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March on the Pentagon

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

Part 1

On March 17, 2007, thousands traveled to Washington DC to demonstrate against the Iraq War, which would have its fourth anniversary in three days.  The march, as organized by ANSWER, would start at 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW near the Lincoln Memorial, go over Memorial Bridge, and then go to the north parking lot of the Pentagon.  There, a rally would be held.  I was on scene for the event, and ultimately joined the black bloc that the various chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had formed.  This was also the first time in the experience of many present where a march would leave the District of Columbia, and march over the Potomac River into Virginia.  In Virginia, the laws and police forces are different than in Washington DC, and therefore the rules of engagement are different.

This particular demonstration also drew more interest than usual from my parents due to fallout from my site being mentioned a few days before the march on Michelle Malkin’s blog (I discuss it here).  Due to the numerous threatening Emails sent to me after this, they were concerned for my safety.  But I wasn’t about to let Michelle Malkin’s followers keep me away.  So here’s how “M17” went down, as seen by my own eyes, and Big Mavica’s eye…


The nice thing about DC trips where I go to big protests is that it’s not that much different as far as execution goes than a regular DC trip.  About the only major difference is the timing of things in the morning, and what I carry with me in DC.  On the morning of March 17, I got up early, got ready, and left the house to begin my 90th DC trip.  The trip up was uneventful.  No rain, no snow, no bad traffic, no problems whatsoever.  Just right in and into Vienna.  The fourth level of the North Garage, however, was still a mess from the snow that had fallen the day before.  I parked on the third level, out of concern that the mess on the top level would freeze, making my exit that night difficult, if not impossible.  Interestingly enough, it was in this same parking spot on the third level, right next to the elevator, where I parked to let the Previa dry out after I soaked the undercarriage in a large puddle on the off-ramp from I-66.  That was the DC trip on June 5, 2004, where I went to my second anti-war protest, and participated in my first black bloc.

I entered the Metro at 9:28 AM by my watch, giving me about an hour’s lead time compared to a normal DC trip.  Breda 2003 took me to Rosslyn.  Emerging from Rosslyn station and entering Rosslyn Center, I discovered what was basically a ghost town.  Now I admit that on weekends, and even after hours on weekdays, the Rosslyn neighborhood is not exactly a hotbed of activity.  But this time, even for a weekend, the place was quieter than usual.  The food court was closed completely, vs. the normal case on weekends where at least one restaurant is open.  Bank of America’s two ATMs were both out of service, and recommending other nearby locations.  The restrooms were also locked.  On that last point, I took a cue from my Rosslyn experience before the Million Worker March, where the regular restrooms were closed for emergency repairs, and the service restrooms were open.  I remembered the door by the bank where those service restrooms were located, and went through.  I found the restrooms again, and discovered, to my dismay, that they were locked!  I ended up finally finding a restroom at the McDonald’s across the street.  I also discovered en route to McDonald’s that at Rosslyn Center, the activity was all on the bottom level, as Tivoli was open, as was Rite Aid.

Returning from McDonald’s, I returned to the second floor of Rosslyn Center, and found a quiet corner to make the pre-protest outfit change.  Off with the green shirt I was wearing, and on with my black mock-turtleneck and black hoodie.  This would mark the only time in the day that I wasn’t wearing anything green.  It was St. Patrick’s Day, after all, so green was important.

Then from there, I returned to the Metro, and rode into DC on the Orange Line, getting off at Foggy Bottom-GWU station.  Two words: It’s showtime!

Now prior to the march, we’d had a bit of confusion about where the black bloc contingent would meet for this event.  A message on Infoshop.org advertised a meeting of an SDS contingent at the Lincoln Memorial.  Meanwhile, another message on DC Indymedia issued a call for a black bloc, meeting at the Foggy Bottom Metro station.  Then, a third message posted on the 14th attempted to promote unity by merging these two calls into one at the northeast corner of 23rd Street and Constitution Avenue NW, taking into account the fact that the call for the Lincoln Memorial had already gone out, and the desire to show solidarity with DC and the easier logistics that came with the Foggy Bottom location.  The third location ended up being the one that ultimately happened, though a lot of work had to go into making sure that anyone who missed that last memo got where they were supposed to go.

Having gotten all the different messages ahead of time, I planned it like this, with the intention of finding the bloc as quickly as possible.  I would join the black bloc that was called to meet at Foggy Bottom Metro.  If I found no black bloc at Foggy Bottom, then I would go to the 23rd and Constitution location.  And if that failed, I’d proceed to the Lincoln Memorial.  Coming out of Foggy Bottom, I quickly found a group of people dressed like I was expecting.  I took my glasses off and put them away, and pulled out my little black hat and put that on.  So we were almost in “full black bloc” as far as outfits went.  Outside Foggy Bottom Metro, someone quickly took a headcount, and we headed towards the 23rd and Constitution site, more or less as a group.

