from Bush Protest in Cedar Rapids, IA
temperature was near record high, sunny and in the 80's. I drove to
CR with two friends, Lee, who is a member with me in our church's social
justice committee, and Linda, who is a hospital researcher who was concerned
about Bush's cutbacks in her area of restoring hearing to deaf children.
We arrived in CR about 2:30 PM. and parked several blocks from the U.S.
Cellular Center. We had obtained permission from the CR police to be
in the Riverfront Park from 3 PM to 4 PM. It was a nice place along
the river with grass and shade trees, about as natural as you could
expect in a major city. There was a lot of traffic so we had great exposure.
We held up 2 signs for the traffic and pedestrians to see. One said,
"Jesus is for Peace" and the other said, "Peace and Justice".
We also had a handmade quilt peace flag that flew in the strong breeze.
No one hassled us at all. We did not even see any police or secret service
in the park. We were about 2 1/2 blocks from the U.S. Cellular Center
where Bush was speaking. Many motorists gave us either a thumbs up or
peace sign. Only one fellow on a Harley-Davison motorcycle made a negative
gesture.We must have been on a school bus route because several buses
came by and the kids were great, yelling encouragement, waving and giving
us peace signs. We were interviewed by the Daily Iowan newspaper and
KCRG television. We explained that we were there to show opposition
to Bush's unending war plans, to the lack of enforcement of pollution
laws under Bush, to Bush's tax breaks for the rich and cutbacks in programs
for children's health, education, environment, etc. We stayed in the
park until 4 PM. At the most there were never more than 10 protestors
there total but it was a very positive experience overall. The other
protestors had several different signs. One group concentrated on opposition
to the way Bush conducted the 2000 election. Their signs read "Bush
Cheated", "Jail to the Thief" and "Selected not
elected". Another group was also protesting the war and military
expansion. They had a sign that said "No war for Oil". The
only distraction at the park was a noisy helicopter that hovered overhead
several times. I could not see any markings but assume it was a police
or secret service helicopter. I hope it was not there because of us
because that would be a terrible waste of resources monitoring a few
people with cardboard signs in a park.
At 4 PM we walked up to the U.S. Cellular Center on the sidewalk. There
were large construction machines parked everywhere around the Center
I guess in order to thwart an attack. It seemed excessive to me. I have
been to numerous events like this before. When Clinton or Gore came
there was never anything like this and on a day like this they would
have spent a lot of time outside talking to people and shaking hands.
I suppose you could blame 9-11 except that Bush has always campaigned
like this, even before 9-11. A police person stopped us about 1 block
from the center and politely explained to us the the SS had designated
a "free speech zone" by some railroad tracks behind ( south
) of the center. There were a lot of people arriving in formal attire
for the $250 - $10,000 a plate dinner. ( If you wanted to sit by Bush
or talk to him you had to pay $10,000 i.e. buy influence ). The people
in 3 piece suits were never approached by the police or SS but simply
walked up to the center. I thought to myself that a terrorist wearing
this kind of attire could have gotten very close - it seemed like a
very superficial way to screen people.
I was opposed to this idea of a free speech zone designated by the government.
I have always felt that the entire country was a free speech zone since
it says that in the U.S. Constitution. But I wanted to obey the law
so we went over to the "zone". The way this zone was set up
showed a lot of irresponsibility and partisanship by the SS. There were
about 100 protestors here which they tried to squeeze onto a small plot
of grass approximately 20' wide by a railroad tracks surrounded by cement
barricades. I do not know what the train schedule was but if a train
had come by I would not have been surprised if some people had gotten
hurt. Basically in their apparent zeal to restrain demonstrators in
a place that was uncomfortable and not very visible the SS endangered
these people's lives unnecessarily. In all the years I have attended
political events I have seldom seen a group of people treated this shabbily.
