A hard rain

Another lunchtime protest at the White House.

I was drawn outside by the persistent buzz of the white helicopter that usually signals a motorcade. Squinting down Gucci Gulch, I discerned what appeared to be activity several blocks away around 15th street, with police cars blocking the intersection and a stream of people headed south. I walked two blocks to Lafayette Park where activities were in full swing.

Oh goodie, the coda of a weekend of protest. Travel had prevented me from attending the marches and protests over the weekend of September 24-25, which brought out hundreds of thousands of people, who shared the city with the National Book Festival and a convention of Segway enthusiasts.

On Monday, full-immersion theatre played out in Lafayette Park, along Pennsylvania Avenue, and on the White House property.

Barricades had been erected in front of the White House, behind which rows of police cars and motorcycles were parked. For the first time, uniformed Secret Service lined up along the inside of the White House fence, standing about 20 feet apart. Dozens of police cars ringed the park and adjacent streets, which years ago were closed to local traffic.

Several hundred people involved in Code Pink were gathered to present a million reasons for ending the war in Iraq. Members of Code Pink wore pink slips of paper pinned to their clothing, print outs of email describing the many ways this country has strayed from the path of decency and humanity.

Theirs was an unsanctioned gathering, without a permit. The civil disobedience was a refreshing reminder of an earlier era, heightened by protest music performed by a sidewalk folkie trio. The woman singing sounded remarkably like Joan Baez.

On a patch of lawn in the middle of the park was a group of frolicking anarchists. Dressed mainly in black, they were apparently bike-riding vegans there to engage in some bizarre street theater.

Over my shoulder, I heard some vague rants over a megaphone. Then the anarchists began wrestling, pouncing on one another in turns, tickling and trying to remove each other's shoes. Whatever meaning there may have been to their antics escaped me. But it was fun to watch.

A 20-something woman with curly shoulder-length hair began talking to me. She said she was from Georgia. "I'm keeping an eye on my mother," she told me. "I'm worried about her. I was arrested once before, but that was a nice suburban jail. I don't want us in the DC jail."

I told her that the police have to issue a warning before arresting you. If they say to move, I'd be inclined to move.

"They don't want anybody standing still in front of the White House," she told me. "You have to keep moving, or they'll arrest you."

People held up signs. Some chanted, "Make levees not war," which is a pretty decent chant if you ask me. Three people dressed like Abu Ghraib prisoners sat at the curb in front of the White House.

We were joined by an older woman, a retired librarian and social worker from Pullman, Washington, in her 70s. She told me about recently getting arrested after some sort of demonstration in Boise, Idaho.

"I was standing in the street, and a cop told me I was trespassing," she said. "He gave me five seconds to move. I was naive and asked who owned the street. But before I knew it, my hands were behind my back."

Rows of city cops on motorcycles streamed back and forth through the crowd at irregular intervals. Uniformed officers mingled in the crowd. There were dozens of reporters, people with video and still cameras, recorders with microphones.

"Did you see the anarchists wrestling over there a little while ago," the older woman asked. "It was girl on boy, girl on girl, girl on boy and girl...it was pretty wild."

I admitted that I had observed.

"Is the Secret Service in the park?" the young woman asked me. I told her she could count on it.

"That guy with the camera?" she asked.

Maybe, I said. Who knows? Maybe me. Maybe even you, cadet.

"They infiltrate groups and cause trouble," said the older woman. "Maybe him over there," she said, pointing to a man with a military bearing and a grey crew cut, wearing a dark suit with a lapel pin who later identified himself as a Green Party representative from Virginia.

A large group of Code Pink women sat in a circle, holding hands and sharing words of inspiration while media hovered around the periphery. In the street, a knot of anarchists had bandanas over their faces. Some wore goggles, as though girded for a watergun fight. I leaned in, trying to hear what they said, but could only make out what sounded like "Hnagga odno cops!"

In the midst of the madness strolled a tourist family, a couple in their 30s and their three fair-haired children. The boys appeared to be pre-teens, and the youngest in a stroller no more than three years old. The father, in sports shirt and baseball cap, clutched a map of the Mall area. His wife was on her cell phone. They were wide-eyed, taking in the extraordinary scene.

Shortly after noon, about a dozen U.S. Park Police on horseback lined up shoulder to shoulder at the eastern edge. A Secret Service panel van rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping near the southwest corner of the park. It's the show of force.

A Secret Service agent rolled by on a white mountain bike, wearing a white polo shirt and sports shades. The bike was labeled US SECRET SERVICE on the main tube, which I thought was pretty cool. I was about to ask him where I could get a bike like that when Code Pink began to make their move.

Hoisting a long banner, they snaked onto Pennsylvania Avenue and stood in front of the White House, singing an politically updated version of "American Pie."

Some women removed their tops and exposed themselves to the White House. "Breasts not bombs," they said. Now that's a message that a person can embrace.
When people sat and Code Pink was determined to remain until Bush accepted their petition, I began to contemplate the effect my arrest might have on the rest of my afernoon and decided that it might be time to head back to the office. Besides, I'd smoked my last cigarette.
I started to walk north back through the park, but noticed the tourist family near the barricade in Pennsylvania Avenue. I walked over to the guy, whose face was beaming. "This is really something," he said to me.
"Yeah, democracy in action," I said. "Look, things could change here very quickly. This might not be a good place for little kids." I pointed out the mounted cops, the Secret Service riot wagon. There were no busses yet, but a definite feeling that things are building up.
"You think so?" he said. "Good point." And quickly the family steered away towards 15th street.
I walked back through the park, past the anarchists, two of whom were playing croquet. As I approached the northern side, two streams of marchers poured towards me, led by Cindy Sheehan. Thousands of people -- chanting, banging on drums, Buddhists ringing a bell -- flowed past on their way to the White House.
I crossed the street, walked up 17th, stopped for a cup of coffee, and headed back to the office. By the time I returned, news of the arrests already made Drudge. About 370 people were arrested, starting with Cindy Sheehan.


Blogger Max said...

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Blogger Max said...

Is a hard rain gonna fall? Will it soon or not at all? You never know, these spin doctors have degrees in law.

I wish I was there to see Sheehan before the arrest and all the other protests going on. You get to be right down in the action, and arguably cool thing.

I think I may start a "Breasts not bombs" campaign down here. I think we need more of that everywhere, grassroots style.


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