Bush Protest: Another account
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. We hear the movement of loud drums and marching boots. I look down the street behind us and see two columns of people in black moving toward us.
Yesterday I attended the anti-Bush protests in Portland Oregon. You will not hear much about those protests in the Sunday news of corporate America. When addressed in the media you will hear that "only" 500 people showed up. That they were stupid, uniformed, ragtag "hippies" and "anarchists" who were easily duped into giving up their watch at a Bush visit site. You will hear that Bush calls Oregon protestors - "remnants of a little Beirut". You will hear that the protestors were kept stifled by military helicopters and riot police dressed in black storm trooper uniforms.
I have another version of the event. It is a version deeply rooted in long-time peace and justice activism and a steady alliance to Oregon's working class and low-income population.
The protest group numbered over 1000. It was a group made up of all ages and many issues... because there is so much to protest about George Bush and his select regime. Bush was coming to talk to the rich of the poorest state in the nation. We have the most people unemployed; we are called the hungriest state in the nation because in 1999 the USDA found that more than 160,000 households in Oregon were food insecure (limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods). Children are 41% of those receiving emergency food. Most adult recipients of emergency foods are working, retired or disabled. These numbers were calculated BEFORE the current recession. Oregon's food banks and soup kitchens are being inundated by hungry people. Many of the present poor and unemployed got that way because jobs were sent overseas because of NAFTA-like trade agreements.
Bush was coming to talk to the rich about his new economic policy, which will take more resources from the poor to give to the rich. He was coming to talk to a poor state about his bombing of a poor nation using the taxes of the working class. He has few friends here in the working class. He was coming to a state where constitutional rights are very important. He sicked Ashcroft on us twice and we told them to go away. Now he was coming here in person. Sneaking through the streets of Portland to talk to the rich select in a cordoned off neighborhood. I was going no matter what...
I traveled with 2 other women, an elementary school teacher and a forest biologist. My background is in Public Health and Social Work. We are all systems thinkers. We are concerned for communities, connected ecosystems whether human or biological, systems of oppression, and systems and communities and actions that support the common good. We wanted to go and see George Bush and let him know that we do not support the war on poor people, the gutting of social security, the destruction of the environment, and tax welfare to corporations who have already sent many of our jobs overseas.
We already know that Bush does not want working class progressive people in his audiences . It is an invitation only affair. The whole event is set up for the corporate media. We know that the local media will not show our protests, they will only show what Bush wants America to see.
We ride to Northeast Portland to a Job center for youth. Bush is to show up there about 1:00 PM. The area is where low-income working class people live. It is a mixed racial neighborhood. The police have called everyone in the neighborhood and told them to stay in their homes or they may not be able to get back into their homes that day. Only people with regular telephone service get the call. Cell phone uses don't have a clue. The protestor organizers are not informed of this action.
We arrive and park near a designated meeting place. In the park several hundred people appear within half an hour. By the time we begin to march toward the job center there are almost 1000 protestors. The protest signs are draped in words that speak of loss of social security, stealing from the poor to give tax breaks to rich, stopping the war against Afghanistan, protecting jobs from NAFTA and the WTO. They read "Democracy died with the 2000 election", "Hail to the thief, "Go home - selected one", "No Facisim... give us back our democracy", "Alternative energy not blood for oil", "healthcare not welfare". "The constitution belongs to the People!". There are hundreds of signs.
We march from the park and spill out into the streets. Portland bicycle police try to stop us by corralling us near the sidewalks. We walk around them. We walk peacefully chanting "Whose Streets, OUR Streets!" and "This is what democracy looks like!". We arrive on Martin Luther King Boulevard the main thoroughfare between the neighborhoods of industry and the working poor. We are met by giant puppets. One is an effigy of a corporate fat cat, cigar and all. The other is Mother earth, holding the earth. Which side do we choose?
