Her equipment was in boxes. I wondered if she had started putting it away before she left or if someone else was packing her stuff to send to her.
I dug out a camera she’d shown me how to work. No film. I’d have to buy some.
The morning of the demonstration I rose early but Norbert was already up and reading one of those underground newspapers. He musta been out earlier to get it.
“There’s a lot about the demo,” he said. He gave me part and we traded pages as we read.
A peace sign covered the front page and bits of news and pictures were inside the wedges of the symbol with “All We Are Saying IS” on one side and “Give Peace a Chance” on the other. I looked at some articles inside and a page of Poems Against War which included some Bob Dylan lyrics and I guess some real poets I didn’t know. And there was another page with a mandala, one of those big designs you’re supposed to look at when you’re meditating or stoned. It had words going around it. Across the bottom it said to use this page to roll weed and send smoke signals of peace up to the heavens.
“I got one of Petra’s cameras,” I said. “I don’t think she’d mind. I’d ask her if I could.”
I gave him a chance to say something but he didn’t. “Maybe she’ll be at the demo and I’ll ask her then.”
Wesley was up next.
“You’re going after all?” Norbert asked him.
“I always was.”
“Thought you weren’t into the political scene now?”
“This goes beyond political. The psychic energy that’s gathering. A generation rejecting the ways of the world, looking for new wisdom.”
“Chance for a little recruiting of your own?”
“I have nothing to recruit for, brother.”
Soon everyone was up. Gus asked if we were all going together.
“I’m helping take pictures,” I said. “Got you working too?”
He said they were handing out leaflets, him and Billy, since he was an experienced flyer distributor in his professional life. Billy plopped a pile of leaflets on the table. They were like the ones we’d seen Petra’s postering team putting up that time.
Loren said, “So shouldn’t we be, like, painting our faces?”
“That’s old stuff,” said Norbert.
“Making placards then?”
“Probably lotsa signs there. But I guess we can make our own. Come up with our own slogans.”
Gus held up a leaflet, pointed to the headline. “Oppose U.S. Imperialist Aggression!”
“That’ll excite the masses.”
“Make Love Not War,” said Roger.
“Right on,” said Picket.
“Old, old, old,” said Norbert. “Something fresh.”
“How about...” said Wesley, framing his hands like a movie director, “No More Slogans!”
“Legalize Pot,” Roger said.
“It’s supposed to have something to do with stopping the war in Vietnam, remember?” Norbert said..
“If everyone smoked pot they’d stop the war.”
“The Death of Ideology!” said Wesley.
In the end only Norbert and Loren made signs. He cut some wood in the basement to make stakes and stapled the placards to them. His said “End Canadian Complicity in Vietnam” and hers was “Nixon Pull Out Like Your Father Should Have.” I’d seen that one on a washroom wall. It reminded me I hadn’t written anything in the notebook lately. I’d catch up before we left for the demo.
The starting point for the march was a parking lot in Kitsilano. We could walk to it. When we hit one of the main streets, we joined a stream of people heading the same way. Some were painted and wore funny clothes but most were ordinary freaks like us. The closer we got to the rallying point the bigger our numbers, until the whole street was moving in one direction. People were singing and shouting already, like we were going to a party.
Picket and Roger took off ahead and Wesley got talking with some people and drifted away.
We could hear the noise long before we got to the parking lot. Chanting and cheering. Marshalls with bullhorns. The heavy-duty politicos were lined along the sidewalks to shove leaflets in our hands and sell us newspapers and get us to join their groups. The parking lot was overflowing and protesters were still flooding in after us. Different-coloured placards and flags and banners tilted at each other in the air, about half of them against the war and half of them about other things like legalizing marijuana and stopping police harassment at Long Beach. Even the protests against the war were mixed. Political slogans. Peace and love. Calling for Johnson and Nixon to be tried as war criminals. Quoting the Bible. Pictures of that girl crying over the dead kids at that university a while back.
We pushed through to the contingent we were supposed to be part of. Joan and the others were easy to find with their huge red banner. In the middle of the hubbub and all the craziness, this was a quiet, orderly group, waiting to begin, flags and signs resting on their shoulders. Most of them had near identical slogans in identical red paint.
Joan told Gus and Billy to pass their leaflets out in the crowd. She pointed me towards a tall guy with a camera hanging from his neck.
“Are you the photographer I’m supposed to help?” I said to him, holding up Petra’s camera.
“See we can get some crowd shots first. Ever done this before?”
He gave me all sorts of instructions. Like to take long shots so no one could be identified by police if they confiscated my film. If I had to take medium shots or close-ups, shoot from behind. If I aimed at faces, people would think I was a cop.
