I had been doubting all week, but on friday night I decided that I would go anyway. So saturday morning, instead of my usual stay in bed until you wake up, my alarm clock woke me up and an hour later I was in the train on my way to Amsterdam.In the eighties, our decade of protest marches, I was too young to participate or, later, not motivated enough to do an effort. My political awareness didn't sink in until I was in my twenties. So this would be the first time in my life that I was going to walk in a march. From the second time I changed trains I could see that this wasn't just an ordinary saturday morning train. It was really full. It didn't take much effort to see who was going to car fare, also in Amsterdam and who was going to the protest. This included a little boy, I guess around 8 years old, who told others that he didn't want war and didn't like to see people killed. His mother was beaming with pride. My discussion with the lady next to me was if we should call it cute or indoctrinated.
I could have taken a later train, not only did the train arrive in time, for the first time in ages that that happened, I was an hour and a half early. Still, I went to the Dam square where the march was supposed to start. On the way there the SP, Socialist Party, a small opposition party that is rapidly becoming more popular, hands outs pamphlets and stickers. On the Dam itself it was still relatively quiet. A few living statues tried to milk some money out of the protesters and some tiny political groups were building up stands. I decided to go for one of my favorite book shops first. I do not visit Amsterdam to often anymore and it has been 8 years nearly since I last lived there, so I do not get the chance too often to go there. Actually Amsterdam has 4 of my favorite book shops, not even counting the numerous second hand shops I love to spend hours in. The one I visit today is a discount store, with also a department of second hand books. I go down for 4, 14€ and a bit, but also an extra weight in my little back pack to carry around.
Back at the Dam square I sign a petition for some Cuban political prisoners in the United States and try to find a nice spot near the stage. I have taken a few pictures of the people and some banners. It is getting crowded now, from all sides you can see people approach, already the trams have difficulty getting through. Several groups have found a place in front of the national monument, on the other side of the square. The last minutes before the programme starts there is a band from Iraq, though the crowd is not very enthusiast. An elderly lady next to me starts talking about some of the banners around us. We both agree that we are not here to support all of these groups, but at least we've all got something in common: we don't want a war. She tells me she's on her own and announces that she will walk next to me if I don't mind. I can't say I do mind, though obviously I would rather have someone half her age talk to me. Still, after two of the speakers have finished she decides to go shopping. The march isn't starting for another 45 minutes, according to the programme she leaves with me.
For one hour we get several speeches. Some aren´t bad, others apparently find it very complicated to talk to such a big crowd. The two girls from Palestinian descent end up screaming hysterically, something that doesn´t really help to understand their point. Next to that I don´t think that we are here for the Palestinian cause, however tragic it may be. Even though I do understand that it is nearly impossible to seperate both stories, this is not the reason tens of thousands of people are standing here in the cold. The only thing that makes it warmer is the crowd. On an open square like this the wind is normally a huge opponent, especially on a winters day. With 30.000 people are, at least that was the estimate this morning on the radio, we keep each other warm. Disadvantage is that I can hardly see anything that is happening on stage, too many banners around. They were handing them out near the Dam, but plenty others have produced something themselves. The slogans are severe, angry or sometimes a bit funny. I can´t stand a father on his own with a sign that says `Ook Jens (8 jaar) is bang´ , telling us that his little boy is afraid. If he really feels that strong, he would have been here, I tell myself. Another sign has an irony that was probably not meant. `Nederlanders zijn geen meelopers. toch?´ Translation is difficult. We Dutch do not walk along, it means litterally translated. I´m sure they mean that we do not blindly follow the US in this matter. But if you look around one can see thousands of Dutch people who DO walk along, walk in a protest march that is. After an hour my conclusion is that Marijnissen, the leader of the SP, again showed that he is the best debater, the best to deliver a speech.
A bit after two o´clock the last speaker gets interrupted, to his dismay, because the police wants us to leave. It does take an effort to get the whole crowd past the royal palace, but soon after that we are in the Rozengracht. During our march I´ve got plenty of time to look around who else took the effort. It is impossible to describe. The professionals from the eighties are back, the young talents are there as well. One can always easily detect youngsters who are left wing. Their appearance doesn´t seem to change over the years. Punk or at least coloured hair, oversized clothes, preferably in odd colours. The cynic in me says that the leftists are the ones who have time to make themselves look sloppy, they have time to walk in protests. Right wing youths have saturday jobs and can´t be here. But I´m exaggerating there, the crowd is a mixture of society. Plenty of refugees but also lots of oap´s who came, despite the cold. People in wheelchair, parents with their children and plenty of students. Greenpeace with a banner in French, several Germans, but also a group of a few hundred Americans who claim not be proud to be American at this moment in time. When crossing a bridge, one of Amsterdam´s many canals, I look back and see a crowd following us, as far as the eye can see. When the helicopter flies over, everybody waves and cheers. The atmosphere is good, though a bit more quiet than I had expected from a protest.
Near the Leidseplein the march ends in a stroll, the American group holds their banner streetwide, knowing that plenty of camera´s will film them. On a trailer a younger version of Bob Dylan enjoys his fifteen minutes of fame, though nobody can really understand his lyrics. A big screen on the square shows us what it looks like when all those people come from the Marnixstraat. At another end someone is reading a poem by a Chilean poet, I guess Dorfman, but I didn´t hear the announcement. The riot police is blocking the road towards the Museumplein. I´m not sure if they have done so immediately or if som e protesters were bothering the shoppers in the posh P.C. Hooftstraat, were entering a shop only would cost you a fortune already.
I decide to leave the scene and visit a friend of mine who I haven´t seen in ages. When I finally find his home, he is not there. I take a drink in the nearest pub, use the bathroom (where can you take a leak in the middle of a protest march?) and read a few chapters in my book. On the second attempt he is still not there, so it´s back into the town center for me. After a junk food meal I take the train back home. Plenty of time to finish my book, I like sitting in the train. Still in time to catch the ten o´clock news. Over 70.000 people were there with me during the afternoon. And tens of millions in 350 cities elsewhere in the world. There is still hope for world peace.
A day later at the football someone asks me if I was in Amsterdam. He had seen me on the six o´clock news. Another 5 seconds of television time for me. Still 14 minutes and 40 seconds of fame left though.