Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ruth's Report

Ruth: "By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong," wrote Joni Mitchell ("Woodstock") and if that gathering was reported today, I can picture reports of "thousands" and "hundreds" turning out.

Saturday, Januarty 27th, at least 500,000 people were gathered in D.C. to call for the end of the illegal war and make their voices heard. If you were able to make it, you may find that hard to believe. If you were present, you understand why I use "at least 500,000" and not just "500,000."

We were not small in number and we were not alone. In terms of my family, for myself the story is two sons, two daughter-in-laws and four grandchildren. My Friday neighborhood group, where we discuss the illegal war, was also present with twenty of them headed to DC early Saturday morning. I never saw them.

I looked for them. My grandson Jayson saw them when he was doing interviews with Dona and Ty. Yesterday, I got to see their pictures in the meeting. We spoke of how huge the crowd was and how the media under reported the figure. A few of them noted "helpful" supposed participants who have been e-mailing websites, and getting their opinions posted, with the claim that they were there and the turnout was small. I had no idea the FBI and/or the CIA was attempting to infilitrate the web with disinformation but the thought does not really surprise me.

I also think those "participants" may be like a woman I will call "Twyla." It was the week leading up to Woodstock. I was not going. I had several children by that point and was not eager for a jam in the middle of nowhere. We were still living in an apartment then, my husband was still finishing his residency and had yet to start his own practice. Maybe if the festival had promised the Beatles, I would have been interested. But, as it was, I was a young wife, raising children, attempting to carve out time to protest another illegal war and was not interested in traveling to, what we called, "the sticks" for a musical experience that honestly reminded me of those revue tours Dick Clark used to do. I wished them well and was not hostile the planned event but I did not see packing the strollers and diaper bags to go native in the sticks.

Twyla lived in our building. She was either on the floor below or the floor above, that is hazy with the passage of time. But I do remember she was strongly opposed to the festival and was frequently dropping by to decry the "commercialization" of the event. I believe the original plan for the festival had included the purchasing of tickets and that plan flew out the window quickly. But Twyla had a long list of reasons for why the festival was wrong. I would be changing a diaper, at the mimeograph machine, fixing bottles, wiping chins, and trying to pick up the never ending mess. But I would listen to Twyla as I did all of that. One day, Treva visited.

She stopped on her way to Woodstock and tried to talk me into going along. Twyla ripped into her for planning to attend. Treva did go. Her car got stuck in the mud, she caught a ride with others. She had a wonderful time.

On her way back out of state, she dropped by and shared her impressions of the festival. Twyla listened attentively. A few days later, I was down in the basement doing laundry. A woman I did not know was talking about Woodstock and could not quite figure out if it was a good or a bad thing. But she knew that one of the renters in our building had gone and she had hated it. She knew the turnout was small. She explained to me, as we folded laundry, that the media was inflating the turnout. She got that information from the woman in our building who had attended. I knew what Treva had told me and knew the woman was wrong but it was nice to have company in the laundry room, so I just listened as the woman spoke.

As I finished folding, I mentioned that I had to get back up stairs because Dark Shadows would be going off soon and Twyla was watching her soaps while my children were napping, hopefully napping. "That's her," the woman explained. Twyla was the one who went to Woodstock and had told her that the turnout was very small.

Back upstairs, I repeated what I was told, during a commercial, and Twyla denied it, then affirmed parts of it, then left in a huff. From what she had said, and the way she had said it, I concluded that she felt the need to lie and belittle the turnout, as well as the music itself, because she felt she had missed something. We all miss something. Every hour of the day, we are going to miss something. A mature person can deal with that. An immature person has a need to tear down whatever big event they missed out on.

I would love to tell you that I said all of that to Twyla and that is why she stopped coming by to watch soaps on our TV. But I was really still puzzled at that moment and did not say much. She found another TV to watch in our building and pretty much avoided my husband, our kids and myself after that.

So possibly some of the "participants" writing websites this past week maintaining that they were present for last Saturday's rally in D.C. and that it was not an impressive turnout are suffering from a case of the Twylas?

I know what I saw and it was amazing. I say that as someone who participated in many marches and rallies during Vietnam. As an older woman with a grandson, Elijah, usually wrapped around me, I must have been seen as a potential human interest story because I was stopped by four reporters asking for my impressions. One followed that up with questions seeking my entire life history. But all four asked the same basic questions that went something like this: "Is this your first protest? Oh, you protested during Vietnam, how does that compare to this?"

My "soundbyte" was: "I see the birth of today." If it got used anywhere, I did not come across it. It might not have qualified as "dramatic" and, certainly, other people present had interesting stories to tell.

But "I see the birth of today" really did sum it up for me. Maybe I should have gone with Elaine's "No comment"? Elaine was of the opinion that the mainstream press was determined to distort the event however it went. If she had bet us money on that, most would be paying up right now. But Mike and I repeatedly attempted to answer questions from reporters as we went around doing our interviews.

Late Saturday night, as we were working on "Show Me What Democracy Looks Like (1-27-07)" and the two-part piece for the gina & krista round-robin, it was obvious that there were more interesting stories than the press could have used if they had devoted serious coverage to the rally and march. I missed the TV coverage so perhaps it did a better job. The print coverage?

