Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Street walking ....

I wandered across the street from our office tonight to watch a few minutes of a local anti-war rally outside the Federal Courthouse. The folks at Moveon.org sponsored the rally, just as they have similar gatherings over the years.

The event was actually winding down as I crossed Main Street. I took a spot on the far side, away from most of the crowd, but still close enough to hear the speakers and follow what was happening. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, I'm hard to miss, and I don't try to hide.

At least a dozen people made eye contact with me, but none approached. Even as I wandered around the gathering and along the lines of people (probably 75 in all) down Market Street reading their signs and seeing who was in the crowd, no one so much as said hello.

Was I there as a reporter? A veteran? Was I upset or did I support what they were doing?

I just don't think they knew what to say because they just didn't know how to take me.

In those 10 minutes I was standing near the rally, I never felt more like a ghost. It's surreal enough to watch a candlelight vigil talking about a war zone where I was deployed, but it was just as odd to see the blank stares people had who made eye contact with me.

Don't take me wrong, I'm not mad, and I don't feel slighted. I wasn't participating in the rally, I was just trying to observe for a little bit. Still, as much as the public usually approaches me daily to comment on TV or to say "welcome home" or "thank you for your service," it was unusual to see the folks at the rally speechless as I smiled and said hello. I'd like to believe that folks were just giving me space to take it all in, and for that I thank them.

I saw older folks with "peace" written across their foreheads, and I saw teens sporting military helmets with signs about bringing the troops home. I saw mass-produced cutouts with "wrong way" road signs aimed at the war in Iraq.

The only person to approach me handed me a copy of a news article titled, "To save America, we need another 9/11." I thanked him and took it to read later.

For what it's worth, I can talk to anyone about the war .. regardless of whether they support or object to our country's involvement. Good dialogue is always positive.

However, what most folks don't realize is that while veterans do care about whether the public is for or against the war, they're more concerned that people actually give a damn. That people actually take the time to be informed and do something versus just saying something.

To that end, I applaud the folks who came out tonight because at least they took a stand. At least they cared enough to get off the couch on a beautiful summer evening and tackle a very emotional topic. At least they were willing to put their words into action.

It's apathy that's really a slap in the face to those who sacrifice and serve. It's apathy that makes many veterans just want to scream and shout. It's caring more about the surge in reality TV than the surge in Iraq that makes me wonder why the heck so many of us spent a year or more in danger.

If nothing else, just give a damn.

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