Peace march & patriotism

Many viewed a tiny group of peace marchers as assailants trying to destroy the Reno area’s warm, fuzzy nationalism. Well, they were.

Many viewed a tiny group of peace marchers as assailants trying to destroy the Reno area’s warm, fuzzy nationalism. Well, they were.

Photo By David Robert

The obscenities began about a block into the march, before the group of about 50 anti-war demonstrators had made it from the University of Nevada, Reno, to the bridge over Interstate 80.

“America! America!” came the shouts from a car driving by. “Bomb the fuckers!”

Clarice Wilson, a middle-aged woman who told me she’d never marched for anything before, shook her head.

“Violence is never the answer,” she told me.

Wilson and I had been talking about her shoes, open-toed sandals with two-inch heels. I predicted that her feet might hurt before the end of the march. Before the March for Compassion and Global Unity reached downtown Saturday, she conceded that I might be right.

“I might be barefoot before the end of this,” she said.

Wilson wore a summery dress, a pastel sweater and a floppy brown hat to keep the sun out of her eyes. She spoke of how she’d been a Democrat, and then a Republican. Now she belongs to the Green Party, and she worked to get Ralph Nader on the ballot last year.

Marching just ahead of the conservatively dressed Wilson was a guy clad mostly in black with a bandanna tied over his face. Joe Ferguson, a 22-year-old member of Reno’s Food Not Bombs and a self-described anarchist, told me that he opposes any actions taken by a hierarchical government.

Dan Morgan, a 44-year-old Reno computer programmer, marched wearing a green flag with a peace sign on it as a cape. He said he’s not a Green Party member, nor is he an anarchist.

“I just came out because I believe in peace,” he told me as we marched into the area of North Virginia Street that was closed for a chili cook-off.

“You don’t want to fight, you pussies?” A man in a hat stood in the path of the quiet marchers. “Fuck you, you tree-huggers.”

As the marchers made their way past the country band playing in front of Harrah’s, some husky guys scowled, and one turned his thumbs down.

“I just want to kick ’em,” another muttered.

Probably the biggest misconception that some observers had about the marchers was that protestors favored some kind of tolerant attitude toward terrorism. On the other end of downtown, a much larger rally was taking place; the peace marchers heard that one speaker had the crowd booing and hissing over the idea that such an anti-American march would take place.

“There’s a large rally downtown, and we’re going to try and avoid those folks,” said John Hadder of Citizen Alert before the march began. “They have a lot of energy, and it’s not our job to engage that energy today.”

Hadder said that it was important to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism.

“Nationalism causes racism,” he said. “And we’d like to be looking after not only our country, but the global community. We want to see people everywhere around the Earth live a good life like we do here.”

In fact, the point of the march was merely to promote discussion before action, Hadder said.

“Educate B4 retaliate,” read one sign carried through downtown. A response needs to be taken, most protesters agreed, but haphazardly bombing other countries—as suggested by some in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy—probably isn’t the best solution.

“Whoever did this needs to be punished,” said Jennifer Panhorst of the Campus Greens. “There are basic consequences for killing someone. But I believe this can be done without killing more innocent people.”

Panhorst said she thinks the U.S. government ought to take responsibility for its foreign policy decisions that help some countries at the expense of others.

“This is not black and white,” she said. “We are part of the reason this happened.”

The marchers turned on First Street and began marching back down Sierra Street, followed by a few hecklers armed with beer.

“You guys are sick,” said a man wearing a “Fükbinladen” T-shirt. “You should want to kick their asses.”

“Who are ‘they'?” Hadder asked the man.

“Asia,” the man replied. “Urrrr! Stand up for your country!”

Cars drove by, some with supportive honks and waves. Others gave the marchers the finger.

“Raise the other finger,” said Kara Yegge, one event organizer, waving the peace sign at cars and trucks. “You’re halfway there.”

Yegge, 25, said she had hoped for a bigger turnout.

“It helps knowing that there are bigger rallies today around the nation,” she said.

And she was actually surprised at the number of friendly, supportive responses from bystanders.

“I thought there would be more middle fingers," she said.