Arriving, I quickly checked out the scene.  I knew where SDS was, and it was likely that they would be there for a while.  I continued down 23rd a bit, and first saw this group of masked individuals with signs stating “Radical queers against the war”, and “Hey W!  Real men know when to pull out.”  Continuing along, the crowd moving along the sidewalk in both directions was thick between Constitution Avenue and Lincoln Memorial Circle.  Due to fencing in place, people could only use the sidewalk, and not spill over onto the grass.  There were also quite a few large men that looked like “biker types” in leather jackets with all kinds of patches on them, but generally matching.  My assumption was that these folks were amongst the folks who read Michelle Malkin’s blog, some of whom had recently made contact with me to send hate mail.

Reaching Lincoln Memorial Circle, we found the counter-protest group.  There were all kinds of people there, with all kinds of messages.  One person’s sign caught my eye, saying, “Peace sucks”.  With that one, I was just kind of like, mmkay


This was the scene along 23rd Street NW near the Lincoln Memorial.  The sidewalk was jammed with people, and due to the fence, the field next to the sidewalk was practically empty.

This was the scene along 23rd Street NW near the Lincoln Memorial.  The sidewalk was jammed with people, and due to the fence, the field next to the sidewalk was practically empty.


The "radical queers" group had staked out their space along 23rd Street, and stood to the side.  The "radical queers" group had staked out their space along 23rd Street, and stood to the side.

The “radical queers” group had staked out their space along 23rd Street, and stood to the side.


One group had a flag-draped coffin, topped by the boots and photo of what is presumably a fallen serviceman.

One group had a flag-draped coffin, topped by the boots and photo of what is presumably a fallen serviceman.


The counter-protesters were out in force, separated from the anti-war group by barriers and caution tape.  Additionally, a row of Park Police officers enforced something of a no man's land between the two groups.

The counter-protesters were out in force, separated from the anti-war group by barriers and caution tape.  Additionally, a row of Park Police officers enforced something of a no man’s land between the two groups.

The counter-protesters were out in force, separated from the anti-war group by barriers and caution tape.  Additionally, a row of Park Police officers enforced something of a no man's land between the two groups.


After reaching the counter-protesters, I wasn’t going any further, and so I turned around, and returned to the SDS camp.  There, I masked up in the proper style of black blocs, with a little twist this time.  Instead of my usual black or red, I used a green bandanna.  This was not to represent any political movement, but rather a simple nod to the day we were marching.  After all, it was St. Patrick’s Day.  Got to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, you know.


The various SDS chapters had their banners displayed, as they repeated various anti-war chants.  The various SDS chapters had their banners displayed, as they repeated various anti-war chants.

The various SDS chapters had their banners displayed, as they repeated various anti-war chants.

The various SDS chapters had their banners displayed, as they repeated various anti-war chants.  The various SDS chapters had their banners displayed, as they repeated various anti-war chants.


“What do we want?  Troops out!  When do we want it?  Now!”


“Stop the war, yes we can!  SDS is back again!”


“That’s bulls—!  Get off it!  This war is for profit!  War and occupation will never bring liberation!”


A gentleman in the middle of the area flew a green and black flag.

A gentleman in the middle of the area flew a green and black flag.


Initially, meeting up at the SDS site was like a reunion of sorts.  It comprised a lot of the same people who formed the black bloc on J27, so there were lots of hellos and catch-ups to be passed around.  But then we quickly got down to business, as we had to determine what the black bloc for M17 would do.  We had a lot of things to consider, both legal and practical.  Many of us were well aware of the fact that the mainstream march would be crossing state lines, and that everything we knew about demonstrating as a black bloc in DC went out the window as soon as we crossed Memorial Bridge, thereby entering Virginia.  It was a different state, with different police forces, and different laws.


A person works the bullhorn to get the attention of the SDS crowd, so we could determine what we were going to do.

A person works the bullhorn to get the attention of the SDS crowd, so we could determine what we were going to do.


The first question was, do we want to follow the mainstream march at all, or do we want to go out on our own entirely?  There, our considerations were primarily legal.  Our understanding was that DC cannot mass-arrest demonstrators, but there is no such restriction in Virginia.  Thus there was the possibility that we could all end up in jail if we went to the Pentagon.  We questioned whether our numbers were sufficient to pull it off.  That also logically led to the question of what would we do if we stayed in DC?  Due to the march’s location, we would be marching away from the mainstream group in almost any direction we went in if we stayed in DC.  Thus we would be on our own entirely.  If we took this course of action, there would be no rendezvous with the mainstream group, as happened on September 24 and J27.  The recruitment center, which had become the target of the black bloc on J27, was suggested as a target for our march.  The World Bank was another place that came up.  Various targets in Virginia came up as well, including Pentagon City – demonstrating at Pentagon City Mall, as a symbol of capitalism.  One person who heard that said that if they decided to do that, he had information on the layout of the area and of the mall.

