Pleasantville in Berlin-A P/residential Day
How we gained Secret Service Press Credentials. The P/residential visit from inside the surreal Pleasantville atmosphere of the Parkrose High School to the demonstrations beyond the auditorium walls.
Pleasantville in Berlin—A P/residential Day
The Wall Divides
by Amy Pincus Merwin
The motif of the events began when we arrived in Portland Friday eve. and wonderfully, inadvertently hung with Jack Herer, Emperor Wears No Clothes author.
Previous to our arrival, gaining entrance on to the started with a Friday White House call, who promptly, efficiently faxed me the p/resident's schedule. Two letters faxed throughout the day set the stage to cover Bush's stump speech appearance at Parkrose High School in northeast Portland and opened doors for our Saturday 8:15 am arrival.
Buffeted against an icy wind and rain, we walked and checked into to press access area. Then shouldering our way onto the upper press tier, we nestled the tripod next to the sound guy where we had a crystal clear view of the 20' x 40' flag hung over the bleachers behind the p/residential podium.
Leaving Parkrose at 9 AM to allow the Secret Service to sweep the auditorium, we headed to Irving Park to mobilize with other protesters not knowing if when we returned to Parkrose at 1pm we would have passed the Secret Service security clearance and be allowed to join our camera on the press dais. Timing ruled the day, when we ran into our compatriot spontaneously over breakfast and passed off the second camera to her for the duration of the protests.
Gathering on the muddy hills of Irving Park, the crowd swelled to over 500 people. After 30 minutes of open mic, the crowd roared off to take and close Martin Luther King Blvd. as near as possible to the YO (Youth Opportunity) Center, and One Stop Career Center, where George II was scheduled o make an appearance during the afternoon.
Police drawing lines tighter and tighter forced the people off the street with admonishments that anyone on the street would be arrested. Protesters spilling over to an empty parking lot along the main thoroughfare of Northeast Portland's ethnic community, used a bullhorn and repetition by the crowd to relay to the larger mass the police's instructions. As the net tightened around the protesters, we timed our departure to bring us back to Parkrose within the limitations set by the local press core and the Secret Service.
Parking was impossible, so a mile and half walk circumventing the fields of Parkrose, closed off for security purposes, stimulated our hearts and caused our minds to boggle at the Portland Police's folly of banging around the high school's soccer and football fields on camo-colored four-wheelers like mad-crazed polo-players or children playing team tag.
Entering the press access door we ogled at polished American Ambassador to New Zealand Butch Swindell arriving in a hired town car. At that moment we began to wonder exactly how much this Bush propaganganza would cost cash strapped Oregon and the American taxpayers.
Amazingly even with known reputations as activists, we breezed through the Secret Service security clearance and took our corner on the press platform. This stronghold for Oregon's only Republican Congressperson, Greg Walden, filled the Parkrose Community Center Auditorium with banners of welcome, students and Republican insiders. Purveying the auditorium, the bleachers behind the p/residential podium were filled with notable people: Portland Mayor Vera Katz, Miss America Katie Harmon, and even Democratic Representatives Darlene Hoolie and Earl Blumenthaul. Many women wearing red blazers with shiny, gold label pins were visible from the far distance. Later, upon closer scrutiny these gold lapel pins were actually diamond-encrusted Republican 'elephant' brooches.
Acting as a master of ceremonies to this 2,000-strong loyalist crowd, Congressman Walden espoused a patriotic litany, "We are lucky to have someone with as a great view of the future as President Bush." Then Parkrose High School Debonaires Choir sang popular fifties songs a cappella and we truly felt was if we had returned to Pleasantville, with a bizarre shadow of Spielberg's Shindler's List as those red coats kept emerging out of the patriotic stupor.
While a completely sincere Nicole Karaelas sang her mother's song "Dear Mr. President, the Children are Counting on You", I could only marvel at her and others innocence, naiveté and blind trust in this p/resident.
When the lovely Miss America took the stage, the crowd was warm with fuzzy "we are the good guys" feelings. When Miss Harmon extolled that she had made God Bless America her anthem and asked the crowd to join in, those warm feelings of righteous patriotism filled the hearts while the voices of the crowd filled the air. If only they could have heard the "Noise Brigade" mixing with the Portland Storm Troopers and horse troops outside that dividing concrete auditorium wall.
After gushing that "Our job is to stand by him (Bush) and say I support you 100%.", Miss Harmon literally ran out things to perform and the presentation ground to a halt. The crowd restless since arriving almost four hours earlier groaned in misery at the announcement that Bush and entourage would be there shortly. Meanwhile, Mayor Katz, Miss America, and Rep. Greg Waldon gushed in a feeding frenzy of political contact.
At least forty minutes later the notables filled back on stage, and with much pomp and circumstance Senator Gordon Smith arrived on stage and with a near-religious zeal introduced, "His good friend, our good friend, Oregon's friend and our commandeer-in-chief, George Bush" (II). With all eyes on the presidential blue curtains, under the drone of All Hail the (T)hief George Bush walked on the dais acting as any smarmy politician does—smile pasted on his face, shaking hands, glad-handing the crowd, kissing babies, etc. (ad nauseam.) Taking the stage, Smith began to present Bush with a UO Ducks letterman jacket. Obviously nervous in the presence of such a 'great man', Smith began his presentation by commenting on the UO Ducks #2 and the Miami Hurricanes #1 National Championship positions and somehow gaffed by stating that Jeb Bush was the Governor of Texas. In his ONLY moment of revealing his true character, Bush turned to the crowd and in a Johnny Carson-like mime pointed to himself and said "I was the governor of Texas." Regaining his composure, Gordon Smith joked that Florida not the UO Ducks had been invited to the White House and presented the UO jacket and George Jr. took the podium.
