And so they came to a bayside park in Vancouver, 20,000 people who chose to spend their Saturday at an anti-war rally.
The faces in the crowd, the way people dressed, the smell of marijuana smoke in the air, the colorful placards and costumes (“No Blood for Oil”), the sense of camaraderie, the lack of police presence- all reminded me of an old-time hemp festival, and the vibe was shared by millions of people participating in anti-war rallies across the world that same day.
In the crowd, sinsemilla joints competed for attention with bubblehash smoked in Marbleslinger glass pipes. Children with doves of peace danced with flowers in their hair. A group of black-robed, face-covered anarchists shouted angry slogans.
On the sidelines waiting to speak to the Vancouver masses were two valiant public figures: M.I.T. linguistics professor and renowned author Noam Chomsky, and Canadian New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jack Layton.
Chomsky has authored numerous books and articles analyzing the lies and liars who run world capitalism and wars. He’s not afraid to tell the truth about George Bush, Dicky Cheney, and the other gangstas running the USA.
Jack Layton isn’t afraid either. He’s been a guest on Marc Emery’s Pot-TV television show. He’s the only mainstream high-profile Canadian politician to support legalization of marijuana, and the NDP is gaining votes because of it. Layton warned the crowd about US imperialism and about Canadian politicians who are in bed with the US; he encouraged Canadians to defend their country’s sovereignty.
“Canada is proud that we did not join in with the unjustified war on Iraq,” Layton said. The NDP leader and Chomsky congratulated the new Spanish socialist government led by Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, and spoke of worldwide anti-war resistance: “from Latin American to Europe to the province of British Columbia.”
It was Zapatero who recently said that Bush and Tony Blair had based their pro-war arguments on lies, and threatened to remove Spanish troops from Iraq unless the United Nations was put in charge of Iraq.
Zapatero’s comments were followed by similar comments from the president of Poland, another country that sent troops to Iraq. The Polish president said that he had been “misled” about the reasons for war.
The Socialist victory in Spain was also a victory for that country’s marijuana industry, growers, and users.
The previous Spanish government supported the war in Iraq and the drug war. Earlier this year, officials talked about shutting down Spain’s two marijuana magazines, along with closing grow shops and cannaseed sellers.
Spanish cannabis advocates hit back, saying the government was stupid for attacking cannabis when legal and more-deadly drugs like alcohol and tobacco were causing much bigger problems in Spanish society.
Cannabusinessmen like Dutch coffeeshop guru Nol Van Schaik, who wanted to open a cannatourism resort in Spain but was put off by the former government’s hostility to marijuana, said the new Socialist government was expected to promote enlightened marijuana policies.
When Zapatero criticized the US war in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry chided him, saying that withdrawing Spanish troops from the conflict would be a mistake. Zapatero lost no time in telling Kerry to stuff it.
“My commitment is my commitment,” Zapatero said. “Maybe John Kerry does not know, but I am happy to explain it to him, that my commitment to withdraw the troops goes back before the tragic, dramatic terrorist [Madrid bombing] attack. If the United Nations does not take over the situation and there is not a rethinking of this chaotic occupation we are living through, in which there are more dead in the occupation than in the war phase, the Spanish troops are going to return to Spain.”
Zapatero said US actions in Iraq had caused violence and increased terrorism.
“There have been more deaths since the end of the war than during the invasion itself,” Zapatero said. “Our allegiance will be for peace and against war. No more deaths for oil.”
And, referring to the US war in Afghanistan, Zapatero said, “Fighting terrorism with bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles isn’t the way to defeat it. Terrorism must be combated by a state of law.”
During his March 20th Vancouver speech, Chomsky praised Zapatero, and delivered a 25 minute history lesson to the enthralled crowd. He listed many examples of US invasions, wars, covert operations, dirty tricks and slaughter in the last 40 years, and pointed out that the language used by George W. Bush to justify the Iraq war was the exact same language used by Ronald Reagan 20 years ago, when Reagan was sending Marines to invade helpless nations like the Caribbean island of Grenada.
Indeed, Chomsky said, the same speechwriters were at work then as now, and all they had to do was plagiarize their own speeches and put hollow words from the past into Bush’s mouth.
Backstage, Chomsky spoke of the inherent connections between the drug war and all the other wars run by the US, and how Bush is trying to link the war on terrorism with the war on drugs, especially in Colombia.
The afternoon of peace-rallying was an oasis of hope in a sea of distraction and indifference. A million people live in and around Vancouver; two percent of them cared enough about peace to march across the Burrard Bridge and gather in early spring sunshine to hear Chomsky and Layton.
Two percent is better than none, but what were the other 980,000 people doing that day? Working? Watching television? Driving cars fueled by oil from the Middle East? Boozing? What was more important to them that day than peace, and why?
Layton said that the corruption plaguing Canadian politics can be cured by voters and the NDP. Chomsky said the peace movement could, with diligence, guts and hard work, put an end to Bush wars and help humanity solve its problems by respecting justice and freedom.
The Vietnam War started in 1962 and few people protested it until five years later, Chomsky noted.
“But millions of people protested the Iraq war before it even started, and we are still protesting,” he said. “There’s progress being made. We need to go forward from today, making the ending of these wars the top priority in our lives. We can all make a difference.”