The line of bicycle policemen dressed in yellow and black jackets and helmets look like bumblebees. We call them the "bumblebee brigade". The protestors move to within one block of the job center. We can go no further. We are stopped by police cars. Soon we hear the pounding boots of the Portland police tactical division. We call them storm troopers. They are dressed in black... boots, jackets, pants, they don Darth Vader-like helmets with face shields attached. They run toward the protestors in rhythmic unison. The drill Sargent calls out commands. The are armed with guns that shoot plastic bullets, wield long black night sticks and have plastic ties attached to their belts; something to use for handcuffs. On the roofs across the street I see my first snipers. They are laying on the rooftops with guns pointed at us. In the sky is a black helicopter circling us. The doors are open. There is red light shining from the darkness inside the flying machine. I see missile launchers attached to the side of the whirlybird.
We are at a standstill. The police announce that we have nine minutes to move up on the sidewalk. At the end of that time anyone in the street will be arrested. We see the police buses and vans drive up. They are to take away the arrested. The protest organizers tell us that anyone who does not want to be arrested should step up on the sidewalk. Many stay in the streets. For nine minutes we chant and sing. After nine minutes nothing happens. We are at a stalemate. For twenty minutes more we still do not move closer to the site. I walk through the crowd and recognize activists from all over Oregon. Amy and Steve who for 30 years have worked to end poverty and hopelessness in the Eugene area. Marshall who organized the activists gathering this summer in Eugene, community organizers from Ashland and Medford, people who stand up for elders, and children, and communities. People from the Corvallis area. We started the First Alternative Coop more than 30 years ago and then went on to start free clinics, shelters for the homeless, suicide prevention hotline, a domestic violence program a AIDS/HIV hotline. People from Seattle who are long-time community activists and now are building a strong and peaceful movement against the Bush regime. People from Portland who are part of the homeless camp, the food banks and alternative energy coalition. Children, and teenagers, elders - one who told me he had been a Democrat and voter all his life and had never seen so much evil in government. He was 87 years old. There are old hippies, and anarchists, and mothers and fathers with their sons and daughters. There are babies in strollers and backpacks. There are people of color: African Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners, Hispanics and others. We are waiting for Mr. Bush. We have something important to say.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. We hear the movement of loud drums and marching boots. I look down the street behind us and see two columns of people in black moving toward us. I think we are being surrounded and about to be attacked. Then as they get closer I see that they are on our side. The Infernal Noise Brigade - they came from Seattle. They are street theatre, direct action, and musical militancy. They became famous during the Seattle-WTO mass protests. They show up to get things moving. They did not have to come. They knew we might be a small group of activists... no WTO-Seattle this time. No strong union presence here.
They come upon us suddenly... BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, dressed in black... with wands wrapped in American flags and bright red scarves splattered here and there. Their leader calls out commands. They are loud. They are mocking the storm troopers by their presence. Power against power. We were at a stalemate. They suddenly there appeared about 20 of them, young people faces and identities covered, determined and solid, no hippies here. They marched and boomed on their drums straight into the crowd, straight to the front, they stood with legs firmly planted in the path of storm troopers. Is this what we have to all do to get this movement going?...I think. Are we just wimps who have lost contact with how dangerous our world has become? Do we have to show militancy and have to take on the body language of our persecutors? They have no smiles. They have only direct action... to the front... move this protest forward!
All is dead quiet for a moment. A woman's voice calls out from the crowd, "This is what democracy looks like!" Then a voice from this marching militancy... a woman singing in a Middle Eastern language, fills the air. I do not understand her words but I understand her meaning. The drums join her unwavering melodic beautiful voice.
I am sad that we have to be so strong and so militant to end this thing. This takeover of our constitutional rights and this crushing of our democracy. I close my eyes and feel the urgency in the woman's voice. I allow myself to be swayed by the drumming. I am appreciative that those younger than I am... are willing to stand up and show us the way out of this darkness. I begin to feel strong. The strength starts in my feet and moves up to my heart and then my head. I am ready. I am a direct action pacifist. I do not believe in violence. If they begin to club us or gas us, I will run. If they grab me I will lay down or sit down and will not struggle. If others near me are being hurt, I will try to help them and I will stand by them. Peacemaking is not the absence of action; it is the courage to stand against injustice wherever I find it, non-violently. I am 53 years old. My bones and heart are tired. Never in my life have I experience so much greed, heartlessness, and corruption as now exists in America and in the world.
