|I'd barely time to bathe and change my clothes after a week in the forest before scurrying downtown Friday morning to protest one of the cruelest men in the world. With the inspiration of old growth trees and Eagle Creek, I chewed on Oregon Grape root to temper my anger and ground my resolve and took my tape recorder onto the streets to get a feel for the people. |
I met RT in the street as traffic was blocked by about 75 folks who marched from the South Park Blocks to the courthouse. He rode a groovy bicycle: "This country is run by an industrial sector who know no other way of controlling the economy except by fascist means. You see, I have trouble describing what I mean, but I know this country's in trouble. I blame the automobile. The automobile. They chain us down to this form of transportation that means that we have to build out into the suburbs. I can't explain it all but I do blame the automobile. Bush has been an oilman for four generations, Bush family, and the automobile is the means by which the ruling elite control the masses in this country for sure. We have purchased, financed, maintained fuel service and built roads that serve the automobile -- that is the industrial top of the ladder. The automobile is on top along with oil. All the other big business, they all rely on the automobile. This day is ending; there is no making a better automobile. That's my whole spiel."
Charlie, like many others, heard about the protest on KBOO. He stood on the corner with a 'Keep Abortion Legal' sign, and I asked him about Ashcroft: "I don't think he's in favor of abortion, and he would like to do away with it, and legally would be a quick way of doing it, and terrorism by killing abortion clinic providers is done it pretty effectively in the United States already. Many states do not have providers in them. There's only a few places in Oregon where you can get abortion or even Planned Parenthood information."
There was a flurry then as the cops took The Grim Reaper aside, made him unmask, took away his scythe, and gave him a property receipt. Thankfully he wasn't hauled away and I got to ask what the cop's deal was: "They didn't tell me exactly, but they said that they didn't want anybody -- they knew I wouldn't use it against anybody -- but they were afraid someone would take it from me and use it to wreak mahem or something."
Most everyone in the park was happy to talk with me, save a few conservative seeming folks. An obnoxious man had a sign against radical Islam and was being loud and offending people. I asked if he would care to explain to me the difference between radical Islam and radical Christianity: "I don't want to talk to the media. get the media away from me." People who ate lunch in the park also refused comment after I saw them make fun of the protesters.
While many of the people in the front of the crowd were dressed radically, many of the people at the protest whom you likely wouldn't see portrayed as protesters in the mass media appeared mainstream, like a woman I met named Kris: "I think he's taking away a lot of our freedoms. He's a threat. And my mom said so too. She's a civics teacher. She thinks he's one of the most dangerous men in America. I think so too."
Her friend Kevin also knows what's up: "I don' think many Americans realize what an extreme right-wing clown this guy is. I mean, he starts out by covering naked statues, so I think you can kind of take it from there. That's the small stuff."
Martin had just declared bankruptcy and therefore wore a sportscoat and nice leather shoes. Skeptical of any sportscoat but comforted by the wide-rimmed glasses, I asked him what he was doing there: "The same as everyone else out here. I'm not dressed for it, but I'm just disgusted by what's going on in this country and disgusted by the fact that no one's really standing up and saying anything. Quote unquote free country, it's a lot of bullshit if you ask me. He's a fascist, he's a Nazi."
A white-collar Arsenio stayed low on a parkbench: "I think it's great that people are participating in their right to express themselves. Always enjoy that. I think it's great that they're attacking John Ashcroft. It's kind of hillarious. I'm an attorney too, but I don't prosecute people for what they do. I'm all criminal defence. I mean, I'm right in line with it. I'm just more amused by the whole protest thing lately. I'm glad that a lot more folks are protesting. They didn't when I was in college [in the early '90's San Francisco], so I think it's kind of cool. I think definately people are a lot more vocal now-a days. I think sometimes it's a bit misguided. I think a lot more protests could be better served if people would contact their elected members of congress. But I would like to see a poll to see how many people are actually participating. I'm a little skeptic of it, cuz I have a lot of friends who do it and I know that they don't even know who their senators are and I think that's kind of pathetic. So I just come out here to say I have actually been in one. There are folks who show up playing drums who are protesting, I'd like to see how many of them take conventional routes that are already established to use the mechanisms that are there. I mean this is fine, but I question it's effectivelness. I think it's good though that it gets people involved, but I don't know how effective it would be."
Two guys on the next bench with nice cameras also seemed uninvolved. Suspicious, I asked Chris why they were there and what they thought: "We are actually on a 24 hour photo shoot. We go to different cities and we spend 24 hours taking pictures and this happened to be one of the things that was happening when we were going through. It's pretty well organized so far. ... I personally think he's already left." What time is it? "11:40." The press conference was at 11:30. His friend mirrored my mistrust: "That's what they tell you."
