On Feb. 15, millions of people around the world gathered to raise their voices in unison: no war with Iraq. Demonstrations from London, to New York, San Diego and Miami attracted students, children, elderly and veterans.
Here in Colorado, the war protest in Colorado Springs gathered 3,000 to 4,000 people. At least 30 students from CSU, myself included, spent the cold, windy day listening to speakers, holding signs, drumming and chanting for peace. It was invigorating and exciting to see how many people had traveled from all over Colorado to come together and make a stand against the looming threat of war in Iraq. There was a contagious energy; the very air was alive with the power of thousands of people exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble.
The demonstration was peaceful and nonviolent. We danced, we sang, we waved to passing cars, we pled for peace and we were tear gassed and Maced. Why?
Some stories in the media, including The Collegian, claimed that police used tear gas “after a rally spilled out of a park and blocked a major thoroughfare Saturday.”
There were times when the streets were blocked, but the police didn’t use tear gas to get us out of the intersection because we simply weren’t there. I was standing at the intersection in question, Maizeland and Academy, and saw, with my own eyes, that no protesters were blocking the streets when the tear gas was fired. In fact, for most of the march protesters were compliant and orderly.
About six police officers donning gas masks stood in the middle of the street as the rally wound down and many people headed back to their cars in Palmer Park. The protesters stood holding banners and signs declaring, “war is also terrorism” and “no blood for oil.”
We looked the police in their eyes, chanting “we’re nonviolent, how about you?” Their response? The police issued muffled and vague warnings for us to disperse less than a minute before using the gas. As soon as tear gas canisters hit the ground at my feet, I turned and ran, following a young boy who looked to be about eight years old.
I’ll never forget the expression of terror and confusion on his face.
I was scared; I was angry.
I wanted to pick him up and run with him, I wanted to promise him that everything would be okay. But to do that would be to lie to him and myself-there is clearly something very wrong with our society when our government turns its weapons against children.
Thoughts raced through my head: where are his parents? Will he be able to run fast enough? Where is my friend with the leg brace who can’t run, the people in wheelchairs, the elderly? How could they use tear gas within eyesight of a playground filled with children? They weren’t even provoked!
After everyone fled from the noxious gas through a meadow, police in full riot gear charged towards us across the park. They ordered us to disperse while they stood between us and our cars, and then randomly pepper sprayed peaceful protesters. I saw many people gassed and sprayed, and I didn’t see any of them act aggressively towards police. How can this be justified?
My friend Joe Ramagli offered a good explanation: “The problem was created when the riot cops realized that they were not in control of the situation. We were. And we were peaceful.”
Saturday’s events, while traumatic, will not harm the anti-war movement, but serve as fuel for the raging fire of our resistance. We will not be silenced. We will continue to stand for what we believe in. It is our right and our duty. The people will speak, and the government will listen.
Because there is no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people don’t stop.