking that major thorofare for hours. From the Chicago Tribune:
The crowd grew as it absorbed more protestors and may have reached 10,000, Chief of Patrol Jim Maurer said. Police officials said later that the only way to control a crowd of that size was to move with it and try to contain it, but not to try to stop it. Police attempted to keep the march in the northbound lanes of the drive, but once the crowd passed Navy Pier, it overtook the southbound lanes as well, with people weaving in and out of stopped traffic. Several protesters even climbed over cars as they marched. Some drivers cheered on the protest while others responded with obscene gestures. One woman left her sedan to try to take away an anti-war banner from a teen-ager. The two scuffled briefly until police broke up the confrontation and the woman returned to her car.
I generally drive home from work via LSD northbound, so I missed the excitement by about 30 minutes or less. That was quite the sight from the aerial newscams - marchers weaving among cars and buses, carrying signs, traffic srarled up for hours. It was a fairly peaceful stand, and I have to admit Chicago seems to do a pretty good job of handling protests these days, providing police escort and observation but not interfering too much. All considering, the 1968 Chicago protests must have been unbelievably chaotic; I've seen footage and still shots of the rallies back then, and the waterfront area looked like a warzone itself.

Dumbest quote from the protest I heard in the news: "I don't see what the point of protesting is. I mean, the war, like, already started, so what difference is it gonna make?"

However, after about 10:00pm, police here started to tell the remaining marchers to disperse and go home. A small crowd of a few hundred refused to break up, and were promptly encircled by dozens of officers in riot gear, like bacteria being corralled off by white blood cells: then, a few at a time, the stalwart (some unruly) protesters were cuffed, arrested and carted away in "paddy wagons." Fun in the city - I'm glad I wasn't there.
Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
packed up and ready to go
Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway
a place where nobody knows
The sound of gunfire, off in the distance
I'm getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in the ghetto
I've lived all over this town

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
this ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain't got time for that now

---"Life During Wartime", Talking Heads
There's something both extremely funny and disconcerting about watching Ted Koppel "Nightline Live From The Front" on ABC News last night: in the Kuwaiti desert, dressed in full chemical gear, analyzing the 3rd Infantry Division's caravan of tanks and materiel rolling towards Baghdad. He's acting as a so-called "embedded journalist," traveling with the infantry, protected by their armor but on the frontlines nonetheless. Being a veteran himself, he's prone to peppering his discourse with military jargon both old and new that often requires a Peter Jennings prompt like, "for the benefit of our viewers, Ted, can you tell us exactly what a 'Bradley' is?" It is oddly comforting to know that even key, celebrity newspeople are among the ranks; I always thought that the younger "disposable" anchors got sent in as bullet-bait. Don't get me wrong, I think he's got to be incredibly gutsy to go out there and bring us the news from what could potentially be a massive killzone.

An Associated Press journalist is quoted as saying,
""We've been told that if we get slimed, if we get some kind of chemical or biological agent in the area and we get contaminated, everything that's not in a Ziploc bag — meaning your laptop, your satphone, all of it — gets junked. So essentially you're out of the ballgame. It's over for you. You have a pad and pencil. Those of us who carry the latest in electronics may wish we had Ernie's old typewriter so we can manually peck out the story."
What's struck me so far about this conflict? For one, how slowly the massive Abrams M1 tanks (and their ubiquitous fuel-tanker escorts) seemed to be rolling - more than once, Jennings commented on their crawling pace...somehow after seeing military air shows I always assumed that a battalion arrives with lightning haste, but no. I heard they'll actually be connecting a fuel pipeline thorugh the terrain to supply the thousands of vehicles - now that is going to be one tempting target for the opposition. Severing that diesel umbilical cord could really bring things to a grinding halt.

Like my partner commented as we watched the parade of tanks as far as the eye can see, "It's like a traffic jam of turtles!"

However, I do feel pretty bad for those troops in the desert, traveling in a haze of abrasive sandpapery dust, sweltering and packed into tiny personnel carriers in bulky chemical suits: this is going to be one deucedly uncomfortable war, even when nobody's firing.

To leave on a lighter note, the Olympian reports that an anti-war protester mistakenly chained himself to the front door of the Washington State Grange office Wednesday, thinking it was a sub-office of the U.S. Department of Energy. Oopsie. Thanks for that one, James!