The power is in the individual

This weekend, a gracious soul allowed me to sit on his shoulders for what seemed like hours and gaze out over the crowd gathered on the Mall facing the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. We were positioned close to the front of the crowd, and as I looked back the sea of faces was emblazoned across my mind. Indistinguishable voices of indistinguishable individuals came together with cries for peace. These people united in the largest pre-emptive protest this country has ever had, in response to the possible invasion of Iraq.

In the midst of this crowd of tens of thousands, this ready-made America, there were times when, strange as it seems, I was not overwhelmed by the massive power of such a gathering. I could hear my voice ring alone even as the multitude of voices rang around me. My Sharpie-crafted sign was invested with my own meaning, my own thoughts – and when someone asked to take a photograph of it, I knew it was because of my own message and not that of the thousands.

I heard a man announcing throughout the march the various groups in attendance. “Ten buses from Chicago! Ten! Lets hear it for Chicago! Eight from Rochester, NY! All right Rochester! Three students from Budapest! All the way from Budapest!” Those three students in their individuality lent as much strength to the point of his cries as the ten collective buses from Chicago.

I talked to a small child with blonde hair and a toothy grin who sat atop her mother’s shoulders. She happily informed me that she had colored the flowers on her eloquent sign.

I saw a beleaguered older woman with greying hair, who seemed a breath away from fainting, continue to pound a giant bass drum for two hours as she marched, punctuating it occasionally with shrill blasts from a whistle. Unceasingly, she provided a rhythm for the exhausted marchers. Â

I saw 52 Williams students, awestruck, taking it all in and carrying a giant WILLIAMS AGAINST WAR banner. It was used as a landmark by a man talking to a lost someone on his cellphone, and was large enough that it attracted alums throughout the crowd.

It is easy to presume that your presence would not be missed. It is the inclination of us all to assume that someone else will think of the same sign you would have made, will shout a little louder to make up for the lack of your voice, will represent your beliefs in absentia, will fight your fight.       Â

But to have a stance on the Iraq situation is no longer for poli-sci majors or history buffs. It no longer calls to hippies or radicals. We talk of a fear of absolutism, and yet, when one does not present his opinion he is allowing the arguments to polarize, permitting an absolute to speak for him. Perhaps you believe that we should bomb the hell out of Iraq. Perhaps the idea of that inferno makes you sick. Perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle. But it is only in the sharing of this spectrum of opinions that we will be able to encompass them into a palatable and moral solution.

At one point, marching alongside a large band of students, we passed through a tunnel. The beleaguered marchers promptly discovered the echo that the space provided.

At once, the drums played vehemently amd people started dancing, while cries and chants bounced off the walls. For, in reality, what this movement needs more than anything is to hear voices echoed – to hear individuals responding, yelling back – in agreement, in dissension. To let them know that they’ve been heard.

There is a world-wide protest planned for Feb. 15. In every major capital in Europe, people will be marching against military action in Iraq by the United States. In New York City, U.S. citizens will take their own stand. Frankly, I don’t care in the least if you go to New York or not.

What I’m asking instead is that you decide consciously whether or not you will attend, and why. To say that you simply don’t understand all the facts isn’t good enough anymore. Know that if we engage in this war, our lives will be changed drastically. I can assure you it will happen. And when it does I hope that you can say that you cared enough to yell back.