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Marching in Memphis

Crowd gathers to protest Bush inauguration.

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About 25 people are standing at the northeast corner of Poplar and Highland holding signs that read, "No War" and "Not One Billionaire Left Behind," waiting for the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center's inauguration-day protest march to begin. A middle-aged man and two younger women are learning how to make a giant papier-mâché dove -- with bedsheet wings --appear to fly, while others are walking around passing out peace bracelets.

"We're here today to make sure Memphis is aware that there are still people out there who, despite what mandates Bush thinks he has, don't agree with his policies, and we're going to actively, nonviolently defy them," says Jacob Flowers, director of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center.

I've been to other Peace & Justice Center war protests, and they drew a fairly small crowd, so I expected that this protest march would generate an equally tiny turnout. After all, the Peace & Justice Center relied on flyers and word-of-mouth to publicize the event. But protesters keep pouring in, carrying signs that seem to be getting more and more creative as the numbers grow.

One young boy carries a sign that reads, "War Gives Me Gas," and nearly everyone who walks past him comments on it. A couple walk over with drums and various other percussion items. Eventually, there about 200 protesters.

"We're going back in time into some neoconservative era, and it's absolutely ridiculous because people's rights are being taken away," says Bryan Wright of Union City, who is wearing a "Good Bush, Bad Bush" T-shirt. Under "Bad Bush," there's a picture of the president, but under "Good Bush," a woman is pulling down her underwear.

"The man is just incredibly dangerous, and it floors me that people don't understand that," says Corey Taylor of Memphis. "And spending $40 million on an inauguration party is ridiculous when there's so much need."

His friend carries a sign that says, "If a country came to liberate us from our dictator and killed a hundred thousand of our innocent civilians, we would call them terrorists."

At a few minutes before 5 p.m., a march organizer screams through her megaphone for people to line up. I fall into a spot near the back, wishing I had a catchy sign to carry.

As we kick off and cross the intersection at Poplar and Highland, a guy in a car rolls down his window and screams, "Get a life!" Several protesters yell back for him to get a life. But as we head down Poplar, the response from motorists seems overwhelmingly positive. People honk their horns, give thumbs-up signs, and wave as they pass.

When we turn down Getwell into a residential area, something unexpected happens. People start coming out of their houses to wave and show support. Some even walk down their driveways to join in the march.

The march ends at Audubon Park where Getwell and Southern meet, and those carrying drums play their instruments as others talk about how exhilarating it was. One woman tells someone that it reminded her of her 1960s Vietnam protest days. Another person mentions how protests like this help to re-unite the left, comments that echo what a protester had said to me before the march.

"We're not trying to effect any concrete policy changes right now," Shawn Lincoln said. "If we're going to unify the left and effect change for 2008, we need to get together and communicate like this instead of sitting at home whining about what's going on."

E-mail: bphillips@memphisflyer.com

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