Million Worker March…

12 minute read

October 19, 2004, 1:30 AM

All I have to say was that I had fun at the Million Worker March, an event to bring the plight of workers into the spotlight. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I’d been planning on attending the Million Worker March in Washington DC for some time – since about July or August, I want to say. Now I research these events way ahead of time to find out what is planned in and around these events and keep a tab in any new developments. Then I set my agenda based on that as the date gets closer. In this case, I found out a few things ahead of time. Number one was that there would be no actual official march like on June 5 or previous events that I’d been to. I also learned that there would be an anarchist feeder march meeting up at 16th and Eye Streets, a block away from McPherson Square station, in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters (an organization that did not sponsor the Million Worker March). I also learned that it would also be embraced by anti-war groups. As you know, I am very much anti-war. So anti-war lent a familiar touch to an otherwise new topic to me.

So my plan was to basically join up with the anarchists for the day. I’d start out with the anarchist feeder march and join the main rally that way. Then in the main rally, stay with them. Basically, the idea was to follow my June 5 strategy, where I joined a small Black Bloc for the duration of the event. The people in that group were my soul mates for the day, and it worked out really well.

This time, it was mostly successful once again. I also made sure not to repeat the biggest mistake I made during the June 5 march. That was in packing Big Mavica, my real digital camera, in my backpack, and instead using my cell phone as the main camera. My rationale for packing Big Mavica was that it would be too much for actually participating in a march, vs. staying on the sidelines like I did on April 13, 2003 (A Protest Against the War). So for the Million Worker March, I kept a supply of CDs on a spindle in my pocket, and kept Big Mavica loaded and around my neck, where it belongs. The phone was packed in the backpack, and considering how much hunting I did in my bag to find it again later, I packed it pretty deep in there.

Now let me tell you this up front. I am not an anarchist. I consider myself a left-wing moderate and a major pacifist. However, when it comes to marches, I go with the anarchists. It just seems to be a good match for me. Everyone’s on equal footing there, based on the theoretical underpinnings of anarchism. And they’re a very welcoming bunch. So I went with them. And I really enjoy their company.

At the meet-up site for the feeder march, people were making noise through drums, both real and makeshift. The makeshift drums were primarily large buckets that had rope or string tied around them to make them suitable for beating with some kind of drum-stick (also usually makeshift).

I also encountered the Radical Cheerleaders for the first time in person. Radical cheerleading is cheerleading with a radical political twist. Plus the participants’ outfits are designed to be loud, and look a bit rough by design. I will tell you this, they definitely make an impression on you, which means that their mission is quite successful. Check ’em out:

Radical cheerleaders

All in all, they were a very spirited group. The group seen here is the Resistin’ Radicatz. Another good Web site about radical cheerleading with a bunch of cheers is one appropriately called Radical Cheerleaders.

Many people there, including myself, were dressed in all black, and ready to use the black bloc tactic if the situation arose. Lots of black and red-and-black flags waving in the air, carried by protesters. According to the Washington Post, there were about 100 people in attendance at the feeder march.

Now the feeder march that the anarchist contingent participated in was unpermitted, as in no permit was obtained to have the march. That made it quite interesting. You have a good-sized large group of people (eyeballing it, I’d say probably around 100 people), marching in the streets. Metropolitan Police knew that a feeder march would be occurring, but not exactly where it was going, so they couldn’t prepare ahead like for marches where a marching permit has been obtained. It was fitting, too, as we marched right into traffic on our way to the Lincoln Memorial, where the main rally was being held. Cars were literally stopped in their tracks, as a bunch of black-clad protesters passed by them. Some drivers expressed support for the movement, while others were upset (and rightly so) over a group deliberately blocking traffic. As with any political protest event, there were people distributing literature, and I definitely got my fair share of literature passed to me, which I saved. People were also passing out literature to the drivers of the cars we’d blocked, which I thought was neat. Police attempts to shift the marchers from the street to the sidewalk failed, both by vehicular movements where cars and bikes tried to corral the marchers to where they wanted them, and by direct announcements where they said, “If you do not have a march permit, you must be on the sidewalk.” So to ensure the safety of both the marchers (i.e. us) and drivers, police blocked off streets so that we could safely pass through, all the while with people in the group yelling the always-popular “WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!” chant, along with a number of others.

The route took us to the Lincoln Memorial, by way of the World Bank, George Washington University, Constitution Avenue, and the Vietnam Memorial. People in the march were pointing out the location of the World Bank, which, two weeks ago, became the target of protesters once again over third world debt cancellation during their meetings. I’ve got a photo set tentatively entitled “Day of Activism” that covers the events at the World Bank, as well as an anti-war march from the same day. But that’s besides the point here. We passed by George Washington University really only out of necessity – the campus is right next to the World Bank. Then we hit Constitution Avenue, meeting it at 17th Street. We crossed behind the Vietnam Memorial from a distance (the wall itself was not visible to us because of our location), and then there we were.

