Fences, Fences Everywhere, on Pentagon "Freedom Walk"
by Jo Freeman
Roughly ten thousand people participated in a "Freedom Walk" from the Pentagon to a concert on the Mall next to the World War II monument, sponsored by the Department of Defense on the fourth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
However, the real theme of the march wasn't Freedom but security, with numerous examples of pseudo-security, semi-security, and stupid security.
The DoD required all participants to register in advance, by providing their name and address online. Some seventeen thousand people did so, though fewer picked up the free t-shirts and dog tags given out for three days beforehand to anyone who had a valid registration number.
The original purpose given out by DoD for collecting all this personal information was to charge participants to defray the costs; so few signed up to pay that the DoD changed it to a free event and recruited corporate sponsors. In exchange, the sponsors' names were printed on the back of the t-shirts. Some media sponsors backed out upon realizing that sponsorship might create a conflict of interest with covering the event. However, among the 14 sponsors who remained were three radio stations, one TV channel and two newspapers.
Participants were told that wearing the t-shirt, emblazoned with "Freedom Walk" and "America Supports You" on the front, was required for entry to the Pentagon parking lot where the marchers congregated beforehand. However, that requirement was not enforced as long as one had a registration number. Nor was any ID required to enter; only a t-shirt or a registration number.
Signs declaring that photography was prohibited stretched from inside the Pentagon exit for the DC Metro to the parking lot, where risers were set up for press photographers and marchers were allowed to use their personal cameras. Advance publicity said the walk itself was closed to press, though they could be present at the beginning and the end.
At the parking lot, searchers poked into bags, packs and strollers looking for prohibited items. The only person I saw turned away was a young man with a bicycle, which was not a prohibited item. Blue shirted volunteers passed out large postcards with a photo of the American flag being lowered from the roof of the Pentagon's damaged western wall after AA flight 77 was flown into it on September 11. There was nothing commemorating the destruction of New York's World Trade Center earlier that day, even though there were twenty times as many deaths.
Exiting through a "Freedom Walk" gate walkers entered route 27 to begin the 2 mile walk to the Mall. Although all traffic had been detoured, marchers walked between jersey barriers on one side and temporary wooden fences on the other. Police kept watch every few hundred feet, while cars, mounted police and motorcycle cops were on the other side of the barricades. Some carried rifles. There were fewer police than at many protest marches, but since there were no onlookers it was unclear who was protecting whom from what.
The many children made the walk into a family event. However, 99 percent of the walkers were white — much higher than the population of the military or the DC metro area. There were more dark faces among the police than among the marchers. Despite the ban on signs and banners, a few walkers carried signs with government agency names printed on them such as Coast Guard, Labor and State.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was the only prominent person among them. However, he wasn't in the front line and was so surrounded by staff and supporters that he was more in danger of being crushed than attacked.
Only near the Lincoln Monument were marchers greeted by anti-war protestors, and they were on the other side of the security fence. Three people from the DC Anti-War Network carried signs stating "Bush is a Liar," "Your Wars Shame Us" and "Pro-War is Pro Terrorism". Although some marchers gave the protestors a "thumbs-up," two physically attacked them across the fence and one threw water at them. Several yelled obscenities, some made other comments, and some broke into chants.
The only response of the U.S. Park Police was to pull the protestors back from the fence and to stand between them and the marchers, forcing them to raise their signs above their heads so they could be seen.
Further into the Mall, in an area fenced off for the public to hear the concert who had not registered for the walk, was a lone protestor. His sign said "no more soldiers dead for lies."
Less than half of the walkers stayed for the concert. Most threaded their way through a maze of fences and guards until they were outside the security zone. The lesson of the day was on a bracelet handed out by the American Legion. "Freedom is not Free" is said. Neither are Pentagon Freedom Walks.