August 28, 2008 – It started as a modest sized march. From the Rage Against the Machine concert at the Denver Coliseum, about 150 soldiers in uniform began the four-mile march to the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver to protest the Iraq War.Behind the troops, who marched calling cadence and chanting antiwar slogans, came a larger group in civilian clothes, cheering and waving signs, and growing larger and larger as the marchers wended their way through the downtown. As they drew near the heavily guarded convention center, cops in riot gear lined the street, and helicopters buzzed overhead. At an intersection, the group stopped facing squad cars with lights on and a phalanx of black-clad police. “We can go on here or not,” one of the march’s organizers told the troops through a megaphone. The march was unauthorized and it was unclear whether the police intended to have a confrontation. She seemed to be trying to calm everyone for a moment, pointing out that the Denver police so far have not been “prone to violence.” The march continued, and the civilians bringing up the rear cheered.
It was quite a spectacle: the soldiers in dress uniform and fatigues, and the cops in riot gear watching them from the sidelines.
The soldiers chanted:
“Everywhere we go
People want to know
Who we are
Where we came from.
We are the veterans
Iraq War veterans
“Hey, Hey Uncle Sam
We remember Vietnam
We don’t want your Iraq War
Peace is what we’re marching for”
At an intersection, the group stopped to read a letter to Barack Obama asking that, as the antiwar candidate, he agree to three core principles: the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, full and adequate health care for all returning U.S. service members, and reparations to the Iraqi people.
The police presence intensified. I passed a cop videotaping the marchers and a marcher in a green “copwatch” vest videotaping him right back.
Over the long course, from the outskirts of town into the denser downtown, the energy from the crowd seemed to build. The marchers chanting had a hypnotic effect.
He tried to lead the way
But he was shot one day
early in the morning
A young woman standing on the sidewalkl in a midriff-baring Obama shirt sang along.
More and more people joined the march, until, suddenly, looking back as the group crossed a bridge and then paused right outside the Pepsi Center, you could see several thousand people in a line stretching as far as the eye could see.
As the group passed into the perimeter of the convention hall, the police presence grew more threatening. “Hey, those ones have masks,” someone pointed out. A group of police in gas masks were pulling on thick gloves and grabbing their batons.
A white van with police in black flak jackets hanging off it rolled alongside the marchers.
A lot of mohawks, dreads, and tattoos passed delegates in khaki pants and dress shirts.
Walking down a narrow alley along a thick mesh fence, police on horseback, also with gas masks on, were barely visible on the other side. It was an eerie scene. “We’re going down a blind alley,” someone said. Then an activist from Code Pink started strumming a guitar, and the women around her started singing “God Bless America, No Blood For OIl” and “Time to End the War” to the tune of “Dinah Won’t You Blow.” (One of them was wearing a princess hat and wheeling a pink bicycle). It was so silly and cheerful it broke the scary mood.
The feeling of the whole, thousands-strong group was moving. “It’s beautiful,” one marcher said, looking back at the crowd in the late afternoon sun.
While the marchers were outside, inside the convention Harry Reid was giving a speech against the “war for oil” in Iraq from the convention stage. Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, was answering tough questions from the founder of Digg on CNN about why the Democrats in Congress have failed to pull the troops out of Iraq.
And across town, at the University of Denver super-rally for Ralph Nader, Jello Biafra, the Colorado native and founder of the band the Dead Kennedeys, was doing a hilarious riff on the police lockdown in Denver (which is actually significantly less intense than the conventions 4 and even 8 years ago).
The convention security, Biafra said, reminded him “how really antidemocratic the Democratic Party really is”:
“Look at al the barriers everywhere. They spent $15 million on them just so people like the Iraq Veterans Against the War . . . couldn’t deliver a very diplomatically written letter to Barack Obama.”
“What are they afraid of?” Biafra demanded. “That someone will throw a pie at Nancy Pelosi for being so spineless?”
The thing that stays with me is the sight of those troops looking worried but determined in the face of police force and possible public hostility, trying to make their statement for peace, and how, at the last moment, the whole, huge crowd of civilians had joined them, lifting up their little march and transforming it into an enormous, uplifting show of support.