The Whole World is Watching
After reading so many lies about A22 in the media (including some alternative news sites), I decided to publish my own account -- what I saw and experienced.
I went to Portland for the Bush protest Thursday, A22. It was enormous - there were thousands of people. Thousands. Hundreds of us started at Waterfront Park, marched up to Burnside and Park where we met thousands more activists from a wide range of groups. We took the streets, stopping traffic as we marched a route to the Hilton, where Herr Bush was to speak to a $25,000 per person event. Suddenly, the crowd of people immediately behind me stopped. We were split into two groups or more. We didn't know it then, but the reason our group had been stopped was Dubya's motorcade was coming through. A few of us at the end of the first group tried to slow down, thinking the others would catch up, but they didn't. We forged on, and were stopped by a police barricade in between 5th and 6th Avenues on Taylor St. I squeezed up to the front, and proudly draped my corporate flag over the barricade. I had decorated the red and white striped part with plastic lettering, "Denying liberty and justice for all." The corporate flag looks very much like a typical flag, but instead of stars, white logos of U.S. corporations stand in the field of blue, representing the U.S. sellout to the highest bidders. The flag, which always receives lots of positive comments, is available from Adbusters - www.adbusters.org.
After chanting and clapping and drumming for about a half hour, the crowd decided to march to another location. I stayed. We were a small group then, maybe 50. Some people chose to challenge police as "mercenaries." Others tried to educate them about why we were there. I was amazed at how protected they were with helmets, the full getup of bulletproof protective clothing, padded with polycarbonate, and Kevlar. It would take a serious weapon to get through their gear - and none of the protesters carried weapons, we weren't even menacing. It occurred to me that they were dressed as if we were terrorists. So I yelled at them, "We're citizens. We're peacefully protesting. We are not terrorists. The terrorist landed on Air Force One, and is speaking in the Hilton." Meanwhile, on either side of us, fashionable, suited people walked through police lines in their ties and high heels to attend the gala Bush function at the Hilton. We were at least half a block away from the perimeter of the Hilton at 6th and Taylor.
It wasn't long before hundreds of people who'd been protesting at Gordon Smith's office joined us, and we stood arm-to-arm, wall-to-wall, up against the barricades. We continued to chant, holler and drum. We noticed snipers on the roof of the Hilton. My friend, Sarah had binoculars. She said she didn't see any guns. But you know police snipers wouldn't leave their guns on the second floor, and send down for them if they decided to shoot someone. The guns were just hidden.
The line of police facing us rotated every 15 minutes or so. I didn't know what significance that might have, other than to give the soldiers a break. The original group was replaced by a bicycle unit, and slowly these Darth Vader-looking riot police all in black with knee pads and plexi-glass shields in front of their faces began to assemble behind the bicycle unit. As their name implies, they were dressed for a riot, not a peaceful protest. Apparently they didn't want the riot garb to go to waste, as they quickly tried to turn our protest into a riot.
Suddenly, a cop with a microphone yelled, "I'm declaring an emergency. If you don't clear the area, you'll be arrested!" Before he could finish his sentence, the crowd roared, drowning out his words. Most of the people behind me probably never heard the warning. The bicycle brigade was now quickly replaced by the Darth Vader-like attackers.
It was ludicrous. There was no emergency. As I learned later, police had decided the crowd was too large, and wanted to disperse us. People who heard police scanners reported to Indymedia that they heard police say the crowd was too large, and after they pepper sprayed, people would leave and find help at local hospitals. So their intent was to break us up and shut us up. There was no emergency. They were being coached by the SS goons from Washington D.C., who walked through police lines with cell phones attached to their little pink ears. They are probably the ones who urged and demanded that the area be cleared, I guess the Portland officials don't want to acknowledge that they were servants of the out-of-towners
I did not move at first. We chanted "Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!" to let the cops know that we were not threatening them. We were just there to exercise our freedom of speech - to let the government know of our dissent with Bush's fascist policies. Policies like rattling his saber about going to war in Iraq without any provocation, taking away our Bill of Rights through the so-called USA PATRIOT Act. Policies like military tribunals, and torture - holding prisoners of war at Guantanamo Bay and calling them enemy combatants. Someone in the crowd had made "Enemy Combatant" bumper stickers and I saw several people wearing these on their shirts. We were protesting Bush's ridiculous plan to thin the forest in order to save it - lining up more logging contracts for his rich buddies. Resource extraction is his specialty. He makes way for resource extraction all over the world, using the U.S. Army to beat the indigenous people into submission, or installing dictatorships that will do that for him. Just like all the presidents before him.
Bush is a menace, and the people of this country have a right to assemble peacefully to say so. But apparently the Portland police have a different view - too many people were protesting, so they decided to thin the crowd with pepper spray and rubber bullets.
They told us they were going to arrest us - instead they shot pepper spray directly into Sarah's face, and at her partner, Pat. They shot pepper spray at activist Lloyd Marbet, and others who stayed in the front row, linking arms to resist oppression.
