My Fellow Americans [Part III]

Continued from Part I and Part II.

March 18, 2003

The candles wouldn’t stay lit. We walked around the police line and huddled on the north side of the Jackson Federal Building as we tried to light the tiny candles stuck inside plastic cups. Out front, banners flapped up into faces and it took two hands to hold our signs.

The daytime crowds had long since dispersed, and I counted twenty of us lining the curb, facing the street for the benefit of the occasional motorist driving through downtown at 9:00 o’clock on a Tuesday night.

At our backs, an equal number of Seattle police defended the empty building, lined against the glass windows in their finest riot gear. Feet shoulder-width apart, they carried plastic handcuffs looped on utility belts that sagged with pouches. Handguns in holsters, eyes forward behind plastic face shields, they carried rubber-bullet rifles with orange stocks across their chests, at the ready.

I was afraid of them. These were the men who had put down the anarchists in 1999, who had pushed, shoved, and dragged away those who’d marched down the wrong street earlier today.

We gave up on our candles and held onto our signs. Black marker streaking the paper in the rain, mine still read “Would Jesus bomb Iraq?”

Most drivers waved, honked, or flashed the peace sign, but one passenger in a red pickup leaned out of his window, pointed at my sign, and yelled, “Yeah he would, asshole!” before giving us the finger as his buddy hit the gas pedal and they screeched down Second Avenue.

The wind began to die. Cameramen and reporters stepped out of their vans to smoke. They set up lights and tripods for the 10 o’clock newscast, said some things we couldn’t hear from across the street, and then went back inside their vans. I have no idea what they said about us, standing there in the wind.

By 10:30, the only cars on the road were empty taxis. Cabbies began to slow as they passed us. As though a signal had gone out over the radio, they began to honk when they drove by. One driver lifted his hand through his window and raised his fingers in a V. Another pulled up alongside us at the curb, leaned over to roll down his window, and said, “For peace, yes? No war!” His teeth flashed in the dark under a black mustache.

“Yes, yes, peace,” I said. I wanted to say something in Arabic, to use the few words I’d learned over a summer digging up potsherds and goat bones in Jordan. But I couldn’t know where he was from.

“No war,” I said.

“Thank you very much!” he said and began to pull away.

A white and black motorcycle rolled down the hill from Marion, turned on its lights, and pulled over the taxi.

A second taxi drove past, honked, and a second motorcycle cop pulled him over.

Spotlights glared from the rear windows of the cabs. They let them both go, and the cops drove off into the dark.

Another taxi driver honked and waved. They were waiting for him, too. Again and again, red and white lights flashed off yellow paint.

The news crews remained hunkered in their white vans.