My birthday always lands around Presidents’ Day weekend, and for many years I have elected to plan out-of-town trips to celebrate it. But this year, as my birthday approached, I grew concerned as I had not made any plans. Then one day while scrolling through Twitter, I saw that the Libertarian Party was planning an anti-war rally in Washington DC on my actual birthday.
I have recently become interested in attending protests with my cameras in tow. When I attended the first protest as a photographer, I was incredibly nervous and self-conscious. I have always been uncomfortable taking photos of people and usually avoid doing so, or I try to sneak in shots when people aren’t looking (which rarely results in a memorable photo).
But I quickly realized that people at protests are pretty much begging to have their photos taken. That still did not make me feel any more comfortable, and it took a couple of protests to get into my groove.
The other thing that took me a while to get the feel of is the ability to take unique shots. Everyone at a protest has their cell phone out and is snapping pictures, mostly, of people posing with their signs. Which is fair – the signs are crazy!
But I wanted my photos to look different from all of the stereotypical protest photos – a task that I knew would not be easy. And even though I still struggle with that, my eye is certainly getting better.
When I read about the anti-war protest in DC, I did a bit of research. I thought this might be a good way to spend my birthday. I should also mention that the protests I have attended in Chicago do not necessarily align with my positions. I just see opportunities to take interesting photos. But I could certainly get on board with being anti-war! (Turns out being “anti-war” is a much more controversial position than I had ever imagined!)
For this event, the Libertarian Party initially partnered up with the Movement for a People’s Party. That seemed to be an interesting partnership, I thought. The People’s Party, for anyone not familiar, is a progressive party that was created in an effort to get Bernie Sanders to become its leader (Bernie declined to do so).
It didn’t take long for other organizations and speakers to then join the event: Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, Center for Political Innovation, World Beyond War, Action 4 Assange, Mises Caucus, Occupy Peace, the Ron Paul Institute, to name a few. Some of the scheduled speakers included Jimmy Dore, Ron Paul, Tulsi Gabbard, Jill Stein, Max Blumenthal, Tara Reade, and Kim Iverson.
Needless to say, people and organizations would come from a wide range of political perspectives. That sounded amazing.
So I booked my hotel and wrangled my daughter into taking care of our dog.
Not long after that, social media started to blow up over this event, called Rage Against the War Machine. I was so confused about that, so of course I did a deep dive. The short story is that when Jill Stein and the Green Party signed up to participate, many people got “triggered.” Actually, triggered is an understatement. How dare Stein do anything to associate with the enemy! People threatened to turn in their Green Party cards if she didn’t withdraw.
And soon, the backlash about the event spread. People claimed that it was organized by white supremacists, racists, pedophiles, transphobes, and of course, Putin apologists! Incendiary tweets were shared. Impassioned articles were written. Heated arguments were had. Initially I started to become uncomfortable with going.
But the further I read and the more I watched participants like Jimmy Dore address the criticisms, the more determined I was to attend.
The problem was that potential supporters demand purity tests for all who would be associated with the protest. But a position as vital and all-encompassing as anti-war simply cannot require such purity tests. As Jimmy Dore repeatedly said on his media tour promoting the event, “That is not how you build a coalition.” And he is right. If we cannot come together against war because someone there might disagree with us on abortion or on health care, there we are in very big trouble.
At some point, one of the more controversial speakers removed himself from the list in the hopes of reducing the criticism. It didn’t really stem the complaints, but it was probably a good decision anyway.
So I loaded my car with snacks and made my way to DC. Unfortunately, the most direct route from Chicago went right through East Palestine, Ohio, the site of the toxic train derailment a couple of weeks prior. And I didn’t really want to drive through a poisonous cloud, so I took an alternate route that was an hour and a half longer. Ugh.
On the morning of February 19, 2023, I made my way over to the Lincoln Memorial, the site of the rally. It was an absolutely beautiful day – scattered clouds and temps in the mid-50s. I spent the day wandering the grounds, listening to speakers, people watching, taking photos, and ultimately marching to the White House. I saw signs for organizations I had never heard of and flags I didn’t recognize.
I also saw flags I did recognize and was confused about. For example, the communist flag waved by the man dressed in a red bodysuit where only his eyes were visible. Was he a counter-protester? Or was he part of the rally? (I felt like this about a lot of people I saw there.) Then during the march to the White House, the communist flag guy was joined by others, and they held a banner that read, “No to NATO.” So that explained that. Disbanding NATO was one of the demands of Rage Against the War Machine. They were part of the rally.