They told us they were going to arrest us. They should have begun arresting people. If they planned to pepper spray, they should have warned us. How would Henry David Thoreau or Mohandas Gandhi practiced civil disobedience with pepper spray in their faces? We have a right to practice civil disobedience. We were not violent. There was not a single protester in that crowd of more than 3000 armed with a weapon. We were a bunch of ordinary citizens in t-shirts and tennis shoes. The riot police, meanwhile, were dressed for combat. They attacked us. They attacked, and later called it our attack. I heard reports that we had been throwing rocks and "cylindrical objects." who weren't there can make up a lot of fantasies about what happened. But I was there, and I know protesters did not attack police. Their attack on us was completely unprovoked. The police were not peaceful. They attacked a peaceful unarmed crowd. Yes, after they attacked, people were angry. The ones who hadn't heard the police announcement were bewildered to see protesters moving towards them, with riot police and pepper spray right behind.
The police attacked first - and everything that happened after that was a response to what police had done to break the peace. So, if you heard reports of protesters jumping on cars - think about it. The cars ran into a crowd of peaceful protesters. We were standing there - they didn't need to drive their cars through. They made up an emergency so they could break us up. So they could deny us freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.
I read an AP story this morning with this quote, "When we're dealing with a presidential visit, we have to draw very definite lines and if people cross them, we have to react." That was Portland's Assistant Police Chief Greg Clark. He's lying. Not a single protester crossed police lines. Not a single one. The police crossed the lines they, themselves had erected. If they wanted those barricades moved half a block, why didn't they place them there to begin with? Why disturb the peace by declaring a faux emergency and attacking innocent people with chemical weapons?
Of the rubber bullets, Clark said, "It was an officer rescue. Those were not used for crowd dispersal." Think about it. Which is more vulnerable - a group of people with no weapons, or a police car driving through a crowd of people with a load of cops, each armed with guns, tear gas, and pepper spray? The car has the advantage. Those in the car were under no threat. Those cops were so insulated with all their equipment, you could have run up to one, and punched him in the stomach, and he wouldn't have felt it. But no one did that. No one attacked police. People were angry, yes. They did stand in front of police cars, but not to hurt them or the people inside, just to stop the cars from driving through the crowd of unprotected pedestrians.
I didn't get pepper sprayed. I backed away, because I have a neck injury that could have been exacerbated by a police nightstick, or even an elbow from a running protester. But I saw how it started - with a police assumption that it's not okay to have thousands of people protesting an unelected pResident in the streets of Portland.
As I backed away from the pepper spray and rubber bullets, I saw people who had been hurt by the police attack. They were washing their eyes, their faces, their necks, chests, and legs which had been sprayed. They were crying; they were in anguish. Sarah told me it hurt like hell for about 45 minutes. Hours later, when she took a shower, she forgot that her hair had been pepper sprayed, so she relived the sensation as the peppered water flowed down her body.
Someone asked me, "Didn't some guys in Eugene win a million dollar lawsuit against the city for being pepper sprayed a few years ago?" I said, "No. It was $20,000, settled out of court, and that's not nearly enough to compensate a man who's been pepper sprayed on his genitals." The summer before I arrived in Eugene, two men were pepper sprayed by police because they were protesting in a tree they wanted to save. They were brutally attacked by Eugene police, with no penalty applied to those who wrongfully sprayed the protesters.
Police call pepper spray and rubber bullets non-lethal weapons, as if that makes it okay to use them against innocent citizens dissenting the government. Pepper spray is the moral equivalent of the high-powered hoses the racist cops in the South used against people marching to be treated as human beings. On Aug 22 in Portland, 3000 or more people marched against the Bush administration of repression, imperialism, and terrorism. The people who marched want to be treated as human beings with all the freedoms and privileges that are supposed to go along with democracy. We were guaranteed by the Constitution that police could not enter our homes without evidence of crime - that police needed a court order to search our homes and computers. Now they can search our homes, our medical, educational, financial, mental health, bookstore purchase, and library records without showing evidence that a person was involved in a crime. And the keepers of those records cannot divulge the search under penalty of prosecution. Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, is being held in a military brig without the due process that we are all guaranteed by the Constitution. He has not been charged with a crime. He has not received a speedy trial; he was arrested in May. What they are doing to Padilla, they can do to any of us, as they simply designate someone an "enemy combatant," dissolving her Constitutional rights in the process.
And now they've tried to intimidate away our freedom of speech. Yes, many of us will continue to speak out - but what about the people whose babies were pepper sprayed? Do you think those average folks will be willing to come out and protest next time? I hope so, because we as citizens need more than ever to speak out and fight against the tyranny that is enveloping us. If we don't cry out and say "No more!" - "Not in my name!" we are complicit in the destruction the Bush administration is perpetuating all over the world.
