And it came to pass, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.
The Bible, Joshua, 6 : 2021, describing the siege of Jericho in about the 13th century B.C.E.
The march was quiet and tentative as it started. Annie achieved her balance and began to catch her stride but was feeling a little weird in the eerie emptiness. Trailers to the left of her, condos to the right, into the vacuum of naught strode the one hundred. Up ahead there was a rumble of galloping autos and maybe an incantation beginning but she couldn't make out the words. Some friend of Bobby's fell into step with him and they began a call and response:
That drew a local chuckle, which broke the tension, and a couple of choruses loosened up all the voices near the back of the column and readied them for the more, ah, traditional numerical versions. How convenient it is that 'four' is such an unstrained rhyme for 'war' and 'eight' for 'state' (adjectives optional and often scatological, except under the nose of a cop). By the time they turned the corner onto 41st, where the cars supplied an audience if no one else did, the last brigade was well warmed up and ready for an organizer with a battery-powered bull-horn to head down the line and lead them into new choruses.
"Hey, Bush! Hey, Quayle! People's lives are not for sale!"
Once again, Danny-boy proved his value to the left, as an inexhaustible source not just of jokes but of easy rhymes jail, fail, male/mail, bail/bale ... no sweat for any street rapper or even white college poetaster. His master's name, however, seemed calculated to bland out opposition: It takes real talent to advance beyond 'Lick Bush' and make a meaningful rhyme out of forge/gorge/??? without getting into serious mangling of the language. Desperate sloganeers were reduced to arguing that burbling incoherence was not inappropriate when directed at a leader so lacking in the syntax thing.
Annie picked up on the chants with ease. They were doing their job. Not converting anyone ("Oh sure, I heard this great slogan and saw the error of my warmongering ways." Right!) but consolidating the faithful. Hymns to themselves, who else? The reality bubble was growing. In the silence of Jade Street there was a sharing of loneliness in the crowd, a sense that individual isolation and helplessness could be bound together into something of comfort, of nurturing growth. The sorrow and outrage of a memento mori was being focused and gathered into the power of complaint.
And there wasn't even a war on. Yet.
No one had died in Operation Desert Shield, unless you count car accidents and such that would have been even more likely on the autobahns and motorways and turnpikes and freeways back home. Congress was beginning to rumble about the War Powers Act and its constitutional rights. The opinion polls, not coincidentally, were showing increasing public discontent with the idea of American boys laying down their lives for Big Oil and diminishing support for forceful intervention to reverse Iraqi aggression in the Gulf. The peace movement had hope and deserved it.
"If you wanna end war and stuff, you gotta sing loud," insisted the infant Arlo, way back when, in the song that became a major motion picture and set him up and saddled him for life, and he knew whereof he spoke.
In the joyous noise of the chanting crowd on the sidewalks of 41st, the movement was the message. As in the best rock 'n' roll, the words were only signposts to the real meaning, necessary, sure, but irrelevant in their details. Annie still felt cut off from the drivers imprisoned behind their krash-pruf safe-T-windows but her sense of identity was coming into focus, even as it expanded beyond the isolation of the individual towards the group. Some of them would niggle at each other, some of them were probably idiots, some of them were ugly as babies and some were beautiful as sin, some were warm and friendly and some were coldly aloof, and all of them were her and she them. Annie was argumentative and stupid and hideous and ravishing and openly accepting and locked away and everything else she saw and felt and knew in the column around her.
It felt good.
As the line snaked round the corner of Capitola Road, taking a right to head for the goal, it curved all round both entrances to a Chevron station. Irresistible. The march came to a complete and sudden halt.
"No blood for oil!" they called out vigorously, over and over.
Now this was not strictly within the agreed scenario. Annie was situated nicely, with the banner just short of the entrance on 41st, where she had an excellent view of the proceedings but maintained unsullied innocence since she herself wasn't blocking a thing, not even the sidewalk. If there had been an unsuspecting pedestrian, a rare enough sight at that intersection, they could easily have edged past, if they didn't mind seeming to be part of the peacenik crowd.
Only one driver was gassing up at the time, and he affected not to notice the goings on, rapidly finishing his fill-up and hustling into the Mini-Mart, where the cashier was peering through the smoked glass and grabbing the phone. Passing traffic beeped, but in sympathy with whom it was hard to say. There seemed to be some discussion at the head of the march, while at the tail those who had been behind Annie were crowding forward to see what was going on.
"Not big oil, not the state, we are gonna choose our fate," started someone with a loud voice and infected the crowd for a dozen rounds.
Some of the people at the organizing meeting had wanted to sit in at the gas station, but they had conceded that blockading the military offices was the target for this action, the message being that cannon fodder was in demand. Still, there was a lot more traffic through this intersection, and for a moment Annie felt the heady thrill of a crowd baying for unpremeditated action. A cop car pulled up right beside her and a uniformed representative of the Capitola City government swallowed hard, adjusted his shades and opened the passenger-side door.
"C'mon, c'mon," he called, apparently trying for firm politeness, "Don't block the driveway."
As the line was stretched all around, he was really only talking to about a dozen people, and they began to shuffle forward to the sidewalk proper. The crowd had made its decision, but insisted on crowing a while longer before beginning to walk. The cop seemed to know he'd won, because he just kept muttering about moving along, without much evidence of doing anything to enforce it, and sure enough in only another minute or so the mob undulated onward.
The frisson of excitement was great, though. We could have, thought Annie, we could have taken the place and held it too. She felt the power and understood that the rest of the march did too. They didn't have to use it, exactly, but they did have to know it was there.
So did she.
It wasn't so much that she drew strength from the energy of the crowd as that she gave to it and in giving felt her own increase.
Or was she making the whole thing up?
Did it matter?