As I approach city hall, ifind myself chilled by more than the howl of the icy wind. "Oh say! Can you see." It's Michael Burgess singing the U.S. national anthem. Did he even listen to the lyrics he sang in Les Misérables?
This is what welcomes participants to the so-called "pro-America" rally Friday, April 4, sponsored by Friends of America, a self-described grassroots coalition of "concerned individuals."
Maybe they think this assembly is "grassroots" because one of the founders, Josh Cooper, a Canadian Alliance federal hopeful, owns a golf camp. It certainly wouldn't be because of those suits streaming down from the nearby Bay Street towers to join in.
Or the various Tory types onstage -- among them Premier Ernie Eves, Municipal Affairs Minister David Young and city councillors Paul Sutherland and Michael Feldman -- who join in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner with horrifying zeal.
Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper is here, too. For months now, his foreign affairs point man, Stockwell Day, has been working overtime drumming up support at Jewish-community-sponsored Toronto events for his party's pro-war stance. B'nai Brith has declared the U.S. invasion a just war.
Observing the couple of thousand people assembled here, I realize how easily the left's sacrosanct protests can be turned on their head -- especially by a body with financial resources and a message that fits the editorial slant of CNN (which aired the rally coverage) and when cops are eager to inflate the numbers. (They say there are 8,000 at the rally.)
In relying on spectacle as a political tactic, protestors have invited the masters of spectacle to show them how it's done.
All the peaceniks in attendance can do is chant "Shame!" It feels childish. The more clever and satirical among us carry signs saying, "We need that oil" and "Fuck peace." It would have worked much better if they'd spread out and blended in.
Police, however, fearing the dangers of rhetorical feedback, decide things will be safer if they confiscate peace protestors' menacing signs (weapons of crass distraction?).
Not that the other side's any subtler. One woman, upon realizing I'm opposed to the war, instructs me to "get a job." I inform her that I have two. She sputters for a moment but recovers by replying, "Get more."
The reason I actually take some hope from this rally is that when people feel the need to rally on behalf of the status quo -- something that usually rallies on its own -- change is in the air.
And while the number of people attending the demo is surprising, sobering and a bit disturbing, parody's still allowed to run about unmolested. One man carries a sign reading, "Bush Will Do Till Christ Gets Here."
At least they're kind enough to satirize themselves.
As the speakers finish, a vaguely familiar drumbeat begins thumping through the sound system. "Got in a little hometown jam" I stop in my tracks. "So they put a rifle in my hand / Sent me off to a foreign land / To go and kill the yellow man." I start to laugh. "Born in the USA / I was born in the USA...."
Peaceniks don't even have to infiltrate the rally. The Boss does it for them, with the organizers' help.
Maybe Burgess helped them with their song selection.