Well there were those who felt the story was only in what was said onstage and a subgroup that felt the story was only what was said onstage by elected officials. Then there were those who had to include the small but hateful group of pro-war activists. Of course The New York Times felt the need to spread unverified myths about what happened to that hateful group. Which reminded of that paper's Woodstock coverage. If you have the time and can research that at some point, please do. You will find one contradictory report after another all appearing in the same paper.

The increasingly laughable Nation magazine posted three online pieces. None appeared to be written by someone who actually attended the march. If that is, indeed, the case, that fact should have been noted upfront in the laughable pieces. I was most ashamed of John Nichols who always talks such a good game about media reform and how the people matter, how the people need to front and center and news needs to cover them. His was one of the pieces that read like it came via a newsletter from Congressional Fan Club. Another writer, a woman, attempted to provide a better version and might have succeeded if she knew the reactions from the crowd. But, as C.I. noted, when you have missed Bob Watada's speech, you are not covering the rally. In fairness to her, I will note that The Nation magazine's refusal to cover war resisters in print is, at this point, widely known so possibly it was decided ahead of time not to mention the father of Ehren Watada. Those pieces went up last weekend. The hatchet job would come later. Elaine's done a wonderful job covering Liza Featherbrain's efforts to manipulate reality and steer everyone towards worship of the Congress. It certainly is interesting that Featherbrain's efforts at covering Wal-Mart read like "Rise up, brothers and sisters!" and now she works overtime to undermine the power of the people. That may have something to do with the amount of time she spends working for at the magazine headed by the "Peace Resister."

Rebecca and I were delighted Monday morning to hear the "Peace Resister" by a guest on WBAI's Law and Disorder. On the same day's Democracy Now!, you could also get the kind of reporting on the D.C. rally and demonstration that one might expect The Nation magazine to provide . . . provided they did not actually read the magazine but only knew the hype. On that note, let me add my own voice to those expressing outrage that the most widely circulated (for now) magazine of the left thinks it is acceptable in 2007 to print four male writers for every one female that makes it into the embarrassing magazine. This is an ongoing problem and it is outrageous. The Third Estate Sunday Review is tracking all of the issues for 2007 and I am beginning to doubt that we will see any improvement. As each issue arriving at my home demonstrates before it quickly lands in the trash can, the bulk of the magazine is useless. Possibly there are not as many useless women writers as there are men?

I will also add my own voice to the call to ask your local paper, if they ran Molly Ivins' columns, to fill that now sadly vacant space with Amy Goodman's columns. Listening to John Nichols on CounterSpin Friday was a very strange experience. Rebecca's addressed it and, when I arrived at her house Friday, she was filling me in. We went online and listened to the archived broadcast. I am not sure whether "humor" is a dirty word in John Nichols' book, whether he has a problem seeing that a woman can be humorous, or if he was just grief stricken. But it was very strange to listen to him.

It was especially strange to hear him reduce Ms. Ivins to his concept of her. Though gender neutral might be something to strive for, the reality, which CounterSpin was addressing last year, is that women are not represented on the op-ed pages. So while he is correct that Ms. Ivins' space should remain progressive, it should also remain a space for a woman. If he is unaware of how bad things are, in terms of the under representation of women in the media, he can grab any issue of The Nation and count up the bylines. Near the end, Ms. Ivins was writing a weekly column, Ms. Goodman currently writes a weekly column. It should make for an easy substitution if papers are willing to listen to their readers.

That is something that some independent media refuse to do so we will consider that up in the air at this point. Being with everyone this weekend meant hearing of some of the e-mails that come in. I was especially interested in a lengthy e-mail from a male independent voice who went on at length to express his outrage over valid critiques. I found it all the more interesting since my son Jayson had written the male and received no reply. Readers, apparently, are not important even when they attempt to correspond with you but C.I., for instance, is supposed to drop everything to address what I generously term a whine. Jasyon, writing as a concerned reader, prompts no response. The same non-response, if you remember, that Martha received. But they have all the time in the world for their unintentionally hilarious e-mails? Possibly that is why their professional writing suffers so?

Or take the issue of Durham Gal who had repeatedly voiced her objection over a publication repeating the false myth of "Red" states and "Blue" states. For two years, she had voiced that and never received a reply or had her letter printed. But she got quoted two Fridays ago and suddenly the same group repeating that false stereotype rushed to be "heard" by C.I. I thought C.I. handled that very well in the column for Polly's Brew. Durham Gal's feelings and opinions were ignored repeatedly but when they went up at The Common Ills suddenly there was a response? What does that tell you about the state of independent media?

It tells me that some just do not care about their readers. Reading The Nation, week after week, that point is quite clear. The Nation's most recent editorial is "Which Side Are You On?" and, before you get excited, there concern is over whether or not you will stand with new Democrat and newly elected Senator Jim Webb? As they hypervenilate, it might be a good time to toss that question back at the magazine: Which side are you on?