What happened in Portland on August 22 was class warfare - plain and simple. While the rich got in, the ordinary people were kept out. While money bought the unelected pResident's ear; lack of money bought a face full of pepper spray. While police were protected with thousands of dollars worth of boots, Kevlar jackets and face shields; the people who pay their salaries were hit with rubber bullets. While an unelected terrorist pResident joked about protesters being killed, thousands of protesters whose message he needed to hear, were shoved aside with nightsticks. While Kevin Mannix fretted about the time he spent among the masses trying to reach the safety of his wealthy friends, mothers and fathers with babies were pepper sprayed so severely that witnesses said the babies seemed to stop breathing for a moment.
"This is not what democracy looks like! This is not what democracy looks like!" I yelled over and over, as the police cars shoved pedestrians aside, heading for their "emergency." Earlier, as we thousands marched, we chanted, "This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!" Because we were asserting our democratic rights as citizens dissenting our government. But when I saw my friends pepper sprayed, and heard the rubber bullets and saw the police cars, I knew I was no longer watching a democratic process. I was watching fascist tyranny. The rich corporate rulers subjugating and running down the poor with their hired soldiers. They own the soldiers, though it is our taxes that pay their salaries. Police don't feel beholden to the citizens they're supposed to protect; they feel beholden to the corporate puppeteers who pull the strings and promise them raises and vow to increase the size of the police force "for the protection of the people." I doubt I will ever again support increasing police size. For those soldiers to perceive peaceful citizens as a threat and attack them with chemical weapons shows me they have no clue what democracy looks like.
My partner and I noticed there were people watching from a parking garage that overlooked the street where the police were spraying. After things calmed down, we went up there. We were standing 20 to 30 feet above where the police had their command center on Taylor, between 5th and 6th. A line of soldiers stood before the newly erected barricades at 5th and Taylor, and several yards behind was a white panel truck with two silver canisters in the doorway - oxygen? Two battle-arrayed cops sat on red ATVs, ready to charge the crowd, I suppose if the order were given. Behind them were a circle of helmeted soldiers who'd just left the front lines. Each was down on one knee, taking off his helmet, drinking bottled water and relaxing. A huge cylinder on a truck nearby may have held a large supply of water, but I don't know. We marveled at the expense of all the gear the police had. Paid for by taxpayers - paid for by many of the protesters.
We watched the dancing swaying crowd as it had reassembled with drummers playing a rhythm, and then stopping while the crowd shouted, "George Bush is a son of a bitch!" Then the drums began again, followed by the crowd's chants. The police had not been successful in making us leave. We were stronger in solidarity from what we had experienced together.
Just then, a single file of black-outfitted troopers, wearing slick jackboots up to their knees with plastic pads on the lower leg, marched almost in goosestep through the area. They whacked their blackjacks against the plastic molding on their legs as they strutted, making a chilling military rhythm. When they stopped, just behind the line of police facing the crowd, another soldier gave to those who extended gloved hands, red canisters of pepper spray. On the sidewalk below, I noticed a female cop staring at me. I stared back. Soon she was joined by another cop all in black, and both of them pointed at us. We decided to leave the parking deck. There were probably 20 other people watching from the same parking garage. After we'd gotten back to the sidewalk on 5th, we noticed a cadre of bicycle cops pedaling into the parking garage. We were glad not to be up there anymore.
The crowd began to move away from 5th and Taylor, to another barricade erected near the Heathman Hotel, between 5th and 6th at Yamhill. We were told Bush's rich friends were staying in the hotel, and we should show them Bush is not welcome in Portland. When I made it to the front of the crowd, I stood, chanting with the rest, "Drop Bush! Not bombs!" A couple of riot police had assumed some sort of Kung Fu stance. They appeared to be glaring at us. I yelled again, "We are citizens! We are not terrorists! We are peacefully demonstrating!" I learned later that police attacked the crowd once again at 6:30 p.m., because people in the hotel where we assembled, wanted to get out on the streets. I can't report on this, because I wasn't there. By 6 p.m., I was exhausted, and left Portland. My entire body ached from all the tension in that confrontation with police, which was completely unprovoked.
Before marching, many of us heard Lloyd Marbet speak. He talked about the responsibilities of citizenship - that in order to govern ourselves, we must work for democracy. Not just march in a protest, but petition the government for changes, and run for office, and work on campaigns for third party candidates to shake up the corporate status quo. He is right. I hope that this protest invigorates people to get involved, opens their eyes to see the sham that is called democracy, and propels them towards taking back our rights and freedoms. Unless we are vigilant, those freedoms will go away. Ashcroft, Chaney, Rumsfeld and George W. Bush will see to that. For some, Portland was a start, a turning of the tide. For others of us, it is a continuation of the struggle we have been engaged in for many years - a struggle that must endure until we liberate ourselves, and win human rights for the rest of this indivisible planet.
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