From there, the group kind of split off. I first went up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with part of the march group, where I sat down for a bit to listen to the speeches, and talk with some of the other people in the group. I also saw some familiar faces, interestingly enough. Remember this girl, who I quickly interviewed with on-the-fly questions in April 2003? She was there. I recognized her voice, and we talked. I gave her my Web site URL and encouraged her to visit my site to see the interview clip.

After that, I headed down and kind of wandered a bit. This is the only time where I really felt “lost”, as I’d temporarily become separated from the group I was with previously. During that time, I kind of did photo set photography like I was accustomed to doing, while looking for the group again. A few highlights from this time:

These two were part of a group of creatively attired and made-up people.  Some played instruments, and others didn’t.  All in all, though, pretty neat.  These two were part of a group of creatively attired and made-up people.  Some played instruments, and others didn’t.  All in all, though, pretty neat.
These two were part of a group of creatively attired and made-up people. Some played instruments, and others didn’t. All in all, though, pretty neat.

The Lincoln Memorial during the Million Worker March
The Lincoln Memorial was hopping, as you can see. While not a million workers by any means (10,000 was the number I’d heard), it was still a good amount there, but nothing like the stock photo the organizers used showing the National Mall full up to the capitol.

Woman holding "Flat Stanley" cutout
This lady was traveling, and was having her photograph taken at various places with her paper cutout, whom I don’t recall the name of. It reminded me of The Great Metro Adventure, where the people rode the Metro to all 83 stations and photographed their robot “Galactron” at all the stations. But that’s besides the point.

Portable toilets at the Million Worker March
The restroom situation was adequate. They had ample port-a-potty space, in two clusters. The Lincoln Memorial also had its own facilities, which I’d used three years ago while shooting photos for The Schumin Web Salutes America.

I actually encountered what ended up evolving into my core group for this protest at the port-a-potties. The person who I struck up conversation with was a girl wearing a black-and-white horizontal striped shirt, wearing glasses, and went by the name “Teapot”. Wonderful person. Anyway, it was at this time that her group and I got to discussing stuff. Turns out that they were from Chicago, and had been arrested at the Republican National Convention in New York City earlier this year, and actually were detained at Pier 57. More on its use during the RNC here. Normally it is used as a bus garage. Interesting stories nonetheless. And I was never alone for the rest of the march.

After this, we walk over to where the rest of Teapot’s group is. Now, a word of warning for you: This is where it gets a little bizarre for a while.. Teapot gets a call from someone else that she knows, reporting that someone was dressed up in a hot dog suit. And we’re told that they were at the corner of 17th and Constitution. So we walked the six or so blocks (we were roughly at 23rd and Constitution) to the alleged spot of the hot dog, asking some people coming away from that location, “Have you seen someone dressed as a hot dog?” This is how we found out about the hot dog’s friends, someone dressed as the Hamburglar (yes, the one of McDonald’s fame), and a chicken. At 17th and Constitution, we found no one dressed as a hot dog. Drat. Teapot calls her friend back. We end up RUNNING down the sidewalk back to the Lincoln Memorial near the reflecting pool, where we could get a good look over the whole general area for the hot dog guy. No hot dog guy. So we headed back to where we were, in the shade north of the Lincoln Memorial, wondering if such costumed characters actually did exist, or whether or not it was a collection of rumors mashed up together to create an alleged man in a hot dog suit.

I posted a comment on DC Indymedia regarding the hot dog, under the Demonstrators Gather at Lincoln Memorial article. Turns out we weren’t imagining it, based on a reply to my inquiry, but their appearance was short lived.

So we returned to the spot under the shade of the trees. A few of us “masked up” (i.e. pulled up our bandannas) because of people taking pictures in the vicinity. I’m sure I looked like hell, and was still charged up from that sprint back down to the Lincoln Memorial to find the mysterious hot dog suit guy. Besides, I didn’t particularly want to be seen on the news.

This is when I truly found my core group for this protest. Interestingly enough, it started out as a photo opportunity with Big Mavica. I was masked up, and doing some photos nearby. I asked a girl whom I remembered from the feeder march if I could take her picture. She first asked if she could see my face. So I pulled the bandanna down. Then she said that she would pull hers up for the photo. Fine by me. So this is what we got:

Jess at the Million Worker March

Excellent photo. I loved the “INDEPENDENT” sweatshirt, which is what caught my attention in the first place. We got to talking, and it turns out that her name was Jess, and she is from Washington DC. We ended up masking up due to people filming, and talked about DC, what we did in the world outside of the protest, and kind of got to know each other. We also mentioned that we both enjoy going to political rallies, marches, and such. We also talked about Metro, and how I want to move to Washington.

Then we were asked by a gentleman if we would be willing to participate in a breakaway march to a hotel whose workers were having a labor dispute and would possibly go on strike soon. We said sure, after finding out where the meet-up location would be. Then Jess, another guy from the group whose name I can’t recall, and myself got up and walked around for a while. We went around the Vietnam Memorial’s north side (behind it), in order to find a street vendor selling food and drink. We ended up finding a vendor selling sandwiches, which we bought. Jess and the guy shared a tofu-and-cheese sandwich, and I had just cheese. The cheese, I learned, was muenster cheese. Good stuff. Though it was hard going down since my mouth was bone dry. After that, we went around to the Lincoln Memorial, up the stairs behind the stage, near where I was sitting early on. We went down the same side we came up on, and went back to the meet-up location, as the rally was starting to wind down.