Ehren Watada will face a court-martial on Monday. Readers of the print version of the magazine should be aware that his name did not appear in the magazine until 2007. He was the focus to a sidebar of an article that mentioned him long enough to call him a coward. So, tossing the question back to the magazine, Which side are you on?

Darrell Anderson was court-martialed, Ivan Brobeck was court-martialed, Agustin Aguyao faces a court martial next month, and which side is the magazine on?

Amy Goodman and David Goodman's Exceptions to the Rulers is a book we discussed Friday in my neighborhood group. In it, they write of the war which was not all that old, compared today, and note that voices of peace were shut out by the mainstream media, that questions could not be asked before the start of the illegal war and that questions could not be asked after the war started. On page 204, they write, "So when is the right time to question war? If it's not before a war and not during it, what's left? After the war? By then, it doesn't matter."

We were able to tie that into the coverage of war resisters. A print out of that day's Christian Science Monitor was passed around, the lengthy article on Ehren Watada. Two members of my group subscribe to that paper but their subscriptions work through the postal system so it had yet to arrive. But there we were looking at a lengthy article about Ehren Watada and realizing that we had gotten nothing from The Nation. It was not a case of our priorities being skewed, it was a case of The Nation's priorities being out of whack.

The week prior, the Pooper and Mr. Nichols could both rush out "online exclusives" at the website in defense of a reporter. But the magazine's silent on Ehren Watada. So when is the right time for The Nation to address Ehren Watada? If they will not do it before the court-martial or during it, I am borrowing from the Goodmans, what's left?

It makes their inane "Which Side Are You On?" editorial not only laughable but sadly pathetic.
That is also the state of the magazine and also reflective of their coverage of the rally. "Hype" was a popular word in my day. We did not want to be "hyped." The Nation is less interested in reality and more interested in hype. We discussed that and wondered if they had bought into the myth that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election. (Mike addressed that myth here.) Is the current fawning over Democrats in office some sort of guilt payment? The oldest member of my group pointed to history of punishing those who supported war resisters at earlier times and wondered if the magazine's silence derived from cowardice?

What we could agree on was that Ehren Watada has taken a brave stand that merits support; however, those who could be using their platforms to call for support remain silent. So it is time to ask The Nation, "Which Side Are You On?"

At my granddaughter Tracey's request, I am closing with the comments of a young woman she, Wally and C.I. spoke with at the rally:

"I was just asked for a comment," she explained, "and I just smiled and walked on. I don't trust that something I say won't end up being turned into something different and one more reason to target Muslims. I'm 16. I'm first generation American. I live an hour drive away from here. I only talked to you because of his button. [She was referring to Wally's "NO BLOOD FOR OIL button.] I don't think you'll change my words up or make me sound angry or stupid. I feel like the only time a Muslim gets on TV now is if he's shouting. And we're the bad guys on every other episode of that show that ticks down the clock. [24.] Those things hurt. And it makes me think that another roundup, like after the Twin Towers were destroyed, could happen again real easy. I'm against the war. This is my first protest. My mother asked me not to go but I told her how much I wanted to be here, and what it means to me, so she finally said yes. She even said if she was 10 years younger, she probably would be here too. I'm against the war. I'm against all this blaming of Iraqis. People say things like they're dogs, just stupid dogs who were given some wonderful gift and smashed it. Invading Iraq was not a gift. War on the country was not a gift. And Muslims are not idiots. There wasn't this hate between Shia and Sunni before George Bush's war. He created it. I think if the soldiers came home that the people of Iraq would work out their differences. I don't think that would happen in a month or even two. But I do think that within a year, there would be peace. And I may be wrong, but that is what I believe. I'm here because I want the killings to stop. When I get home, I'm going to tell my mother that people in Congress were here and Jane Fonda and Sean [Penn]. And I think, next time, when I come, she's going to come with me. But, you have to understand, it can be really hard to be a Muslim in the United States today. People look at you funny. Before the Twin Towers, I was only 11, but before that, I did not feel scared here. I felt like I was any other American kid. Now I feel like people expect me to prove that I am American, to say, 'I love America.' And what they really seem to want is for me to say, 'I hate Muslims.' It feels like they want me to denounce my faith. And like the only way I can fit in is if I change my name to Jill and become a Christian and, since that won't happen, I'm always under suspicion. One of my best friends is Christian and we were at the mall Tuesday and she said, 'I see what you are talking about.' Because at every store, the women were smiling at her and asking her if they could help her and they just kind of stared at me. I don't think I should have to prove that I am a good American. I was born here, this is my country. But since 9-11, it seems like people look at Muslims and don't really think we belong here anymore. Thank you."
Did she feel welcome at the march? "Yes, people here were very nice. They smiled, they nodded. The press, I do not know. I feel like they see me and think, 'Muslim!' That's why I did not talk to that woman who asked me for a comment. But the people who are to here to protest the war, I felt very welcomed. There are a lot of different people here and it looks more like America than what you see on TV. It gives me hope that someday things will change. Not just that the war will end, but that all the hatreds and suspicions will stop."

Her story is a worthy story. However, she does not hold elected office so do not expect to read about her in The Nation. Which side are you on?

amy goodman
democracy now