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Sunday, February 05, 2006

"People Rise Up!" A Protest Photo Essay

I just returned from the World Can’t Wait rally. I have to say, it was the smallest best protest I have attended. There weren’t very many World Can’t Wait staff and volunteers but since so few people attended, partially due to the rainy weather, they seemed to do a good job managing things. It was a very intimate organic atmosphere. Not very many grandstanders or major celebrity. The energy was damned good for a rained out event, and as the weather grew worse the crowd only got bigger. Twelve buses from D.C. arrived late, not long before the march around the White House began. I met people from Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida and Hawaii. I have never been good at crowd estimates (which I had to do all the time as a cop reporter) but I would say there were between 1,000 and 3,000. That seems like a wide enough range.

There were actually a whole two news reports about the protest, one from Washington Post. Of course, what wasn't fair is that it was on page C-5 of the Sunday paper, but hey, I expected nothing. There is also video available here, from an ABC affiliate.

There was a 30-foot effigy of Bush made from wire and huge printouts of his ugly head.

The energy was totally focused. The message was consistent with each speaker: Bush is dangerous, no one is going to be our savior, we must take matters into our own hands. This was the place to ponder and give voice to the unthinkable, the thing that everybody in the “real” (faith-based) world cannot or refuses to fathom. They are the “people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined,” according to WCWs call to action. Randi Rhodes said it well the other day: America is not only headed down a bad road, we’re at a major fork.

As I proceeded from the Metro station to the Ellipse (I did stop by the Caribou Coffee where some folks were supposed to meet up but I was so very late that I stayed for 15 minutes and left), the streets were empty of protesters until I got to the northwest corner of the Mall. This was somewhat deflating.

There was a stage with a pretty good sound system set up, and a few tents to coordinate volunteers and sell the usual merchandise at dissent gatherings: “Ribbons for the Rest of Us,” “Revolutionary Books,” bumper stickers, pins. But I grew even more deflated as I walked toward the front of the stage. There were a few hundred people on the Mall. I was pissed that people would let the rain (or other things, keep reading) keep them home; but as my sneakers slid in the mud and water crept in through the seams, I thought, “who can blame them?” However, lots of people, like this guy, did a great job of keeping people's spirits high:

The WCW organizers came prepared with colored plastic whistles and noisemakers and plenty of bullhorns, in addition to hundreds and hundreds of their bright, urgent green signs with the slogan “Drive out the Bush Regime!” They mounted the signs on cardboard tubes, but after half an hour the signs became soggy and folded over, and most people just tossed them in the refuse bins.

For folks who have a problem with the “freaky looking” crowd, 1) I don’t know what you think you look like, but I bet someone somewhere thinks you look like a freak! and 2) you can’t come out to a protest against an evil regime with that attitude. If you’re more comfortable in front of your keyboard than having to be exposed to people different from you – fine, please stay home. As I have said before, many of my best friends have been freaks, and at this protest, punks, goths, queers, hippies and the like abound. As Michael Franti sang: "All the freaky people make the beauty of the world." My guess is most of them were college students as WCW is particularly focused on growing the student movement. The crowd was colorful, diverse, and energetic despite the circumstances. When I got there, a DJ was spinning Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype.”

Here are some of the signs from the rally:

The first two speakers, whose names I am sorry I didn’t catch (didn’t take many notes because I was bogged down with an umbrella, a humongous digital camera, and a purse, and plus pens do not work on wet paper), read WCWs call to action, which is here, and it really riled up the crowd. One by one, speakers approached the mic and the crowd constantly roared back. People were really angry and perhaps even more so because it was cold, wet and muddy.

One of the best speakers was Rebecca Shaefer, one of the Georgetown Law Students who turned their backs on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. She said that many of the students who stood up and turned their backs weren't even in on the protest plans - they just stood up and joined.