We found the group that would march on the hotel, which at that point was described as a hotel in Northwest DC right near the White House, whose workers might soon go on strike. So Jess, the other guy, and I all masked up, and off we went! Before leaving, though, Jess managed to score a “donations” bucket, attached some twine to it, and broke a wooden protest sign stick into drumsticks of appropriate length. So thus we had a makeshift drum.

I believe this march, consisting of “a few hundred” people according to an article in the Washington Post, was unpermitted as well, but police nonetheless cleared the way as we marched east on Constitution Avenue, past the Ellipse, to our still-unknown destination. Lots of masked up Black Bloc there, and lots of black and red-and-black flags flying. So this group marched down Constitution Avenue, with various things being chanted such as the perennial favorite of “WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!” and “The workers, united, will never be defeated!” and others.

As we turned up 15th Street, to reach the Hotel Washington, our destination, the chant changed to “WHY ARE WE HERE? TO SUPPORT THE HOTEL WORKERS!” and then as we arrived, it changed to “WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE FOR THE HOTEL WORKERS!” And here we are at the hotel:

Crowd in front of the Hotel Washington

At the hotel, a few short speeches were given, and there was lots of activity, as people were playing their makeshift drums, and dancing in the street. Most encouraging were three hotel workers standing in a third-story window, leaning out of it, supporting our march. Check it out:

Hotel employees watching from a window

The hotel knew we were coming, and prepared accordingly. They had guards at the door, and the doors had caution tape across them in a number of places. We had no intention of going in. Still, they prepared.

And after a strong show of solidarity, we were done! The marchers were slow to disperse, as it had been a long day for all. Trust me. So what do you do for a moment? Crash, of course, as Jess demonstrates for us:

Jess crashes for a moment

So that was it. Jess and the other guy were headed for the Infoshop, an all-volunteer-run radical bookstore, where a benefit concert would be held, which is at the corner of 9th and P Streets. We were at 15th and H, and so we had some serious walking ahead of us. But first, a little refreshment. I said, “Where should we go to get a drink?” and the other guy said, “Support small business,” as we headed to a street vendor near the hotel. We all bought Gatorade. I’m sure we must have been quite a sight, coming up to the vendor and buying our drinks while we were still wearing our masks. After walking a little ways away, making sure we were basically clear of filming, we unmasked for good, and enjoyed our drinks. Let me tell you, that hit the spot. I also put my glasses back on, which I had placed in a rigid case way deep in my backpack for the protest as a precaution. I can see well enough to get by without them if I need to, and with an element of uncertainty at protests, where things can quickly turn ugly, I packed them.

Our walk from the Hotel Washington to the Infoshop took us quite a ways. In downtown, we walked east on G Street just south of McPherson Square Metro, past Metro Center’s G Street entrances, and then turned north on 9th Street at the 9th and G Street entrance to Gallery Place-Chinatown station. It was a part of Washington DC that I’d never seen before, and it was really neat. The three of us also took the time to talk about what we do outside of protests, and shared stories about work. We really got to know each other during that walk. We also found out that I was the oldest in the group by about four years. And we commented that it was interesting that it was called the “Million Worker March”, yet the only ones who actually marched were the anarchists. Still walking up 9th Street, we passed the Washington Convention Center, and finally reached the Infoshop, in the basement of the Arthur Flemming Center. There, Jess and the other guy and I parted company after we all checked out some of what the Infoshop had for sale. We had our goodbyes, and Jess and I shared a big hug before I headed out. Jess and I exchanged contact information, including the address to Schumin Web (of course!) and so who knows? Maybe we’ll march together again one day!

From there, I got directions to the nearest Metro station, which ended up being Mt. Vernon Square/7th Street-Convention Center. But before hitting the Metro, I dipped into a Giant Foods store to change clothes a bit. The clothes I wore to the protest were really sweaty and a little dirty, and so I changed into the second shirt that I’d brought. At Mt. Vernon Square, I ran into some of the radical cheerleaders, still dressed for protest. One of the radical cheerleaders needed help finding her bus outside Gallery Place-Chinatown to head home, since I was transferring at Chinatown anyway. I pointed her in the right direction, wished her good luck, and we parted ways.

From there, I went to a CVS to buy a soda, enjoyed it, and then descended into the world of Metrorail once again. And that was the end of the Million Worker March! I’ll write about my other experiences on this trip that were unrelated to the march separately.

Web site: Official Web site for the Million Worker March

Song: All the protest chants!

Quote: Not a quote, but this is the URL for Antiwar 4 The Million Worker March, which is the main Web site for the anti-war component of it. The march was also endorsed by ANSWER Coalition. Interestingly enough, ANSWER got booed when their name was mentioned!

Categories: Activism, Black bloc, DC trips