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November 2, 2007

Takin' It to the Streets - A Bill Moyers Essay

BILL MOYERS: It's important who owns the press, as we've just seen and heard...but it's also important who decides what is news.

Why wasn't it news last weekend when more than 100,000 people turned out in 11 cities across the country to protest the occupation of Iraq...Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Jonesborough, Tennessee. but if you blinked while watching the national news, you wouldn't have known it was a story. We found less than two minutes of scattered mentions on television, and not even the Associated Press reported on other demonstrations in smaller cities.

Here in Manhattan, thousands of people took to the streets in a steady rain -- but the national coverage was even damper than the weather. THE NEW YORK TIMES didn't even run a story at all. and local television coverage was sparse.

40 years ago opposition to war was a big story.

You couldn't miss what happened that October day in 1967 when more than 50,000 protesters moved en masse from the Lincoln memorial across the Potomac river to the Pentagon...calling on their government to end the war in Vietnam...

This photograph by Bernie Boston of the WASHINGTON STAR circled the become one of the most enduring images of the era...

But this one, too, speaks volumes... Secretary of Defense Robert Mcnamara peering out of his window at thousands upon thousands of his fellow americans who just wanted to stop the killing.

Among them was sixteen-year old Maurice Isserman, a high school student making his first visit to the nation's capitol. By the end of the day he and other marchers would be tear-gassed and dragged away. 700 would be arrested.

Isserman, forty years later, is a historian teaching at Hamilton college. In the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION last week I came across his essay reminiscing on that day. press reports, he remind us, disparaged the protesters...despite their solemn rendition of the Star Spangled Banner which they sang, "Wide-open, high notes and all."" Despite the Secretary of Defense, above them, breaking down and weeping.

Isserman reminds us that only five months before the Pentagon protest, Mcnamara, one of the war's architects and defenders, had sent the White House a confidential memo outlining his 'growing doubts' about american involvement in Vietnam.

The march on the Pentagon was a watershed, Maurice Isserman writes, turning dissent into resistance.

But the war went on for another seven years...altogether almost sixty thousand American soldiers died...and millions of Vietnamese...and America still lost, fleeing the country and leaving Vietnam to the Vietnamese.

In Iraq the war also goes on...despite the protests...despite public sentiment that has turned against it...despite almost four thousand soldiers killed...another 28,000 wounded...and God knows how many iraqi civilians dead or injured...and the war goes on.

Look at this story in the WASHINGTON POST. It appeared last weekend as those marchers took to the streets.

Reporter Joshua Partlow told of an American unit fighting in a southwest corner of Baghdad...a once middle class neighborhood now in ruins... you can hear an audio report from Partlow at our website on

One officer told him: "People are killed here every day, and you don't hear about it. people are kidnapped here every day, and you don't hear about it."

The unit has lost 20 of their comrades during their 14 months at war...the soldiers, Partlow writes, are tired, bitter and skeptical.

One of them told the journalist: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

Here at home, if you were watching the Sunday talk shows, you wouldn't know anyone was paying attention to either the soldiers or the protesters. The talk was all about politics, fires and Iran.

And if anyone in high office was weeping over yet another war with no end in sight...we'll have to wait until they write their books to know it.

The protest last weekend came almost exactly five years after Congress had backed the President's rush to war. Five years later the Capitol and the country alike seem once again to have their fingers in their ears.

In Philadelphia one puzzled protester looked around and wondered aloud why there's not more the war machine rolls on.

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