When I say the energy was focused, I mean it. I saw one Free Mumia sign, one Palestine sign, one “No war for Israel” sign, and a few general antiwar signs. Everything else was something about the Emperor or King George or wiretapping – something specifically directed toward the Bush administration. I have heard some people say they don’t want to be associated with WCW because it is a “communist” organization. I can guarantee that it is not, there are people of all stripes involved in World Can’t Wait. One of the main organizers is Sunsara Taylor who is a writer for The Revolutionary newspaper and a follower of Bob Akavian of the Revolutionary Communist Party. I will let WCWs FAQ speak for itself:

Q: But aren't there communists in World Can't Wait?
A: Yeah, there are. Supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party helped initiate it. They have said they're in it because they think it's absolutely urgent to get rid of this regime, that it would both lift a huge burden from the world and would also give people a sense of their own potential power, and they think all that would open up avenues to get to the society they want. Same as a whole lot of other people in World Can't Wait - which, by the way, includes Greens, Christians, Republicans, anarchists, Muslims, Jews, feminists, Democrats, pacifists, and people who claim no affiliation - who also think it's urgent to drive out the Bush Regime and who also think it can help lead to bigger changes that they want in society, coming from their own viewpoints.
But to turn the question around, if you refuse to pitch in to building this movement to drive out the Bush regime, when you know that this is what has to be done, just because there are communists in it, then you need to think about how well that worked back in Nazi Germany (when the many forces opposed to Hitler could not find the ways to unite). And how exactly would you explain your particular brand of "abstinence only" policy to a prisoner at Abu Ghraib or a teenager in Tennessee who desperately needs an abortion or someone whose mother was killed at a checkpoint near Falluja? And then after you think about that, you need to actually start working on driving out this regime. To stand aside at this point is really unconscionable.

So anyway, onto the fun stuff…speakers, speakers, speakers, more rain, more mud, more speakers, even more rain meant that eventually the electricity had to be shut off. With six speakers left and only a couple of megaphones, the organizers tried to finish their program but they ceded to the groaning audience. By this time, my jeans are soaked to the knee, my sneakers are covered in mud and my socks are soaking wet. Before we set upon the march to the White House there was a Saddam Square-style toppling of the wire Bush effigy accompanied by the burning of the flag of the United Corporations of America (that’s the flag that looks like the American flag but has corporate logos instead of stars). I have never been in the presence of a burning flag and when I felt the heat across my face I was grateful because it was so cold but I also felt like I was in Palestine or Pakistan. It was very exciting and edgy and I felt as if I should remove my sneaker and start beating myself with it, or at least beat the effigy. Then when the effigy of Bush came down, it came toward me. As I backed up, people descended upon it and kicked it, stomped it, beat it and screamed at it. I gave it a weak kick, but I kept my sneaker on.

We queued up:

and moved along...

When we got here, everyone stopped and basically had a freak out session. Everyone was screaming and chanting and jumping up and down. The police looked on - did I detect amusement in some of those faces? Empathy? Hmmm...

In the meantime, another protest raged across the street:

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! HA HA HA! What a bunch of pathetic losers. Didja know that's Karl Rove's extended family?

As the march carried on from the White House back to the Mall, Sunsara Taylor, flanked by two rather handsome men, and the crew from WCW did an awesome job. (Hey, if this is what commies today look like - sign me up! j/k) They all got in the bed of a pickup truck with a microphone, two megaphones, and a few drums. They had good chants such as:
"Bush step down, people rise up!"
"Killer in the White House, time to get his ass out!"
"Join us, join us, the World Can’t Wait! Drive out the Bush Regime!"

All in all, the day was a gathering of people focused on one goal. The speakers, the organizers, the attendees all come from different places geographically, ideologically, ethnically, nationally, but we have this one thing in common. It's more important than ever that we learn to set aside our differences to get this task accomplished.

My one problem with the event is that while the energy was organic, the formation was not. There was the march route, and my guess is that the organizers were probably told that we could spend a predetermined amount of time in front of the White House. We were really far from the White House, and Bush wasn't even in there. I want to storm the gates and make him come out and answer to his crimes, then shackle him and send him to Guantanamo. But hey, this is a start and at the least, it keeps me energized enough to keep going to my local Dem meetings and trying to get involved from the inside. I just can't fathom another three years of this. It's going to reach a critical point very soon.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tax cigarettes, not clothes

I was glad to hear that Corzine's budget advisors advised against a clothing sales tax in New Jersey, according to the Star-Ledger. The lack of sales tax IMHO is one of the things that helps keep New Jersey viable for consumers and businesses, especially out-of-state consumers. I come from the perspective of someone who grew up in Westchester County and used to go shopping in Paramus several times per year because of the lack of sales tax. Not only do out-of-state shoppers buy clothing, they eat in restaurants, buy gas in New Jersey, and pay tolls on the Parkway and Turnpike.