Overall, it was a great day! And a better birthday. But I was surprised at the size of the rally. I would guess maybe a few thousand people attended. That seems pretty pathetic. That is where the country is at in 2023 in terms of war? The last time there was a national anti-war protest was in opposition to the Iraq War in 2003, and millions showed up for that. Clearly opposing war is not a priority of the people in the United States today. And this at a time when our involvement in the war in Ukraine seems to be increasing every day and as politicians expand our commitments to Zelensky. At a time when our politicians demand regime change in Russia. Scary stuff. And considering the increased tensions with and dangerous rhetoric concerning China.
I was really glad I went.
Upon arriving home the next day, the backlash over the rally continued. And the press coverage was shockingly biased and inaccurate (I suppose no surprise there…).
First, on Twitter, people posted photos of a couple of Russian flags waving at the rally, including in the background while one of the leaders of the Libertarian Party was speaking And wow. People were outraged! These photos PROVED that this was actually a pro-Russian event! This image would DESTROY the Libertarian Party. The rhetoric was absolutely over-the-top. What in the world?
The defense against the outrage was that the people with the Russian flags were only there for a short time and that organizers absolutely approached them and told them to leave.
I could not remember if I had seen the Russian flags (there were so many flags!), so I ran through my photos, and I didn’t find any with the Russian flags, even in the background. So perhaps they were there for only a short while.
But I do have this to say about protests in general. Every protest has trolls, many of whom have been hired to be there. And believe it or not, most protests also have undercover federal agents and/or police in attendance as well. I have been to enough protests to know this. So when you see coverage of a protest and the media focuses its reporting on, for example, a Confederate flag or Nazi sign, do not assume that the people organizing and attending the protest are in full agreement with those things. It’s usually safer to conclude that the person waving the Confederate flag is there purposely to undermine the message of the protest.
Second, the media basically ignored the rally, but MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did a short bit on it. And it could not have been more hateful. Which is shocking considering the group was against war, against World War III, against the escalation of international tensions, against the use of nuclear weapons. Seems strange that the reaction to that position would be filled with such hatred.
Here are a few quotes from Maddow’s coverage:
There was a “truly random rally today in Washington DC….This was a tiny event, it was small, it was a weird assemblage of Americans. There were Proud Boys there. There were some of the white supremacist groups there you’d recognize from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville a few years ago. … One person who guests hosts for Tucker Carlson was there as a featured speaker [This was stated over video of Tulsi Gabbard, whom she did not name]. There were anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. A lot of them [I didn’t see one sign or group discussing COVID, so not sure where she got this from.]. There were crypto currency promoters. It was a really weird group. It was a small one but a weird one… That’s the assemblage of short straws and split ends and loose change and loose electrons advocating that Russia is in the right in this war and that America should be on Putin’s side.”
By the way, pretty much every speaker condemned Russia. There was not a single word uttered in support of Russia.
So here is the conclusion I drew from my time in DC: our country is hopelessly fractured. Our politicians, the media, and the educational system have succeeded in dividing us and in convincing us that anyone who may disagree with us is not only the enemy but an evil that we should have zero interaction with. Hell, people have been convinced to disown their own families (even their parents or their siblings) if they voted for Trump or if they are concerned about the COVID shot.
How in the world are we ever supposed to get together on any topic at all?
Sadly, not enough people understand that this is the oldest play in the book: divide and conquer. You can see it play out in countries, in boardrooms, in offices ,in battle, and even in families. This strategy is usually attributed to Julius Cesar. It’s the easiest way to rule over people. Pit people against each other, and they will be so distracted with fighting and demonizing each other that they won’t notice when those in power implement their own agendas without opposition.
Shockingly, our population seems to have eagerly bought into their prescribed role in this ancient strategy. And until we stop allowing those in power to convince us that our neighbors are the enemy and until we realize that the actual enemy are the elites in power, there is no hope of stopping our involvement in wars and regime changes across the the world (resulting in the deaths of our sons and daughters), in turning our sovereignty over to the globalists (resulting in a complete loss of power over our own lives), in printing and spending money we don’t have (resulting in an economy that will destroy the middle class and the poor).
If you would like to see my photos from the day, you can check out my Facebook album HERE.