It Wasn’t All Peace and Love for Obama

A float in the shape of a spine makes it's way down the street at a protest against President Obama's policies on Monday. (Photo by Micaela Bedell/BU News Service)
A float in the shape of a spine makes it’s way down the street at a protest against President Obama’s policies on Monday. (Photo by Micaela Bedell/BU News Service)

By Dana Hatic
BU News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. — As crowds filled the Washington Mall for President Barack Obama’s official inauguration ceremony, another crowd of about 150 protestors filled Meridian Hill Park 17 blocks north of the White House. The Veterans for Peace group joined other progressive activists for the Arc of Justice peace rally and parade, protesting drone attacks and corporate influence in politics, and promoting humanitarian and civil rights.

Joan Stallard, coordinator of MoveOnDC, oversaw the park rally and said she was deeply frustrated with Obama and Congress and wanted the march to be a multi-issue expression of progressive political sentiment. She took issue with the increase in drone use overseas since President Obama took office.

“Innocents are dying and our government says they’re militants and it’s OK to kill them,” she said. “That’s just one issue. We also need money out of politics.”

Jim Schulman, a D.C. resident since 1985, said he joined the protest to express his anger at the use of drones in Pakistan and his pessimism toward the future of war.

“I’m very disappointed with Barack Obama as president,” Schulman said. “He’s done some good things, but on fundamental human rights he’s been a vast disappointment.”

Schulman said he believed the president was in a perfect position to put pressure on the Middle East and to end drone use.

“It’s so abhorrent to me that they can’t see that within a generation every country in the world is going to have them,” he said, and added that he understood military support for un-manned aircraft, but felt it was a rationalization to use more drones.

Not all protestors directly opposed the Obama administration’s policies. Fred Wood from Arlington, Va., a representative of the Occupy movement, said he came to the rally to support an overall progressive movement in the country.

“Most of us understand that to really have meaningful change requires a really strong grassroots movement,” he said. “We have to have working coalitions instead of a fragmented movement. If it appears that way to the media and the public, it doesn’t get through.”

Wood said this inauguration day was different from four years ago, when people had hope in Obama’s policies and commitment to change. “But you can’t put it all on one person’s shoulders,” he said.

“In 2009, with eight or nine official balls, there wasn’t a whole lot of counter-activity. This year, not only do you have unofficial balls, but they’re message balls. That is a direction that can really pay off. The opportunity is now — you couldn’t expect anything better in an election, and you have to take advantage of that.”

Sylvia Metzler traveled from Philadelphia to attend the peace rally on this inauguration day, and highlighted its overlap with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. She wore a red, puffy winter coat, on the back of which she pinned a sign reading: “What would MLK say? Stop drone killings.”

“If Obama thinks Martin Luther King is so wonderful, why doesn’t he listen to what he’s saying?” she said. “I think drone use is illegal, immoral and counterproductive. We’re making enemies.”

Metzler came to D.C to join her friend Ruth Caplan, who spoke at the rally. Caplan, a D.C. resident since 1982, said it was important for protestors to energize resistance at a local level to mobilize the progressive movement.

“We have to get people to work together as neighbors and build solidarity across political lines,” she said.

Metzler said she felt she needed to come to Washington for this rally. “If I just stay home and don’t do anything, nothing happens. That’s the problem, we’re not out in the streets enough.”

While protestors crowded around a microphone at the center of the park where people made speeches and sang Bob Marley songs, one man sat in his wheelchair at the base of the steps on the sidewalk of 16th Street. Pat Lovelace traveled to Washington D.C. as a peace delegate for Tacoma Park, Md. He carried a wooden post at least 6 feet long with a large red peace sign at the top.

“There’s absolutely no excuse for apathy,” he said. Lovelace held the sign with both hands, and was missing fingers on each.

“In 1987, I was hit with bricks by the Klu Klux Klan,” he said. Lovelace contracted gangrene and needed his fingers amputated. Since then, he has gone blind and uses an oxygen tank, but still travels to promote peace and encourage others to exercise their civil right to protest.

“If I can vote, they can vote. If I can get up and speak, they can. Some people have no spine—at least I have a backbone to break.”

When the Arc of Justice group made its way onto 16th Street with two police escorts, Lovelace led the pack, and a 50-foot spine float brought up the rear.

Marchers walked with four model drones mounted on wheels and carried signs reading “End Corporate Donation,” “drones kill thousands,” and “Obama, earn your Nobel Peace Prize.”

Chants of “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your drone war, 5-6-7-8, stop the killing stop the hate,” carried over the crowd of parade marchers and passersby on the sidewalks.

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