THOUGHTS ON THE INAUGURATION
These are strange, cold days. For the last 36 hours I've watched Johnny Carson throw an axe at a woodsman's crotch, play joyously with funny animals, and wonder wistfully about sneaking a peek behind Dolly Parton's dress - over and over and over. But the mix of sad news and comedic memories from the 1960s is a welcome change from the Bush and Cheney follies of January 20th, and its aftermath: a Washington Post story by Bradley Graham that Donald Rumsfeld has formed a secret intelligence war squad inside the Pentagon that is circumventing the CIA and skirting the spirit of the intelligence "reform" bill that passed Congress in December. Meanwhile, from DC to Boston it's all snow and ice and freezing bones, for me two flat tires in three days. My true welcome to 2005, I guess. But as a result, blog-posting has become secondary to keeping warm and out of trouble. So, to make up, here's an update on last Thursday's protests:
There was a good turnout for the main demonstration in DC, from Malcolm X Park down to Pennsylvania Avenue, where it ended amidst chaos and lots of Republicans. Later I watched Fox News' Brit Hume say there were "only 500 or 1,000" protesters, an absurd figure for a march that spanned eight to 10 blocks and then merged with the remnants of ANSWER's rally just south of the Treasury Building. On the way down, the crowd carried some 50 flag-draped "caskets" - it was an effective statement and looked dramatic from any angle.
After running up against the metal fence that cops had erected around the "special zone" north and south of the White House (the first time I have ever seen such a tactic in 23 years here), I walked over to Lafayette Park, where Christian peace groups were chanting and singing around a die-in of about 10 protesters, laying splayed about like they'd all been shot or hit by shrapnel. This was about two blocks down from the AFL-CIO, at 16th & H. Right there, less than 10 feet from the antiwar circle, was one of the entrances to the Bush mall, and suddenly the area was awash with dapper men in long coats and women in furs and boots: rich, happy Republicans, just back from the swearing-in. "Guess its nap time for liberals," one of the Republians chuckled as he and his family happily gave up their constitutional rights to be frisked and searched before they could pay homage to the war president. Others walked deliberately by, slowing shaking their heads in mock disbelief. At one point, I saw Jerry Falwell walk by, big fat strides, cheeks blowing in the wind. Jesus, how much longer do we have to put up with him?
Next, I headed down to my old haunts near the National Press Club building at 14th & F, where I worked for most of the 1990s and still held a club membership. Inside, about 25 Democrats sat uneasily around televisions celebrating the "alternative inauguaration." That looked boring, so I ducked back into the street. By this time, a heavy contingent of anarchists had arrived, dressed in black from head to toe. Four of them stood on a barricade with a huge sign reading BUSH KILLS. Down by the street there was another group holding a huge sign that couldn't be missed by the parade. BUSH IS A MOTHER-FUCKER. As the block filled with more protesters (mixing still with Republicans streaming into the checkpoints from nearby hotels) a large squad of riot police, heavily armed and suited up, suddenly appeared. They staged a few maneuvers, staring fiercely ahead, and then jogged down to Ground Zero, where the prez was about to go by. The heckling of Republicans suddenly got more fierce. Calls of animal killer, how many did it take? etc. got answered by retorts of fuck you and get a job.
I met up with a friend and we walked down to get as close to the parade as possible. It was rowdy down there. Three units of the tactical squad were out on the street. Suddenly, parts of the fence started going down - anarchists had loosened their bolts and pushed them down. The crowd surged forward, resulting in a long, swirling stream of pepper fog sprayed by the cops, drenching the people right by the fence. I was way back and missed the gas, but all around me kids were crying out, ripping off their jackets to get the sting off. My water bottle came in handy at that point. One kid next to me was writhing in pain for a few minutes, but soon he was talking excitedly on his cell phone. "Its a police state, man, I got hit. Fascists. Fascists." But he's grinning, loving it. One of his friends ran up and took his picture. It reminded me of that scene from the Elliot Gould movie about the '60s, when he tells his girlfriend how sexy she is after the cops break up a demonstration at Berkeley.
Over the next 20 minutes, the clashes continued, and more gas was released. But it was easily controlled and eventually turned into a big snowball fight, with protesters trying to hit the cops and the Republican spectators, and the spectators taking aim from behind the cops and coming right back. After dodging a couple of incomings I slipped out for home, thinking that this is the most security I've ever seen for a presidential event - yet also pondering that these young anarchists really need to see real fascism at work before using the word for the USA. We're under very tight control, no doubt, yet we're a long way from the 1980s death squads of El Salvador or the prison hell that was once South Korea.
So it was with some gratitude that I received that night the latest edition of William Blum's Anti-Empire Report, with these thoughts about our present condition. It made me rethink my skepticism, but I still come out with this thought: we're a police state, yes; but fascism? No.
Freedom means knowing how big your cage is
On January 20, 1969, during the inaugural parade for Richard Nixon, I stood in a crowd of onlookers on Pennsylvania Avenue and when Nixon's limousine passed by I threw an apple at the car. It bounced off the car behind the one carrying Tricky Dick (who now seems like a liberal compared to the likes of George W., Bill Clinton and John Kerry; seriously). No law enforcement authority rushed into the crowd looking for the perpetrator. Imagine if I had repeated my act at today's inauguration. Everyone within a ten-foot radius of me would be thrown to the ground, handcuffed, if not hogtied, and hauled away to some local version of Guantanamo as a helicopter hovered just above.
I trust that the Statute of Limitations applies to such confessions. I trust also that the Justice Department accords more respect to the Statute of Limitations than it does to the Geneva Conventions.
I tell this story not to defend my action -– which was not exactly
politically sophisticated -– but to try to illustrate how times have changed, and why I believe that the United States has now become a police state. Not the worst police state in history to be sure; not even the worst police state in the world today; but a police state nonetheless.
The War on Drugs made America a virtual police state; the War on Terror has removed the virtual. From expelling a 10-year-old girl for bringing a pair of scissors to school to the death of habeas corpus as a cherished, inviolable principle, with a thousand false and fateful steps in between, American society is fast becoming a giant airport. We live surrounded by a hundred levels of authority -- military and civilian, federal, state, city, and corporate, uniformed and plainclothesed.
Men don't become enforcers of authority because they have a burning passion to advance the cause of justice. And what the enforcers desire in the areas of "security" or "crime", they get: PATRIOT Acts, Homeland Security, preemptive mass arrests, who they want to arrest, how they want to arrest them, where they want to take them, how long they want to keep them, their phone conversations, their computer, their tax return, their census information, their body cavities ... the enforcers get what they want, just like in a police state. Is there anything the Bush administration or its ideological comrades at lower levels might do to infringe upon human rights or civil liberties which would truly surprise and shock those of you who follow the news carefully? What's that? They might appoint the legal architect of torture policy as Attorney General?
"War on drugs" ... "war on terror"-- such terms tell the enforcers that they're warriors fighting a war, and in a war, you use the tactics of war, anything goes. "This, of course, is not really a war at all," says Washington journalist Sam Smith, "but a new status quo that has been declared, one in which violence and paranoia and strip searches are not just part of a sacrifice one must make for a better future. They ARE the future."
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