But the Republicans who are railing against any taxes are playing politics and not living in a reality-based world. New Jersey is going to have to attack our $5 million deficit from many directions. A gas tax is not out of the question, but I think the best way to increase revenues is to bump up the cigarette tax. Yes, New Jersey is already second in the nation when it comes to our cigarette tax (we tax a whopping $2.40 per pack, second only to Rhode Island which taxes $2.46 per pack), but why not be number one in something? With the law making it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants taking effect in April, it makes sense. It is not only a matter of revenues but a matter of public health. Smokers cost the state $2.9 billion each year in health care costs.

The tax is regressive in a way, because a higher percentage of working class people tend to smoke cigarettes, so it will take a larger chunk of their income than rich smokers. But as a smoker who is trying to quit, I see the use not only in terms of health but also in terms of money. I'm struggling, but in the past week I've bought only two packs of cigarettes, compared to the usual four or five, and it makes a difference in my wallet. I believe that cigarettes should be illegal anyway, so a cigarette tax is a logical move for me and I advocate a sharp increase - perhaps to $2.60. That would be a significant increase in revenues each year, provided people keep smoking.

One argument for raising the cigarette tax is that New Jersey ranks 46th in the number of adults who smoke each day. I have no data that show a correlation between that figure and our high tax, but it can't hurt to raise the tax some more.

More information on the cigarette tax can be found here at the Policy Research Institute for the Region at Princeton University.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

MSNBC boycott

Had some free time today and I made several calls, to Turbo Tax (don't use them this year, go to H&R Block), Toyota, Verizon, and several calls to MSNBC regarding the irresponsible Chris Matthews, a supposed journalist who doesn't even correct his mistakes and equates liberals with terrorists (O'Reilly beat him on that one long ago). Visit Open Letter to Chris Matthews for more information and contact numbers.

Don't forget that these media companies are using the PUBLIC'S airwaves, and should answer to us before any corporate board of directors. They have an obligation to keep us informed with accurate, reliable information. As far as Chris Matthews' Hardball is concerned, MSNBC is failing miserably.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Crimes Against Humanity Hearings and How I Met An American Hero

So I met Ray McGovern, a retired CIA veteran analyst of 27 years.

Mr. McGovern isn't very tall and he is very soft-spoken. But I was star-struck nonetheless.

I was sitting on the floor of a large multipurpose room at Riverside Church in Manhattan. My friend and I went there to hear the testimony to the International Commission of Inquiry On Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration. I hadn't been there for more than five minutes - practically every seat was taken as Barbara Olshansky from the Center for Constitutional Rights spoke about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. I was sitting on my wool coat when two older white-haired men walked by and I immediately recognized McGovern. He has been a hero of mine since I first saw him, which I believe was in the movie "Uncovered" by Robert Greenwald - a fabulous documentary. McGovern then went on to impress me as he sat next to a then-relatively-unknown Cindy Sheehan at the basement hearings on the Downing Street Minutes led by Rep. John Conyers, another American hero.

McGovern speaks truth to power and he does it so well. I love him. He was so nice and about two hours after I briefly introduced myself and thanked him for everything he's done, he spoke to me and my friend for a few minutes about how much work it is going to take to get the war criminal out of the White House. McGovern will go to Washington on Feb. 2 for the "Presentation of the Verdicts" with the rest of Not in Our Name.

Anyway, I couldn't take notes at the hearings because I stupidly left my notebook at home. It was okay cause I was so star-struck by McGovern (what does that say about me that I am a groupie for a retired intelligence analyst?) that I doubt I could have controlled my pen.

Fortunately, a lot of the testimony was nothing new to me, especially the testimony of Janis Karpinski, the brigadier general once in charge of Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq. What was new to me from her was hearing just how out of the loop she was and how meetings and investigations were conducted behind her back, simply because she was a woman with experience who played by the rules. When she first saw the Abu Ghraib photos, the ones we all have seen - the naked piles, the leash, the dogs - she could not believe what she saw.