I don't know these young people dressed in black. What hope have they seen in their life times? And now we have someone in power who was not elected and who is destroying democratic processes and our constitutional rights.
The kids in black burn a corporate flag. They drum and sing and move a few feet forward at a time. More storm troopers arrive. We chant.
"Bullshit! Get off it! The cause of war is profits. This recession and inflation are not caused by immigration! Bullshit! Get off it, the cause of war is profits!" "Whose streets, OUR streets!", "Drop Bush Not Bombs!", "Protecting the constitution is not a terrorist act!"
Suddenly the drums cease. The Infernal Noise Brigade leaves as swiftly as it appeared. We are baffled.
Then one of the organizers gets on a bullhorn and announces that Bush has cancelled his appearance at the site. She tells us to head for the next appearance at Parkrose High school. She tells us to carpool and help each other get there. We all move away from storm troopers. We head for our cars.
It is a trick. A very bad one. Many of us are not able to access our vehicles. While at the protest site the police have taped off the entire area around the park with yellow plastic tape that reads, "Police line do not cross". A police cruiser blocks entrance to each neighborhood block. The officers guarding the area will not let us near our cars. Many people begin to move toward the next busy intersection where they scramble for buses, and hitchhike the one hundred blocks to the high school. I did not go. I am told by friends that many motorists not associated with the protest picked up hitchhikers and took them to the next protest site.
We talk with people who live in the neighborhood. They cannot go home. They are kept out of their neighborhoods. Some residents received phone calls that morning. A warning to stay in their homes. Other did not get the call. They were at work or visiting. We are all stand together waiting. A squirrel crosses the police line. We all laugh and point. Even the policeman smiles.
The person I am riding with does not want to leave her car. She has to be back to our hometown by 5:00 PM. We go back to the original protest site to see if we can talk to some one in charge. We are in for a surprise. Bush shows up!
There are only a few protestors left. Someone from the corporate media tells me he tried to tell organizers that Bush was still coming. "Why did you all leave", he asks. I think that someone probably tipped off the protest organizers that our cars would be trapped and decided to move us on to the next site. We stay and we watch as the caravan of rich people arrive and leave. I watch as a little girl with the group flips us off. A newsman tells me later that she called us "stupid hippies". We go home. I have collected signs from the ground and police line tape. I am looking at them now as I write. One sign reads: "Bush's economic policy: war on the poor, welfare for the rich".
The protestors at Parkrose High school included union troops. AFL-CIO. I am told that over 1000 people were at that appearance. I am told that the Infernal Noise Brigade leads the people on and on. There is very little violence. There is lots of noise. There are storm troopers. There are police on horseback. The people take over the streets. The rich are inside with Bush. He tells them that if we give corporations a tax break they will spread the wealth to the people of America. He tells them that anyone who does not agree with his war on terrorism is not a true American. He tells one man who asks about alternative energy that if we do not drill in Anwar, fight for oil, and build nuclear power plants that we will all live in the dark. He could not hide the protestors. There are few pro-bush protestors. The people in the streets are loud. He heard them. I know he did. And then he left.
If you would like to get involved in this movement to preserve our democracy, our constitutional rights, the rights of the poor and the working class, the effort to bring peace and justice to the world there is another chance very soon.
On February 2nd, The Oregon Peace Festival II will take place in Salem at Willamette University. Time: 10 AM to 6PM. There will be a march for peace through Salem. The event is sponsored by Oregon Progressive Alliance, HEAR, Inc., Oregon Fellowship of Reconciliation, KBOO Community Radio, Oregon Peaceworks and the International Action Center/San Francisco. For more information go to the web site for the event located at http://www.oregonpeacefestival.org
I know the mayor of Salem. His name is Mike Swaim. He is an excellent humanitarian and lover of peace and democracy. There will be no snipers, storm troopers, guns, head-smashing batons or black helicopters. All are welcome. Hope to see you there.
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