Bruce was on a bench and seemed to be an academic: "I think they're obviously gathering to protest Ashcroft and what he is saying, but I think it's more a representation of being against a lot of what Bush and the government is doing in our country right now and I think that not only is there anger with the lies he's telling about the war and about our economy, but I think Ashcroft goes beyond that to represent some assertive things he's doing in terms of our freedoms. They may or may not be a function of the terrorist kind of things, but at least as far as me it has a much broader representation for what's happening in our country for what our country's trying to do with our money and our place in the world.
"I think they're trying to in the long run be able to reduce the amount of money that the government spends on entitlement programs so that government takes less of a role and private companies take on more of a role for helping the poor and the diabled and the sick and the old, and I think in terms of the world they want to be the superpower not only now and in the future and I'm not sure why that's so, I mean it doesn't make any sense from anything we know about human behaviour but it seems what they're trying to do. The alternative is they're simply trying to be very, very helpful to Israel, but I think it's broader than that, I think has to do with issues of power. In my crassest moments I think it's all a matter of politics, but I think it's much broader than that. I think it goes to some sort of ideological beliefs and a lot of the people that are running the government.
In talking with people in the streets over the last few months, I find that supporters and participants in war tend to be younger, and when it comes to people in my parent's generation, most mentally apt people such as Marge understand the fallacy of the current regime: "I think the citizens of the city of Portland are very patriotic I think they express their views in a very non-violent way and I admire them for it. I'm all for them 100%."
Steve sat on the edge of the scene as well: "I wish he would come out and address these people, but he doesn't have the guts for that, or the backbone for it. And it's unfortunate that our politicians are so out of touch with where the rest of us live, and it's so unfortunate that young men are dying every day in Iraq still even though George declared the war over a couple months ago. I'm afraid as the saying goes that history's repeating itself again and we're on the verge of another Vietnam, and it saddens me and infuriates me at the same time. ... I decided to come over and just be a presence here. I wish there was something I could do. We need to get this administratiohn out of office. I hope people vote and get someone else in next year. That's all we've got. We've got to operate within the system, and that's the only system we've got right now. I wish more people would vote for any other candidates. I don't care if they vote Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Peace and Freedom party, Socialist party, whatever you want to do, but vote. Make your voice heard. That's all we've got right now."
Josh: "I think Ashcroft's a bum. I think that his interpretation of the 10th Ammendment's hypocritical because they're using the Federal government to try to squash the assisted suicide thing that 's been approved by the Oregon state twice I think, and the other thing I think the Patriot Act's troubling because the framers decided that security at the expense of the constitution wasn't security worth having and I think the problems with the Patriot Act are very troubling." Do you feel secure? "I think security's an illusion ... . I don't think you can ever feel secure."
Around the time of the end of the press conference the riot cops lined up in the street. A man in the front of the crowd shouted: "Why do you have automatic weapons at a peaceful protest? There is no reason for the Portland police department to bring auto weapons to this park. Those are weapons of mass destruction in your own hands. You're a disgrace. Get back on your truck and go back to where you came from."
Another reporter asked an officer, Rosie, why the riot gear? "We're just rotating some people in and out, giving them opportunity for people standing up in the sun to get some water, something to eat, go to the bathroom." Then why are you holding a gun? Numerous people asked the same question, and nobody got a good answer. Why do people going to the bathroom need to be replaced by people with guns?
I asked a few people standing under a tree why they were there, and the third man was oddly misplaced and misguided. Dennis: "John Ashcroft and the constitution and losing our fourth ammendments and the whole elitist regime that's running the country right now." How does it make you feel? "Angry, cheated, lied to about the system and what it's supposed to represent." Jordan: "Just to see what's going on, to protest this fucker. We need equal rights, we need civil rights, we need the constitution back, bill of rights, just justice."
The third man stood with his arm crossed and wanted to remain Anonymous: "Just watching." What do you think about what's going on? A cameraman overheard this and found him curious enough to photograph. "I don't want to be on camera." You're standing in a public place. He turned off the camera and I resumed. What do you think about what's going on today? "I don't have any thoughts on it." No thoughts? "Nope." Why's that? "Just don't." The cameraman interrupted. He's under orders not to have thoughts. "What's that?" You heard me. "No I didn't." The cameraman went away again. So what do you think about the role of all the police along with all the spectators? "I'm all for the police." You're all for them? "Yep." For spending our tax money on them? "A hundred percent." What do you think their role is? "You know, I really don't feel like talking to you anymore." Ok. What was your name? "I'm not giving you my name."
The fact that 300 people showed up at the protest with only a day or so of notice gives those of us who want to build a better world hope. I pray that people such as the man who wouldn't give his name will soon discover that we are part of a web, intrinsically and beautifully connected. Maybe they're victim to modernization and haven't had the chance to see the ancient forests and discover this for themselves.