“Cops are shooting here too?” I said.
“Half the photographers are Mounties pretending to be media. Cops in uniform, cops in plainclothes. Cops carrying anti-war signs and looking like you and me.”
We started pushing out through the crowd. It was getting packed tighter as more people arrived. I couldn’t stay close to him cause the crowd kept swaying me off course. He twisted back towards me and tried to speak. “...hopeless … split up … find a vantage point … do have film in that, don’t you?”
Close to us that song started up, “One, two, three, what are we fighting for?”
“Have to get some.”
“...store… corner across the street… outside of the crowd until it gets moving and see what you can shoot… when the march starts, stay alongside it. I’ll go ahead….”
I wasn’t sure which way the store was but I figured I’d escape the crowd and walk around till I found it. I pressed through the bodies until I came into a sudden clear space.
In the clearing was this huge Uncle Sam figure — guy must have had stilts under his costume — with this big paper mache head and a top hat with stars and stripes. He was bossing around a little guy with Trudeau’s head. Then Trudeau was on his knees in front of Uncle Sam who was patting his head. Uncle Sam growled and shook his fist over the head of the crowd which laughed and booed him. Then Trudeau ran up to the crowd on his knees and yapped at it like a dog and when the crowd booed him too he fell back and hugged the tall guy’s legs and Uncle Sam patted him again. Kinda corny but it went over well. The circle of spectators wheeled around laughing, as the two characters kept going through their act, wading angry-like into the crowd and falling back in fear.
Across the clearing I spotted a red cap with a yellow star on it. That guy from the campfire in the mountains — Daniel, Danielle? — who was somebody’s commissar or something. He was watching the show. Or rather he was watching the people watch the show. Smiling to himself, satisfied, like it was all silly but people enjoyed it. A thought came to me that none of the people I’d met who were revolutionaries for real dressed like that, like Ché Guevara posters, red beret and all.
His eyes came around to me and I gave a little wave with my fist across the crowd. I wasn’t sure he recognized me but he bobbed his head in my direction. Then he lifted his hands like he was aiming a rifle at Uncle Sam, looked both ways like to see if anyone was watching, and pretended to shoot. Then he cocked his head at me, like a wink. I lifted my camera and pretended to take his picture.
Too late I realized that no one could know I was joking, that there was no film in the camera yet. He didn’t flinch, but some other people ducked out of the way.
The back of someone else’s head got in the way and I lost sight of the red beret. I moved around but the person blocking me moved with me.
“Hey,” I said.
A big guy with a beard turned around. He had a yellow armband that the marshals wore. “I’m not a cop,” I told him.
But he kept glaring at me. I put the camera down and moved away. I felt him watching me as I tried to disappear into the crowd.
I didn’t get far when everyone started shuffling in one direction. The march had started. I let myself be pulled along until we hit the street, then I squeezed out to the sidewalk. From there I could see the whole demonstration go by. I could spot Petra if she was here.
The crowd was funnelling from the parking lot into a long thick line pouring down the street. Some sections were organized with matching banners and signs and had leaders with bullhorns leading the chants. Others were just people mixed together without order and came out of the parking lot singing and shouting anything that came to mind. “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war!” And “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” even though Johnson wasn’t president any more. As the line kept coming and everyone looked ahead and saw how long it was, they got more excited. They laughed and chanted louder. “Five, six, seven, eight, we don’t want to radiate.”
We were sure now we were involved in something great. We were gonna set Vancouver on end. More than Vancouver. Everything.
Our contingent went by me and they were the most like marchers, almost in step and chanting with the strongest voices. A guy with a bullhorn would shout, “Down with U.S. imperialist aggression in Southeast Asia!” and they’d all shout back “Down with U.S. imperialist aggression in Southeast Asia!” The clunkiest chant so far. But I found it kinda moving. Not trying to be catchy or clever like an advertising slogan. Just the raw politics. Gus and Billy were running along handing out leaflets and reciting the slogans like they were into it.
I pretended to take pictures as the group passed.
Norbert and Loren were in the next contingent, a looser bunch that sometimes took up the militant chants and sometimes came up with their own. I didn’t think Petra would be in this part of the march but I watched closely just in case.
A few groups back I saw another face I recognized but I had to think a moment to remember who it was. Some thirty Indians, like North American Indians. Walking behind a paper banner with a black fist clutching arrows. Not dressed up like Indians or anything, just in regular clothes and army surplus stuff, and I knew one of those faces.
