Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Pessimistic Post

Last night I rode my bike over to the Lakeshore Path and north to a hill just beyond Montrose Harbor to join a vigil for Cindy Sheehan. There was a decent crowd; between two-fifty and three-fifty, I'd guess. I arrived without a candle but was given one by one of the organizers. I lit it from someone else's, but in the wind off of Lake Michigan I couldn't keep it lit even with a highly flammable Dixie cup shielding it.

For a while after I arrived people continued to gather, climbing up the hillside in twos and threes. We were silent, just standing. Some people held signs. Some took pictures. There were several dogs. The crowd was diverse in age, but not as much in ethnicity.

As I said, for a while we just stood in silence. I thought the silence was very effective and moving, but after a while I guess people couldn't resist filling it. They sang a bunch of peace songs, which was fine but I didn't sing along. I just wanted to be there and hold my candle (which was out by this time) and imagine that there were people all over the place doing the same.

I have to confess something. I'll be 35 in a month and I've been more or less pissed off about something the government has been doing since at least high school, and yet this is the first time I've ever been to a political rally or protest or anything similar. (The closest I've come is probably the walkout we staged at our high school after the community voted down a referendum that would have funded extracurriculars like athletics and the band.) Why this is, I can't say. Possibly because my parents have never been protesters or anything of the sort. Both--particularly my mom--are pretty consistently Democratic (although I know my dad voted against Clinton once), but we've never talked about politics much. Mostly when we do it's my mom and I comisserating about how much we hate Bush. Sometimes we disagree on things, but rarely, and when we do we don't fight. We might argue briefly, but there isn't much shouting in my family, except for my sister Mary, and she does it for the attention. (Sad but true, Mare.)

I can't say exactly why I went to this event after failing to attend so many others, or why Cindy Sheehan has gotten me so engaged. Informed is one thing--I'm informed to the limits of my emotional capacity--but engaged is something else. This isn't a political blog. (I don't know what the hell kind of blog this is; stream-of-consciousness, maybe.) I'm not going to turn it into a political blog--there are enough of those, and while I have several of them on my RSS I weed through them pretty quickly, because they tend to depress me. The more I learn or suspect about what really happens behind what we're told, the more depressed and paranoid I get. But I guess that Cindy Sheehan has me hoping that public opinion will turn against Bush and the Republicans long enough for something to change. How that might work, I can't say, since I don't think the Democrats are interested in changing things either. It's just a hope.

Sunday evening my roommate Marianne played in a concert with a small regional orchestra. She plays cello--has since she was three--and it's an opportunity for her to keep those muscles developed, so to speak. It was a good concert, overall, but it had an odd flavour to it; they were supposed to be songs of freedom (nope, no Bob Marley), but in large part this turned out to mean patriotic songs. That's not terrible in and of itself--I happen to like the "Battle Hymn of the Republic"--but the conductor was slightly nuts. He said things like "We've been praying for this weather, and I think we know which God delivered it." When he introduced "America the Beautiful" he said he'd support a move to have it replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem because it was easier to sing (true) and "It gives credit where credit is due." (What does that even mean?)

We were almost home from the concert when my cell phone rang. It was my sister Mary's phone, but it turned out to be her boyfriend Palito on the other end. He was scheduled to leave for Fort McCoy to get ready for his second deployment to Iraq the next day, and he was calling to say goodbye. He said his unit was headed over in October, and he expected to be there a year. I told him to take care of himself and he said he'd be back. I didn't know what else to say. I asked him what he'd like to have sent to him while he's overseas. I asked him if he knew what he would be doing over there this time; last time he was driving supply convoys, mostly in the southern part of the country. He said he wasn't sure. After a few long pauses and his repeated assurance that he would be back, I told him I'd see him soon and we hung up.

By this time we were parked in the Dominick's parking lot. Marianne had run in to grab some groceries, so I was alone in the car, and I just lost it. I felt overwhelmed. I'm scared for Palito and I feel helpless to change what's happening. Palito believes the war in Iraq is justified and that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and more than once I've disagreed with him. But I think he needs to believe that if he's going to go over there and do what he's being asked to do. Even so, he's not as eager to go now as he was the first time. He knows things aren't working out the way they were supposed to. Meanwhile, Bush and his team are too stubborn to even look at what's already gone wrong, let alone correct their course.

As I was riding home from the vigil last night I felt sad. I was glad I'd gone but I didn't have any expectation that it would have much impact. I don't know what else to do, though. I can't change Bush's mind; at this point I don't think anyone can. I can't bring Palito or any of the other soldiers home. I can't make Iraq safe for the Iraqis. I don't have money and I don't have power. I only have one vote, and lately it seems like even that doesn't count. Really, the only thing I know how to do very well is tell stories, and I don't believe that stories change the world. I used to believe that, but not anymore.