Also, she said that women U.S. soldiers were forced to cross the barracks late at night to go to the bathroom and there was a lot of sexual assault as a result. Of course, no one would see to it that a closer restroom could be built. So to keep from having to make the dangerous trek, these women would not drink after 4 p.m. Problem is, it's hot as hell in Iraq and some of them would die of dehydration! And not just that, but General Sanchez asked people not to list the cause of death anymore as dehydration. This is all according to Karpinski. She received a standing ovation, and I'm thinking of purchasing her book, "One Woman's Army."

For me the most fascinating testimony came from Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, that paragon of human rights that is our close ally in the war on terror (or maybe the war in Iraq, or maybe the Global Struggle Against Extremism). He said that 1 of every 8 people in Uzbekistan is a member of a police force or secret police, so they spy on each other...during interrogations, when you get dipped in boiling liquid, it's only to your chest, so you're conscious the whole time (I thought maybe they just threw you in there - one woman received her husband's body in a sealed coffin, Murray said; when she opened it, he had been battered and you could see that his whole body from the chest down was scalded). America last year, or the year before, or annually (this is why I wish I had my notebook) gave $500 million to Uzbekistan, and that was more aid than we gave to every sub-Saharan West African country combined. And $80 million of that went straight to the Uzbek secret police. GREAT. Oh, and we use bad intelligence ALL THE TIME from Uzbekistan. intelligence that was obtained via torture. So while they were torturing long before the CIA entered the picture, the CIA and USA are creating a demand for this (bad) intelligence, and hence keeping the torturous cycle in Uzbekistan going.

Poor Uzbeks. Uzbekistan, Murray said, is the world's second largest exported of cotton, and a huge fraction of Uzbeks work on cotton plantations. They can't leave, they make 7 cents a day and they work 12 hours a week, six hours a day.

Secret police, forced labor, torture, citizen spies...sounds like a lovely place, no? And these are our allies. It's quite disgusting.

I bought a black T-shirt at the event that says "WANTED FOR MASS MURDER" then has photos of Tweedledee (Cheney) and Tweedledum (Bush), Condi Rice, and Mike Chertoff. I wore it home and kept it on when I went to this little Italian deli in Emerson. Got many looks, but no one said anything. I also bought a button that says "Fascism Happens," and took a roll of stickers from the World Can't Wait folks, who are buzzing about organizing for their State of the Union events and subsequent rally in D.C. Bush - you's outta here!!!

Monday, January 16, 2006

As usual, Kos hits the nail on the head

...in this post responding to Andrew Sullivan's disparaging remarks.

What idiots like Sullivan don't understand is that institutions like MoveOn and Daily Kos are a reaction to the Right Wing's tactics for the past 20 years. We are a reaction to the politics of personal destruction pioneered by the right's Clinton-hating brigades, the vile and corrosive rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and company, and the politics of demonization which the Right practices against blacks, immigrants, and gays.

But when someone on the left fights back, it's the end of the fucking world.

I understand that it was easier for right-wing hacks to ply their trash when liberals unilaterally disarmed and took it with nary a peep. I understand they pine for those days when the best we could offer in rebuttal was Alan Colmes.

But they created the environment we now play in. They wanted a "culture war", an ideological fight, a partisan rumble in which only one side brought guns to the game. Those days are over.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Freeway blogging is cool

Going to make some freeway blogging signs today. Check out the Impeach Project and Freeway Blogger. Then spread the word. You gotta do your part.

This week, I have called, faxed, and e-mailed Sen. Lautenberg's office, called Sen. Specter's office, called and e-mailed Sen. Feingold's office, attended a meeting and volunteered time to my county Democratic organization. I passed out flyers about World Can't Wait. Not to mention the daily news reading and analyzing on blogs. It has been a busy week. But, I believe, we are at a critical moment.

What have you done?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Saw this one coming

Posted by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse at Daily Kos. Just in time for Feb. 4. Damn, these motherf'ers are really serious about this fascism shit. The question now is, are you willing to go down to defeat these people or will you submit to their will?:

Bush wants to create the new criminal of "disruptor" who can be jailed for the crime of "disruptive behavior." A "little-noticed provision" in the latest version of the Patriot Act will empower Secret Service to charge protesters with a new crime of "disrupting major events including political conventions and the Olympics." Secret Service would also be empowered to charge persons with "breaching security" and to charge for "entering a restricted area" which is "where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting." In short, be sure to stay in those wired, fenced containments or free speech zones.