Another idea tossed out there was for our group to go somewhere remote using the Metro.  That idea – using the Metro for the demonstration – was one that I personally got rejected quickly.  My exact words were, “Are you nuts?”  My rationale was that it would be a quick way for our protest to get scattered, as it’s not likely our bloc would be able to board the same car, or even the same train, plus everyone would have to have a farecard, and not everyone took the Metro to get there, so it would necessitate going to the farecard machines to buy farecards.  That or everyone could jump the faregates and just storm the system, but that wasn’t a good idea, either, since it would be too easy to get trapped, and slapped with a charge of fare evasion.  Besides that, can you really see a group of people in a black bloc configuration standing around on a Metro station platform?  I consider it somewhat ridiculous.  Bottom line was that it was a bad idea, and I quickly got that idea dismissed.

My other concern about involving Metro in the event itself was that after the event, many of us would need Metro to get back home when it was all over.  I wasn’t about to endorse disrupting Metro.  We would be shooting ourselves in the foot.  I wasn’t about to walk back to Vienna, for one.  I think the argument for leaving Metro untouched was best said in jest at the Infoshop later on: “When the revolution comes, Metro will run on time.”

However, the biggest obstacle was to get everyone to be quiet long enough for all of the various options to be fleshed out.  I was right in the center, where I could see and hear everything.  But every time any idea was presented, the crowd started reacting to it, and then the crowd had to be quieted down again.  A moderator was appointed to lead the discussion, but they refused to use the bullhorn, and so no one could hear him.  Thus he was drowned out by “We can’t hear you!”  So that effort fell through.

We eventually did get enough order to facilitate a vote-with-your-feet proposition.  Everyone who wanted the group to go to the Pentagon with the mainstream group stood on one side.  Everyone who wanted the group to break off on its own and head further into Washington DC stood on the other.  With that, marching with the mainstream group to the Pentagon ultimately won out, and so we determined that we would go to the Pentagon, and then figure out what to do from there.

And so we were off, marching as a bloc to the location where the mainstream march was taking off on Lincoln Memorial Circle.  To get the proper positioning, we went off the sidewalk and into the street, and even took out some orange construction fencing.


Getting off of the sidewalk and into the street, we are underway to get positioned to join the mainstream march.

Getting off of the sidewalk and into the street, we are underway to get positioned to join the mainstream march.

Getting off of the sidewalk and into the street, we are underway to get positioned to join the mainstream march.


“WHOSE STREETS?  OUR STREETS!”


And that's the end of the orange construction fencing, as it got stomped down and out of the way.

And that’s the end of the orange construction fencing, as it got stomped down and out of the way.


Now, we were waiting to let the anti-war veterans’ groups take the lead of the march.  It was simply the right thing to do.  During this interlude, people took the time to pass out the number for legal help, should anyone need it, as well as a Sharpie for people to write that number directly on their arms.  This was also the opportunity to get photos of the shields, while we were waiting.


I wrote the number for legal assistance for M17 on my hand with a silver Sharpie.  This number allegedly went to the National Lawyers Guild.  I don't know if it really does or not - I never had a need to use it.  Normally one would write the number on one's inner forearm, but due to my wearing my hoodie and my winter coat, it made the rest of my arm quite inaccessible.  Thus the hand.  And that was hard enough.

I wrote the number for legal assistance for M17 on my hand with a silver Sharpie.  This number allegedly went to the National Lawyers Guild.  I don’t know if it really does or not – I never had a need to use it.  Normally one would write the number on one’s inner forearm, but due to my wearing my hoodie and my winter coat, it made the rest of my arm quite inaccessible.  Thus the hand.  And that was hard enough.


And just like on J27, the shields led the black bloc.  We not only had the green "US OUT OF EVERYWHERE" shields from before, but we also had a new set of shields made out of construction barrels painted red and black in the style of the anarcho-syndicalist flag.  And just like on J27, the shields led the black bloc.  We not only had the green "US OUT OF EVERYWHERE" shields from before, but we also had a new set of shields made out of construction barrels painted red and black in the style of the anarcho-syndicalist flag.

And just like on J27, the shields led the black bloc.  We not only had the green “US OUT OF EVERYWHERE” shields from before, but we also had a new set of shields made out of construction barrels painted red and black in the style of the anarcho-syndicalist flag.


The Park Police officers were on horses.

The Park Police officers were on horses.


Meanwhile, some of the black bloc-ers posed for a photo...

Meanwhile, some of the black bloc-ers posed for a photo…

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Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

Part 1