Last Saturday was a great day for democracy. Millions of people all over the world spoke with one voice, protesting the war in Iraq. The numbers were unprecedented. Around 1.5 million people gathered in London’s famed Hyde Park, making it the largest protest Britain has ever seen. Close to two million people took to the streets in Rome. 300,000 protested in over 60 French cities. Here in America, in New York City, estimates put the turnout close to 250,000.

The voices of opposition have never been louder. Apathy has turned into action. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed as if things were looking up for Bush and the masters of war. That has all changed, though. The opposition by France and Germany was followed by the showing of millions of ordinary people taking to the streets. On Saturday, the masses courageously upheld their obligations as world citizens to speak out against American aggression and imperial designs. Bush, who usually does not acknowledge dissent in America, felt compelled to comment on the protests.

This may not seem like a big deal, but there is no doubt that what happened this past weekend was something special. I know, for me, certainly, it meant a lot and it has infused me with a much-needed sense of hope that I haven’t felt in a long time.

It’s been hard in recent months. Reading the news everyday can be depressing for even the strongest of media warriors. In addition to Iraq, the situation in Palestine has been deteriorating. Recently, the plight of the Palestinian people has been virtually ignored. Almost everyday, Palestinian civilians die and no one in the international community seems to even care, much less lift a finger. The Iraq issue has been a source of frustration for different reasons. With Bush working up war frenzy, many have felt that armed conflict is inevitable. As a result, many who oppose war have been weighed down by a sense of resignation. It’s no surprise that many feel powerless in the face of a political elite that seems to have its own sinister agenda.

The world seems to be spinning out of control. We’re going to spend more than $200 billion on a war while 40 million Americans still don’t have health insurance. To add to that, we’ve become probably the most hated nation in the world (at least in terms of our foreign policy). In a recent poll, the British ranked America as the most dangerous nation in the world – ahead of North Korea and Iraq. It seems that we – not Iraq – have become the world’s pariah. It’s sad that the American flag has become a symbol of American arrogance instead of one of hope.

Yes, the problems we face – here and abroad – seem overwhelming at times. Yet, the mass events last Saturday lifted my spirits and gave me something to smile about. There was something beautiful about seeing endless crowds on TV connected by a bond of solidarity. By all accounts, it was an incredibly diverse crowd. Jews, Muslims, Blacks, church delegations, Marxists, venture capitalists, suburban moms and fur-coat-connoisseurs were all there. These people, from a variety of backgrounds, were united in their peaceful opposition to war. That is what makes this new anti-war movement so inspiring. Our desire for peace transcends our differences. In the face of war and destruction, we are brought together by our common belief in a better world – not a world dominated by fear and aggression, but a world dominated by justice, equality and the unflinching hope that one day, perhaps, we will achieve something greater than ourselves.

We live in an era when love for our fellow man has been replaced by love for the almighty dollar. Hopelessness and despair reign supreme. But, every now and then, there are those rare moments where you feel like anything is possible; where you feel empowered, as if you’re flying to a higher place – a place where maybe you could be free of the emptiness that tears you apart. It is these moments – and last Saturday was one of them – that keep me going.

You might dismiss this as mere utopian idealism. Perhaps I am just dreaming of a world that doesn’t exist. Perhaps I should be more practical and accept that there will be a war against Iraq. If it happens, God help us all. If it happens, some might deem the anti-war movement a failure. I would disagree. The victory is already ours. We have shown the beauty of democracy. Democracy is dissent. Democracy is when millions of people crowd the streets to stand up for what they believe in. Democracy is hoping when there seems to be little to hope. Democracy is about believing that things can still, indeed, change.

The world is currently a terrible place, but it’s still worth fighting for. It doesn’t matter so much if we succeed in our fight. What matters is that we fought and we hoped and we dreamed. And if last Saturday is any indication, we will continue to fight, hope and dream. We, connected by nothing more than our love of justice, will continue to carry the torch of peace in the face of impending war.

Shadi Hamid is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service and can be reached at Me and Big Brother appears every other Friday.

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