You would never have guessed it by the covers of Sunday papers, but this weekend Washington, D.C., saw its biggest anti-war protest in almost four decades. Suddenly Saturday, “one voice” was 100,000 — 220 of them belonging to Yalies — and they all caravanned to the capitol attacking perceived unanimity.
They were middle-class college kids in purple wigs and SUVs, middle-aged hipsters in business suits and ties, middle-American ambivalents in minivans and George W. Bush masks. And they brought with them thousands of lemonade-stand mini-campaigns, waged for months against the war and in spite of public opinion.
So finally, those looking to colleges for opposition to the impending military action against Iraq — particularly those searching desperately for a coalesced left wing at Yale — found something on coach buses headed to the capitol. The Yale Coalition for Peace was out in force, somewhere between “Nebraskans for Peace” and “Hoosiers for Non-Violence,” rallying loudly together for the first time — not on Cross Campus, but down Constitution Avenue.
The protest was organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, a coalition of anti-war groups operating under the acronym ANSWER. Leaders said the goal was to show that the apparent national consensus for unilateral action against Iraq has been misrepresented. Countless others marched to the same effect this weekend in San Francisco, Rome, Berlin, Copenhagen, Denmark, Tokyo and Mexico City.
And at a time when people are quick to dismiss protests as overwhelmingly local or oppressively liberal, this one should not be dismissed too quickly.
This was not a stand of Yalies lying down in the street for the unions. It was not a group of law students wearing camouflage gags outside the Holiday Inn or a handful of undergraduates signing petitions for hand soap. While all of the past year’s major protests have been deserving of attention, this weekend’s exodus to the nation’s capital is unique for the composition of the group and its relationship to the cause.
And the number is nothing to sneeze at too.
Now, it seems, is the moment for the casual protesters — uneasy about Iraq and looking for a story to tell their grandchildren — not necessarily the career dissidents who are loudest at Yale. What this weekend’s events show is that activism is not dead at universities around the country, including this one, but that it has packed a backpack, filled a Nalgene, and headed out of town.
The 220 Yalies who rode to Washington on Saturday were not motivated by self-interest or conscription, were not responding to a war already begun or a loss already suffered. They went to protest — not necessarily the war, but the perception of a conclusion foregone. And whether you agree with the cause or recoil at the message, you must at very least recognize the showing and consider what they have become: the second voice in America’s war.