Give Peace Another Chance

Joan Baez sings to a large crowd. The 64-year-old says she helped inspire the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War but this time someone else has to do it.
Joan Baez sings to a large crowd. The 64-year-old says she helped inspire the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War but this time someone else has to do it. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 25, 2005

Out there, in front of the Washington Monument, it was eerily reminiscent of another place and time, a time when the Old Guard was young and the Young Guard didn't yet exist, and people made a point of not putting their trust in anyone over a certain age. A whiff of weed wafted on the air. Couples made out in the grass, oblivious to anyone but each other. Onstage, Joan Baez stood solo, guitar strapped like a weapon against her chest, crooning "Where have all the flowers gone?" while people stood swaying, some crying, fingers forming peace signs or holding up posters of Che.

The beat kicked up, pounding and grinding as a hard-rocking woman, Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, righteous Afro picked out to there , pranced the stage, exhorting, "You can't be afraid to speak! We need more fearlessness!" Speaker after speaker stood onstage and roared that it was time, way past time, to bring the boys and girls back.

But out in the crowd of Operation Ceasefire, the free antiwar concert and rally yesterday on the Mall, instead of wearing T-shirts that read "Make Love, Not War," some sported tees that pronounced "Make Levees, Not War," and white kids sported buttons that read "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People," a reference to rapper Kanye West's remark about the White House response to Hurricane Katrina. America's involvement in Iraq was the reason for the rally, but Katrina played front and center, too.

Boots Riley of the Bay Area socialist rap group the Coup wandered backstage, sporting an Afro and military-style jacket with "Revolution Rock" emblazoned across the back.

"I always heard about the '60s, the feeling of change in the air," he said, looking around at the crowd, looking pleased. "And that definitely exists right now. "

"The spirit is very resolute," said Eric Hilton of the Thievery Corporation, who organized the event with his partner, Rob Garza. "I feel like I'm amongst tens of thousands of people that have the pilot light on. And that's always a very nice feeling."

It was all about preaching to the choir, with the choir being a multiracial, multigenerational contingent in favor of getting U.S. troops out of Iraq. There were gray-haired matrons sitting in lawn chairs, heads bobbing serenely to the beat as they knitted. Punk kids with fanned-out Mohawks smoking cigarettes and crowing about the size of the march, rumored to be more than 300,000. There were Rastas and fashionistas alike, women carrying newborns in Snuglis across their chests and grizzled couples holding up each other as they made their way through the crowd.

Backstage, and onstage, it was a reunion for aging activists. There was Jesse Jackson, threading a mike up through his leisure suit and talking about how Cindy Sheehan, the mother who lost a son to Iraq, was the Rosa Parks of this generation. Al Sharpton roaring his rage into the mike. There was politico Julian Bond and comic rebel Dick Gregory. Country crooner Steve Earle strumming his guitar and singing about the CIA and "living in the [expletive expletive] U.S.A."

Rep. Maxine Waters kicked things off with some fighting words:

"I am a member of Congress. And I. Am. Sick. And. Tired. Of. George. W. Bush."

The crowd let it be known -- loudly -- that it, too, was sick and tired.

"This gives me flash-forwards," not flashbacks, Baez said, looking lean and sinewy in a tank top and jeans, her cropped hair streaked with silver.

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