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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Tuesday, September 19, 2023

    U.S. Militarism on the Mall - protest while outreaching for alternatives (originally published May 8, 2005)

    I wrote this on May 8, 2005 (slightly modified on May 9). It really is a typical report of small actions we in the DC Anti-War Network would do and the kind of reports I would write about them. - jsm September 19, 2023


    A report by on DC Anti-War Network's (DAWN)'s action at the Department of Defense's military display on the National Mall. At these displays, young children actually played with unloaded military weapons. Also, a brief report from DAWN's and MGJ's action honoring the successful hunger strike by students in Georgetown fighting for a living wage for school workers.

    Today, we had an intense little action on the Mall, where the government was celebrating public servant's week, and where the Department of Defense set up shop to show its toys to the world.

    We caused a stir out there today, and I want to thank Jose for suggesting this idea. It was well worth it.

    About a dozen of us (counting comers and goers) were out on the Mall today for DAWN's action, which was in part a protest against U.S. militarism, in part an outreach and education opportunity, and in part a working group meeting of the Draft, Counter-Recruiting, End Stop Loss (DCRESL) group. We came equipped with flyers that John graciously supplied us with as well as signs directed against the military displays on the Mall.

    At about 1:30 PM on this very sunny day, we headed from the Smithsonian Metro to the tents on the Mall across from the Air and Space Museum. After chatting a bit with Jose, we did our best to get into the exhibits and display our messages, while talking with people.

    The exhibits themselves were fenced in, and so to enter them, we needed to pass through metal detectors. As we started to go through, some of the security began noticing the signs. At first, they let us enter. Genevieve got through, but we started having troubles once Eric and David tried to go through. Then, security let us through, but immediately after going through, another police officer stopped us and said that we would have to take the signs outside. We discussed with him a minute why he was doing this, and he claimed it was because this was a "DoD (Department of Defense) event." Unsatisfied, I asked him if he had written confirmation of the rule. The reason I asked him this was because I was sure there wasn't since the signs became a part of an informal conversation between the security people. They let people through, and then they didn't, and then they did again. I suspected it was an "on the spot" decision. Naturally, he said there wasn't a rule.

    Dave and Eric decided to abide by the rule, and they set up with their signs right at the entrance. In the meantime, I wasn't carrying a sign (apparently a shirt that said "No War" was okay...Luke was also able to get through with a Bush chickenhawk shirt was also okay). It's not clear why or why not; these things are pretty arbitrary.

    I quickly walked to try to catch up with Genevieve (who had her sign) and with Malachy. As I walked briskly, I noticed an incredible montage of military displays from all the branches of the service. There were military bands, military displays, military weapons. In some cases, young children were being encouraged to play with the guns. As I made my way through this maze of militarism, I finally found myself outside where there were all kinds of military heavy machinery, including heavy artillery and armored personnel carriers. My eyes finally caught sight of Malachy and Genevieve. I got to them, and no sooner did I tell them what had happened than a security personnel came to Genevieve and told her she needed to leave her sign with him.

    "I'm not leaving my sign with you!" She moved away from him. He said that if she didn't leave her sign, she would have to leave. She went over to an armored personnel carrier where I took a couple pictures. At that point, five troops around the carrier began to mock her and tried to get in the picture (which I was happy to oblige). The security person again approached her as Genevieve began to have a very heated exchange with the five troops. The security person came up, and Genevieve agreed to be escorted to the exit as I continued to flash photographs.

    We exited, stood there for a short time (noticing that some tourists entered through the exit, thus avoiding the metal detectors when sometimes as many as five troops weren't paying attention). We soon joined our friends and spent the next couple of hours in front of the entrance.

    There, we felt a great deal of obvious animosity, but you'd be very surprised what happened in small private moments. One man wearing a badge that said "DoD Exhibitor" came up to Genevieve and said in her ear, "Thank God you all are out here." A soldier at one point whispered quietly into Malachy's ear, "You're right, you know? I just can't say anything out loud or I will get into a lot of trouble." We had our pictures taken with high school students from Baltimore, and several passersby expressed sympathy. Nevertheless, more often than not, the scene was tense and hostile. At least one or two men threatened violence, but no one backed away.

    Most of the flyers ultimately disappeared as we handed them out to those who were interested. Some from Codepink also came and joined us.

    We only decided to meet when people decided they needed to get going, the reason being that an action seemed a lot more effective than another meeting.

    Personally, I sometimes think in heated exchanges that we don't always show much discipline, shouting down and bullying those who disagree with us, and sinking our arguments to the lowest common denominator. We shouldn't always be as quick witted as we are, practiced in talking. I think, though, on the other hand, that people need to see our passion. And, I resent the implication that we are crazy. We spend billions and billions of dollars on killing machines, glorifying it to our kids, and treating them like toys, and we're supposed to be the ones who are insane because we carry a couple signs and make a little bit of noise?! Something is hopelessly out of whack, and I'll take our craziness over the craziness of these death machines any day.

    Good actions arouse passions, whether they be anger or sympathy. I think we can do more to raise the relationship with our opponents to a higher level, but no one can deny that this action was provocative. We were able to interact with real soldiers, real supporters of militarism, and find people willing to feel and care for something, even if they found what we were doing dispicable. Others were inspired by us, like the young couple from Palestine that we met.

    Seeing the disgusting display of militarism on the Mall aroused passions in me. Seeing children playing with weapons aroused something in me. It made the cycle of destruction that we are perpetuating all the more tangible inside of me. It was empowering for me, not just because I could participate, but to witness the courage of our friends. Some expressed openly to the police that they were willing to face arrest, and as Genevieve put it, that our belief in this is that strong.

    Later at the student networking session honoring the Georgetown Living Wage activists one young woman from the Friends Committee on National Legislation said to Malachy and I that during the Nuremburg trials that there were experiments carried out which showed that people don't so much go to war and obey the law so much because they are told or because they are scared not to but because they had been habituated to carry out those kinds of actions. I quipped back to her that we suffer from a bad national habit, then. And, indeed we do. It will take a lot of resistance to change the culture of that habit. We can only hope to make a dent by being in places like we were today, challenging the military might right in its face. It won't be pretty at first, but over time, through our commitment, through our suffering, we can break this horrible national habit.

    That's all for now.

    Jim Macdonald

    PS The student networking session honoring the Georgetown Living Wage activists was a wonderful event put together by DAWN and MGJ, and I think Chris did a fantastic job. Malachy and I met so many student activists from groups I had no idea existed. They've compiled these names and groups, and we'll be staying in touch. That action was equally important to our ends even though the vibe was completely different than the vibe on the Mall.

    It was a fantastic start in movement building. Without relationships, there can be no solidarity. Without solidarity, we have no movement. While hardly as dramatic as this afternoon, I hope that we appreciate the hard work that goes into making the relationships that will make direct actions like the one reported above more effective.


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