It clicked. I called, “Brissette!”
I caught up to him and tapped his arm.
“You’re alive,” I think he said. He kept walking and I kept up to him. I had to get close so we could hear each other.
“Why wouldn’t I be alive?”
He seemed real calm, compared to the jokey guy I knew back in the factory.
“You disappeared,” he said.
“I came out here with Gus.”
“That funny guy?”
“What are you doing out here? You quit Cruikshanks too?”
“I am attending a native people’s conference. On my vacation time.”
“I didn’t know you were into, you know, this.”
He just snorted in a way that reminded me of my dad.
“I’m into a lotta politics too,” I said. “Like serious stuff.”
“Good for you, Mark.”
I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get rid of me or waiting for me to go on.
“So what’s new at Cruikshanks?” I said. “They ever take Duffy back?”
“Not a chance. They found some furniture he is supposed to have busted up.”
“They think Duffy did that?”
“I have no idea what they think. And I don’t care. Fact is, they used it. That’s worse than personal assault, damaging property.”
“Fuck.” I had to change the subject. “How’s everyone else?”
“Goose put a staple through his hand. You remember Goose. Right through his left hand.” He imitated the action of stapling a hand. “And McIntyre’s gone.”
“They fired McIntyre?”
“McIntyre? His old man had him moved up to the head office.”
I was starting to feel a little strange walking in the middle of this Indian group. “So how’d you end up here?” I said for something to say.
“National conference of First Nations in Vancouver. We voted to join the march since our aims are complementary.”
“Old world’s dying, man. New one coming.”
“We will see. This drugs and hippie shit,” he said. “Acting like movie Indians. And this mystical shit. We have had medicine men for centuries.”
His group was starting to bang drums and do some kinda Indian chanting, which I figured he’d want to join in.
“I gotta get back to taking pictures.” I held my camera up. “My anti-imperialist assignment for today.”
As I turned away he grabbed my arm. “It is good to see you in the struggle, Mark.”
We were halfway down to the water where the bridge would take us across to downtown. I watched the rest of the march go by but I didn’t see Petra. Seemed like I was seeing everyone except the person I most wanted to see. I had to accept she was out of reach, so far away that she couldn’t even show up for this. I joined the tail end of the march.
We crossed the bridge Lonnie had jumped off and wound through the downtown streets. People on the sidewalks watched us like it was a parade. A few Sunday workers were staring from storefronts and office windows. Some applauded and a few shouted insults at us. We chanted louder now that we had an audience. As we turned into a street of tall buildings our calls echoed back to us like thunder. All order was gone from the march now and we bunched together in the streets, shouting our lungs out.
We made our way to a square in front of a big official building, a city hall or courthouse, or maybe both. The demonstrators who were already there cheered us in like we’d just won a race. In the square we joined in one loud, mixed-up shout, looking around at each other, faces red with shouting, pumping our signs and fists in the air, everyone with this feeling that something was gonna break wide open. Flags waved over our head like the end of a war. And then a voice came over a loudspeaker. We turned to a podium set up at the front of the building. I couldn’t see much of it with all the signs and banners in the way. Feedback disrupted the voice. Then the voice started again and the chants quieted as people strained to hear what was being said.
Something about showing solidarity with youth in the United States opposing an unjust war and how many American boys had already been killed in Southeast Asia. Someone near me shouted, “How many Vietnamese and Cambodians?” People around us cheered but it didn’t carry to the podium. Some religious guy, like a minister or priest, came to the microphone and read a prayer against the masters of war.
The chanting and singing continued whenever there was a break in the speeches and sometimes during them but it was ragged now, in patches here and there instead of everyone as one. The crowd seemed less packed together too. I hadn’t noticed groups of people leaving but there seemed more room.
I slipped through the crowd. It was too late to get film. I’d just have to keep pretending I was taking pictures. Afterwards I could say they didn’t turn out. I made a wide circle around where our contingent was standing, almost in the same rows as when they were marching together and still holding banners and signs straight up. They were listening to the speakers more closely than anyone else. They clapped politely when the whole crowd applauded and stopped before the rest of the crowd, like they didn’t believe a word being said but didn’t wanna make an issue of it. I made my way towards the front corner where I thought maybe I could get through to the area behind the podium and get a view of the whole crowd. But before I got far I spotted Petra.
She was in a small group with stencilled signs. Some kinda union, like farm workers. Looked poor. Lotta East Indians. Somehow, even with her light brown hair, she fit in with them. She was carrying a sign on her left shoulder, “Local 7 Against the Imperialist War". In her right arm she held a baby. A dark little kid.
