Marching together: The regretful and the contrite

Last Sunday, I was happy to witness the largest anti-war and anti-Bush demonstration, in the US if not the world, marking the third anniversary of our unprovoked criminal undertaking against Iraq. I was also sad for not participating in it.

That afternoon as our vehicle headed south on I-5, driving parallel to the Willamette River, I began to realize that the panorama to our right wasn’t just that of Downtown Portland, but also an improbable Daliesque canvas with vivid brushstrokes of today’s political America. While a throng of anti-war protesters was growing steadily at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, another crowd a few blocks south was getting ready for the day’s second and final performance of Cirque du Soleil. Two different crowds side by side… and two different Americas as well.

In silence, and somewhat shamefully, we exited the freeway to join “our crowd,” the one that expected to be entertained. And the fact that the tickets had been purchased months in advance did not diminish our sense of guilt… for we knew that we belonged in the other crowd. Yet, we made no effort to take action; to sacrifice the prospect of a great spectacle by joining the “right crowd,” the one clamoring for peace and freedom ten blocks away.

Our cowardly inaction, like so many other things easy to rationalize, has got to define what America is all about these days. The myriad poll results thrown at us each day, all showing an ever-growing discontent for both the conflict in Iraq and the administration that got us into it, are certainly not reflected by either the size of the demonstrations or the contained comport of the participants. Even many of the least passionate amongst us would expect an imminent descent on America’s Bermuda triangle (White House, Capitol and Pentagon), where truth seems to always disappear, by an angry mob yielding pitchforks and shouting frightening slogans. Instead, the mob is but a flock of lambs waiting to be sacrificed to the gods by Bush and his devout coreligionists.

For years we have been accelerating (or degenerating) into a society where people prefer not to get personally involved in responding to the needs of others, particularly when crime is involved; crime in the street and, what is now indisputably clear, high crime in government. Perhaps political psychologists can tell us why it is so.

Why are we acting this way; or rather, not acting at all? Could it be that it isn’t so much that we are now anti-war, but that we resent not having won the war? Are we really sorry that we invaded Iraq, or is our anger directed at an administration that has shown its incompetence by not having that part of the Middle East under total control, our petro-flags waving in the desert wind?

Perhaps the most telling feature of Sunday’s peace marches in our nation is the lack in them of any [elected] political representation. Can anyone venture a guess as to how many of the 535 members of Congress came out to greet or address those crowds of peace-seekers? Not half, that’s for sure; or, a quarter; or a measly ten percent. Not even a baker’s dozen; and I would be very surprised if even two or three did… in the entire nation.

It’s ironic that our president is being described by a continuously increasing number of Americans as incompetent, an idiot and a liar (according to PEW Research Center for the People and the Press); yet we let him and his administration act on our behalf, failing to put up an organized challenge. The need for anti-fascist leadership is here and now; not in the future election of Bush like-minded Democrats; so why aren’t some populist figures taking command? Dean, Feingold, Gore and Nader… perhaps others showing both a brain and a heart need to come forward, take the reins, lead us.

More and more Americans are appearing in the polls lining up in the column of the discontent. They don’t like what has happened, and continues to happen, in many fronts, foreign or domestic; and they are regretful for electing an administration that has yet to do something right. Regretful for the dismal results; or, at the very least, inconvenienced, their pride hurt. As caring human beings, we should be contrite for the hurt we’ve caused our fellow man, here and elsewhere; and being regretful, even if for the wrong reasons, is a step in the right direction, a humble start.

Varekai was a great show… but I will remember this past Sunday not by what went on under the circus tent, but outside; when a respectable crowd of 8,000 to 10,000 people left, as they marched, a trail of hope for America, and for mankind. Oh how I wish I had been part of that crowd!

I’ve learned my lesson; and it has nothing to do with purchasing tickets far in advance. It has to do with regret and contrition. Regret may come to us for many reasons and from many locations, but contrition seems to sprout solely from the heart. And while regret may prove at times futile, contrition will always prove to be redeeming.

That’s my Confiteor. My prayer asking forgiveness: mea culpa, mea culpa… mea maxima culpa. Never again will I be tempted not to march for freedom and peace. That’s my promise; and my penance… to fulfill it.