His complete presence was one of obligation, boredom and country club arrogance. His speech was canned, yet he constantly needed to refer to his notes for what one-liner to spew next. And one-liners he did spew and the faithful swallowed. The room quiet in anticipation of each well-known phrase, facistically leapt to their feet, applauding wildly to every programmed cue.
At that moment, rushing with feelings of nausea and bonechiils, I truly felt that Pleasantville had come to Berlin.
Some excerpts follow:
We (Walden, Smith and I) share your concern about the Klamath Basin [Crowd erupts and adulates] I share their concern about people who make a living on the land. We will do what we can to make sure that water is available for people who farm. [[Crowd erupts and adulates]
I believe that 2002 is gonna be a fab'lous year for America. [Crowd erupts and adulates] A year ago December people were saying this economy is soft. This was not unexpected to see this economic slowdown. Unemployment rate is 5.8%, but if you're unemployed its 100% and I'm worried about that. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
The unexpected was obvious Sept. 11 when Evil-people decided to attack America. I say Evil people because I don't view this as a religious war. I view this as a struggle of good vs. evil, and make no mistake (fist clenched in emphasis) good will prevail.[Crowd erupts mind-numbing in an adulating, standing ovation]
We are making steady progress in the first theater on the war against terrorism. We have made it clear that we would not allow this injustice against America stand. And if anybody harbored these people, or fed them or clothed them or tried to provide them help they were just as guilty as the terrorists were. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
These people are like parasites and they find hosts. Too many parasites weaken the host. They became parasite in Afghanistan, but we weakened the host and the Taliban are no longer in power. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
We led coalition that liberated women and children. A coalition that brought a regime down so repressive its hard for those of us who live in America to understand.
I'm so proud of our country. At same time that we waged a war against Al Queda and the Taliban we fed the people. While we dropped bombs, we also dropped food, medicine and clothing to make sure that the innocents could survive the brutal winter. We really are a great nation. [Crowd erupts mind-numbing in an adulating, standing ovation]
We've accomplished a lot in 90 days—a long period of time for Al Queda. [Crowd erupts and adulates] We have a good strategy and a great military. We are in a dangerous phase in this war in Afghanistan, because those that send young people to their suicide death hide in caves themselves. You can hide, but we will smoke you out and bring you to justice. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
The cause for which Sgt. Nathan Chapman died was just and noble. The cause of freedom and the hope that our children and grandchildren can grow up in a world that is free of the barbaric behavior of terrorism. [Crowd erupts and adulates] We're on a mission and will not yield until this mission is complete. The war against terror is broader than Afghanistan. There are not no shades of gray in this fight for civilization; either you're with the United States of America against the United States of America. [Crowd erupts mind-numbing in an adulating, standing ovation]
This nation when aroused this nation is a mighty nation. We're gonna shake terrorism loose wherever it exists and bring those to justice that have hurt America and bring those to justice who might hurt America.
Part of this [war] is at home. My biggest job is to make sure no one harms the American people—to rally the resources of this country and have a homeland defense that will take every lead, every idea, every hint that somebody might harm us and route 'em out. If we find somebody who might want to harm America, who espouses a philosophy that that's terrorist in bent we will bring them to justice. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
This nation is on alert. We are not going to let them stop us from enjoying our freedoms and behaving like Americans and enjoying the great wonders of our country. They think they can shut us down, they have the wrong country that they are dealing with. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
A new unity in this country. We should not respond one way abroad, and have a different attitude about issues at home. It's time for Congress to focus on what is best for America and not what is best for political parties. [Crowd erupts and adulates] I'm a proud party man but I'm and American first. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
I'm concerned that Oregon leads the country in unemployment. In tough times people need an unemployment check but in the long run we have to figure out how to bring in a paycheck and we gotta figure out how to get jobs going. The biggest job creators in America are the small business and entrepreneurs of America. [Crowd erupts and adulates]
The best thing to do is to give people their money back. The government doesn't create wealth, it provides an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit can flourish. [Crowd erupts and adulates] Tell those that want to raise taxes is " NO, we won't raise taxes". [Crowd erupts and adulates]
How do you expand the job base? I like the idea of providing incentives to encourage corporate America to make investments in capital which is equals jobs eventually. [Crowd erupts]
Thousands of Americans are reassessing their values. As a result of the action of the evil-doer, not only are we responding militarily, and putting a broad coalition together that will rid the world of terror, but here at home the most important job they will ever have is to love our children will all our heart and soul . [Crowd erupts and adulates]
My great hope for 2002 is that people will be able to find a job, and that the military is safe in our mission. The war on terrorists will go beyond 2002. My true hope that our value system continues to be vibrant and strong. I pray for peace, prosperity and the greatest land on the face of the earth—America. [Music :Give Thanks for the red, White and Blue]. [Crowd erupts mind-numbing in an adulating, standing ovation]
Bush's presentation went on for a long thirty minutes, each of which he looked more distracted and miserable until he finally just ran out of things to say. Glad-handing the crowd he did the expected campaign stump behavior and finally exited to the relief of the many Secret Service and Portland Police designated to protect the p/resident.
While the auditorium's concrete wall divided us, leaving the attendees oblivious to all but Pleasantville in Berlin, outside protesters took the street, the noise brigade marched, the mounted police cornered protesters ass-wise between mini-vans, and struck with batons those youth not nearly enough on the sidewalk. Confrontations with people emerging from Parkrose and with those few Bush supporters who arrived without gaining entrance to see and hear their beloved erupted into mini-verbal battles, judgments and screaming platitudes, and butt-crack showing, American flag draping dancers.
I witnessed the zealot cult of American nationalism. Bush word's were simplicities and distortions I was stunned wondering: How can people think and behave this way and rule the world?
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