As I watched, a woman wrapped in one of those colourful East Indian dresses came over and took the child. They spoke quick. Petra reached over and smoothed the hair of the child held by the other woman. Then they just stood together like sisters watching the podium. I think the speaker was someone from one of the opposition parties.
Petra had the same expression as people in our contingent. She leaned towards the East Indian woman during her half-hearted applause and I knew she was answering the speech in a few words that ripped pretence from the speaker, the way she could. The way she’d talked to me.
I wanted to push that other woman and child away, so I’d be the one to hear Petra’s cutting words now. Words that would explain to me, words that would make the pieces, lying all around me, click into place. I could feel how her warm breath would fall against my ears. If I turned my head to her as she spoke and if I answered just so, she would stop and look direct into me as she had many times before, all lights focusing on me, assessing me. And she would realize there was more to me than she’d thought.
But I hadn’t moved since spotting her. The other woman held the child out and up. Then she cradled the baby in one arm and poked through its clothes. She said a few words to Petra and left.
This was my chance.
Maybe she’d be mad. Maybe she didn’t wanna be recognized. Secret political work. I couldn’t give her away in public like this. When I’d imagined meeting her I hadn’t thought of that. But now that I saw her with other people....
Or what if she didn’t get mad but just cold, telling me it’s over and to grow up and leave her alone? Or just remind me, ever so politely, we aren’t together no more?
But it wasn’t about us being together, I could say. I just wanted to talk.
I edged closer to her group, like I was just moving up to hear better. The speaker raised his voice at the end of a sentence and got a smattering of applause but not from Petra or the people next to her. A tall dark guy with a turban moved close to her, bent over and said something in her ear. She looked up to him and nodded. He stood beside her a while before wandering off. She turned in my direction to say something after him and I froze.
But she turned back to the front without seeing me. I didn’t think she saw me. I couldn’t move closer now. If I did and she turned around again, she’d see me for sure. Somehow that stopped me.
Then the speaker ended with a roar and in the applause I found myself moving right up behind her. If she caught me she’d know I’d been watching her a while. I kept my eyes on the podium where a guy from some political group was starting in. If I stared at him hard enough, Petra wouldn’t turn. The woman with the child came back and spoke to her and Petra half-turned to answer. I saw her right hand go out in that way of levelling space as she talked. I could hear a few of her words. “Sellout” and “demigod” or something.
Then her hand darted to her head to push back loose hair, as she was always doing, though her hair didn’t need it. It was pinned neat behind her ears with barrettes I’d never seen before. But still her hand moved like it was pushing away a strand. It was so familiar it almost yanked an exclamation from me. My mouth opened. I was going to say her name and speak to her and all would be decided once and for all.
But something made me stop for just a second. I dunno why. It was like being beside Niagara Falls, next to that roar and that deadly thundering water, so close, when you realize you could step over the little railing between you and the falls in just an instant and everything would be changed forever, just a little step forward....
Her head jerked sideways. The dark guy was shouting, “Catherine.” Calling her.
I spun away so she wouldn’t see me.
Of course. She wouldn’t be going by the same name. Another political name. Or her real name?
I kept turned away until I was sure she’d gone. Then I looked back. She was discussing something with a group of men and women off to the side carrying Local 7 signs.
What had I wanted to talk to her about? Really. My feelings? I was a suck. It came down to.
In the moment that stranger called her Catherine and she turned to his voice, I saw I wasn’t the centre of her life. I know, I know, I’d always known that. But in that moment I knew it in a different way. Like a baby thinks it’s the centre of the universe until ... and its mother ... I dunno, it’s confusing. But as she turned her head to something else, someone else, I just kinda saw she didn’t live for me now. Maybe never had. I was just a pupil she had — who called me Petra’s puppy? I think it was Wesley — and maybe she’d been fond of her puppy for a while.
I knew this for sure as I watched her talk with those people with turbans and babies and political placards.
I like to think I did what I did then for the movement, like some personal sacrifice for some great cause. And that mighta been part of it.
I plunged into the crowd away from her and when I started I couldn’t halt. I was propelled through the mass of people further and further away, pushing through people, tripping over feet, until I was out altogether. On the opposite side of the crowd.
The speeches had ended and someone thanked us from the podium, something about this being the largest demonstration in Vancouver’s history, we had showed something, and we should go back into our communities and build the anti-war movement.
