Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Marching orders

Out of a sense of impotent rage, and because none of the coverage makes sense to me, I've been mostly boycotting the "all war all the time" fest on TV and in the papers. Now even the distractions aren't distracting any more. I had to switch off the usually reliably diverting American Idol last night when the bright-eyed finalists, some with tears streaming down their faces, sang a gratuitous chorus of pro-America songs. It was just so wrong wrong wrong, but then that's the Fox network for you. I think we can take it as a sign that the war is, as reports have begun to suggest, not exactly going to plan. But the reality-TV coverage goes on, and on, and on. It's like some ghastly return of the repressed from the trauma of September 11, when people found themselves stupidly saying "It's just like [insert movie title here]." But that wasn't a movie, and this isn't either. As Jay Leno put it the other night, more in sorrow than in comedy, "In Baghdad, they don’t even need TV. They just look out the window. It’s like CNN 3-D."

So what's a skeptical, frustrated, anti-fascist peacenik to do? Last Saturday's march down Broadway was a good one, as these things go. It was a warm spring day, the crowd was mellow, and the mood was peaceful but intense (thanks to the black helicopters overhead and helmeted cops at every corner). We caught up with the march about halfway through at 34th St and watched for a while, just soaking up the vibe. After waiting for the Socialist Workers to file past with their recycled signs (Living Wages, Abortion on Demand – well yes, of course, you idiots, but in case you hadn't noticed there's a war on!), we slipped in behind the Teachers' Union and joined the throng. I'd planned to get a couple of helium balloons to tie to the stroller and write something pithy on, but we'd run out of time. No balloons, no badges, no signs, but it felt good to simply walk alongside a hundred thousand other New Yorkers, standing up and being counted -- at least until the youngest members of our party called a halt at about 23rd St, having sighted a playground and a place they could run around without getting trampled on by people singing "Give Peace a Chance."

It was a very eclectic crowd -– as one call and response chant put it, "Tell me what democracy looks like/ This is what democracy looks like!" -- with all ages and styles represented. I especially liked the groovily bedecked clutch of what I took to be NYU undergrad grrls. I haven't seen anyone that excellently dressed since the last time I was in Auckland, and it gave me happy flashbacks to my own heady baby feminist days, when the sartorial was political too. A couple of them were happily topless for some reason. Militantly breastfed Busytot heartily approved of that particular gesture – he's always harassing me to get my tits out for peace, and it was certainly a nice day for it.

Although the overall mood fell somewhere between sombre rite and tentative spring promenade, some of the signs were wickedly funny. One well-seasoned chap had written his anti-war message on the back of a precious souvenir poster for a long-gone Jerry Garcia gig, which made things confusing if you were walking behind him. The posters were as much anti-Bush as anti-war: the new classic, "Empty warhead found in White House" jostled with "Have another pretzel." My favourite featured a photo of Dubya gesturing behind a podium, photoshopped to look like he was playing with plastic soldiers, and saying "It'll be like blam blam blam! Kabooosh! Wheeeee! Aaargh, you got me!"

Later in the afternoon, walking back to the train station with bags of veges from the Chelsea Markets, we re-encountered the crowd dispersing from the tail end of the march -- and I realized the real importance of the signs and badges. It's not so much (or not only) for the cameras. It's so that other people will know you went to the march. We just looked like a petit bourgeois family coming home from a frivolous shopping trip, instead of the New York faction of New Zealand Academics And Their American-Born Toddlers Against the War. It's face-paint for the little one next time, and maybe we'll dig out our old Students' Association t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "The System Loves You and Wants to Be Your Friend" above a picture of the Red Squad.

You know I'm just cracking hearty because I'm scared, right? It's getting harder to be all acerbic and Evelyn Waugh about the whole thing, even though there is so much absurdity to poke fun at -- on this side of the front lines, at least (you really don't need me to tell you how horrific things are on the other side; you can read Salam Pax for that, as long as he keeps posting, or this unutterably ghastly report from the Independent, but not if you've just eaten). Witness the shrill, stupid little ad placed in yesterday's New York Times by a tabloid website, demanding a boycott of all things French and French-owned. According to the ad, this includes Wild Turkey bourbon, Technicolor, and -- good lord -- Jerry Springer, alongside the usual suspects like blameless toddler fave Yoplait and out-of-my-budget-anyway Bollinger. But one item on the list hurled me straight back into a gratuitous mid-eighties francophobic fury for a split-second: Zodiac inflatable boats. Sacre bleu! I'd forgotten those cowardly cheese-eating scuba monkeys! Where's my "You can't sink a rainbow" T-shirt when I need it?

I know most of the readers of this site are checking in from New Zealand. Times like these you realize just what a privilege it is to hold a passport that much of the rest of the world would, metaphorically at least, kill to get their hands on. One Salon columnist, feeling all nervous about being an American in these troubled times, found himself wondering if now would be a good time to buy that one way ticket to New Zealand. (He's not the first, and certainly won't be the last, to seek sanctuary down under: allegedly one of the kids who shot up Columbine High School wrote in his diary something about how they planned to escape "to new zeland [sic] or somewhere far away where americans can't find us." NB I wish I could find an accurate reference for that quote; I read it in Harpers Weekly, and vividly remember the misspelling). Still, it's too late, really, for that sort of complacency: after my last little comment about being the mother of a draftable boy, I was alarmed to see a New Zealand-born soldier on the list of those who have been captured. And this last weekend, my brother visited Bali to remember a friend killed in the bomb blast at Kuta Beach. It's a small world, after all. Dammit, I always thought that was meant to be a good thing.