The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, March 20, 2003  

Students, Twentysomethings, and I

It has been a long, hard, and unrelenting winter in Philadelphia, almost unbearable in its intensity even for one, such as I, with a high tolerance for the cold. Worse, the recent brief respite from the harsh temperatures quickly reversed course this week, leaving this another cold night in Philadelphia -- about 45 degrees, last I checked -- during which it is also raining, raining hard.

Tonight, then, was not the most auspicious of nights to participate in an anti-war demonstration. And as one who abhors the rain generally, I spent much of today expecting to opt out of an event -- a demonstration at Philadelphia City Hall -- that I had heard first heard of just this morning.

But I live nearby and, all things considered, How much of a sacrifice would it be?, I thought. I could always drop off at a point convenient to a quick jaunt home. And if the inclement weather was pulling others away, why shouldn't I, living just four or five blocks away, take their place? And so I went.

I headed out with some reluctance and more than a little trepidation. I have only participated in two events even remotely similar to this one in the past, and neither had anything to do with U.S. foreign policy or the military. Protest marches generally are "not my thing," in part because the coverage of such events by the media often left me convinced I would feel out of place.

But this is an issue -- a war, actually -- about which I feel strongly. And with the media's characteristically skewed coverage of such events in mind, I believe it is important that someone like me -- a 40-year-old, pretty-damned "normal" looking, and generally thoughtful guy -- ought to participate and be seen.

When I arrived I felt, more than anything, old. I now know who marches against senseless and morally reprensible wars on cold late-winter evenings amid driving rains: high school and college students, twentysomethings, bicycle messengers and other anti-establishment types, and the true believers. I use none of these terms with the intent of disparaging the participants; I deploy them out of respect for their obvious conviction and the hope that I might at this point be considered a "true believer."

But I felt old and out of place, yet happy to be there with them, buoyed by their energy, pleased by their lawful decorum. They chanted loudly. I prayed and pondered silently. They played to the cameras. I turned shy when the photographers were about. They were angry. I was sad. They shouted, beat drums, and sang. I tried not to cry.

And now I'm home, drying off and warming up, and I think, We have much to learn from each other.

Do I now feel morally superior? No. Am I now bathed with a sense of self-righteousness? No. Do I believe I made a difference? No, not really. But I'm glad I went.

[See also: You March, I'll Vote (For You), Letters to The Rittenhouse Review, March 21, 2003.]

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