There was some folksingers and a band playing and people hung around, talking and sorta celebrating, but the serious part was over. Groups of people wandered off. The heavy politicos were mixing in, trying to talk to people one on one. Making their contacts, recruiting, doing what political activists did at demonstrations. Every now and then some demonstrators would get something going, like a chant or linking arms and swaying with a song about overcoming, but it never caught on with the whole crowd. Most people were kinda coming down from the whole thing and headed off looking for coffee shops.
The crowd got sparse enough that I could look right through it and I could see Petra’s group was no longer there. I wandered over to our contingent. They were still holding up their signs.
The tall photographer told me to give him my film.
“No good,” I said. “Camera didn’t work.”
I joined the rest of the group waiting for instructions.
Gus and Billy came rushing up. “Was that was great or what?” Billy said.
“Seen Joan? I got some new names to give her,” said Gus, out of breath.
Billy went on, “Oh, man, oh, man. I couldn’t believe it, like when we came through that place where the echo was, I never heard anything like that. I thought those buildings were gonna crash down right then. And coming down the hill, looking back and the street, as far back as you could see, full of people. A fucking army marching on the city. Did you see the people hanging outa windows cheering us?”
“Great demo,” I said.
“People were taking our flyers, talking to us, like they wanted to.”
“You thought they wouldn’t?”
“I dunno. We were telling them about the real cause of the war. Gus did most of the talking, but people were listening to us and reading the stuff. Gave us their names to be contacted. Incredible, man. Fucking incredible.”
Joan came back with Gus to get us to form in rows again. We were marching to where we had some cars parked to take our banner and signs. “Stay together for security,” she said.
It felt foolish marching now that the demo was officially over and I trailed at the end of the line. Gus was in front of me, Billy beside.
“You know that bridge?” Billy said as we left the square. “Where Lonnie offed himself? We went right past the spot. I stopped there, right at the railing and shouted at the water: For you, Lonnie. Fucking A.”
“That’s great, man,” I said.
“I was gonna throw a leaflet down but that seemed a bit much.”
I had a sensation of sounding like Petra but I barely got the words out when something crashed into me.
I fell forward, grabbing onto Gus to keep from falling.
Pain wrenched my back.
A man was screaming in a heavy accent, “Communist bastards! Murderers!”
Everything was mixed up. Strange men were all over us, punching and swinging stakes with the placards ripped off, yelling about red murderers. Gus and a middle-aged man in a hat were spinning, clutching each other by the shirt. Joan’s voice came from a long way off, “This way! Keep going! Leave them to security!”
A man, the one who musta whacked me, was standing back glaring at me with hatred. “You murdered my father!”
The man was my dad’s age.
“You’re nuts!” I shouted back.
He raised the stake and came at me again. I lifted my arms to ward off the blow and at the same time I was shoved by someone falling behind me. As I stumbled forward I was aware of lights flashing and the man backing off. I grabbed for the stake in his hands and missed. He stood back out of range. I screeched, “I don’t even know you!”
He seemed unsure of himself now. The other men who’d attacked us were hanging back on both sides of him now. Maybe a dozen. They were all my parents’ age or older except for two or three young guys.
Joan was gripping my arm. She turned me in the direction most of our group had gone. Only a few of us from the back were straggling. “Come on. Our security will handle them.”
Then I noticed this line of guys — like five or six I’d seen at meetings but not in our group at the demo — and they were moving towards the knot of attackers. They held stakes too, across their chests like they were ready for action. The attackers were backing off now. Their younger guys looked eager for more fighting but were tugged back by the older men.
We caught up to the rest of our group. Gus had his arm around Billy who was limping.
We made it a couple blocks away where three cars were parked. As the placards were piled into the trunks, Billy sat sideways in one of the car seats, pant leg rolled up. Skin on his knee torn up, line of blood rolling down his shin. Gus was feeling his ankle.
“Old times, eh, Runner?” Billy said.
Joan came up to us. “He all right?”
“Just twisted,” said Gus.
“I had a lovely dance, thank you.”
“How’s your back?” she said to me.
“Who the hell were they?” I said.
“Probably East European reactionaries.”
“Insane old coots,” said Billy.
She shrugged. “The state uses them to attack progressive people.”
“They don’t scare me,” Billy said.
Up against the wall motherfuckers
A bas Trudeau, prince of lackeys
Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun
Fuck me? Thank you!
Help! I’m a prisoner of my own device
Serve the people!
I’m a Marxist-Lennonist: Groucho Marx, John Lennon
The answers are within
Life is a bowl of cherries, full of pits
Boobs not bombs
Make art not war
I am, therefore I think
4 Dead in Ohio
Goodbye Michael. Going up coast to commune.
Beware the pie crust of consequence
Kill for peace