I would say about half the crowd were pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
They were a bit on the loud side, but considering what is taking place
in the Mideast I suppose their emotion was understandable. I really
don't take sides in that issue - as I can see problems with both sides
( i.e. suicide bombers on the Palestinian side and overly violent, oppressive
Israeli army actions on the other ). There were also people there from
the Sierra club protesting Bush's anti-environment policies. There was
one woman protesting Enron and the way Bush raided the social security
system. About 25 - 30 people were protesting the war, about half of
these were doing so out of religious beliefs and the others out of humanitarian
concerns. The group that had signs about the 2000 election also came
About half the crowd of 100 people stayed inside the SS zone. The other
half, out of practicality ( no room, uncomfortable conditions ) milled
around to the east of the zone on the sidewalk. The police were very
polite. They seemed to realize that the zone was poorly planned and
basically let people wander out of it. A couple times they requested
that people step off the sidewalk. A few people complained to the police
about the zone. The CR police listened and were polite. Across the street
stood a bevy of SS men who are always quite obvious with their ear phones,
etc. There were several plain clothes people, who were only slightly
less obvious. They wore Hawaiian shirts and jeans as I recall - I am
guessing they were supposed to blend in with the demonstrators but they
pulled this off poorly. It did not help that they occasionally wandered
over and talked to the more obvious SS men in 3 piece suits.
At one point one of these suited SS came over to the zone with a camera.
It was kind of disconcerting because out of the crowd of people he walked
up in front of me and took my picture. I thought about offering to autograph
it for him, but decided against. I am not sure why this took place.
Perhaps it was because I helped organize the rally and they wanted to
identify me. Perhaps they just wanted a picture of the crowd and I am
being a bit paranoid or egotistical in thinking he focused on me.
I would give the CR police a grade of "A" for handling the
entire situation well. They showed a lot of professionalism and common
sense, especially in not enforcing the zone boundaries too aggressively.
I think someone could have been hurt had they done so ( or had a heat
stroke crammed in there like sardines ). Some of the protestors were
a little much - loud but not disorderly. They irritated me at times
and I was a protestor! I heard one shout "Bush sucks" several
times. When he approached me after that I said I thought we ought to
"keep it clean", however I can understand his point of view
in thinking that "Bush sucks" considering this administration's
poor record in regards to about every issue any intelligent person should
be concerned about.
I would give the SS a grade of "D". They have obviously become
politicized under Bush. They are taking their proper role of protecting
the President and expanding that to include restricting the free speech
rights of the administration's opponents. In my view they picked a "free
speech zone" that was intentionally uncomfortable, cramped and
poorly visible in order to diminish the effectiveness of demonstrators.
That might be a practice that was acceptable in the old USSR, but it
it is totally unacceptable in a democracy. They also are so focused
on disparaging peaceful, non-violent protestors that they are probably
allowing security lapses elsewhere. I think that agency needs to be
revamped. I am probably somewhat bias however since my first experience
with the concept of secret service was watching my boyhood hero, JFK,
get assassinated in Texas; an event which could have been prevented
with modest security procedures.
As I mentioned before I have attended many political events and I would
say that the contrast between Bush and many of the others is amazing.
People like Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore waded into
crowds and talked openly with people. Bush's style is a completely orchestrated
and controlled photo op. The press fell for this almost entirely with
little question of what Bush said in the media and very little coverage
of dissidents ( protestors ) in actual coverage. One example I can think
of is this: April 15 is "tax day". Bush spent much of his
appearance lauding "his" tax cut for ordinary working families
of $300/$600 and what people had done with this rebate. In actuality
Bush had little or nothing to do with the rebates which were a proposal
of Senate democrats like Tom Harkin, who Bush was in town raising money
to defeat. In the tax compromise Bush pushed for large cuts in inheritance
tax, capital gains, etc. for the wealthy. It was the Senate democrats
who got the $300/$600 rebates for working class families, not Bush.
The press totally missed this distinction, tripping over themselves
to give Bush and Ganske free air time for their photo op.
Overall I enjoyed the experience, especially the time I spent in the
park talking with Linda and Lee and waving peace signs back to the school
children. I think it was a worthwhile way to spend my "personal"
day. I have always thought that the reason many bad things happen in
this world is because ordinary people do not speak up and express opposition.
It is my view that many of Bush's policies are destructive vis-a-vis
the military, war, pollution, protecting wilderness, aiding the poor,
funding health care and education, handling the economy, protecting
Constitutional rights, etc. I feel that the reality of these poor economic
and foreign policies will eventually become so obvious they will be
hard to ignore. For my part I have tried to do my best to oppose them
in a peaceful, positive and non-violent manner.