Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Protest Story: Part I

Here’s Part 1 of my story of the 9-24 Protests. There are 250,000 others, but mine is…well, mine. It’s lengthy, but it was the only way to write about my experience. I've decided to post it in parts, as it's long, long, long, and I'm still only halfway through.

Silent in the Morning

I wanted to make it to the Ellipse early, so I would have the full benefit of seeing the experience grow from a handful (well, relatively) of people to a seething mass. I live on the outskirts of the Metro area, so that meant getting up early, leaving enough time to shower, dress, and properly pack my backpack. When that was done, I left, picking up McDonald’s on the way. Yeah, it’s crap, and yeah, I’ve changed my eating habits, but I needed a source of energy that would last for awhile. A sausage biscuit seemed to contain enough calories to get me through two meals, at least, and I had water in the bag. And yes, I am aware of the irony of buying McDonald’s while on the way to such a protest. It actually added something.

If you really want to experience irony, however, you need look no further than the preparations for the President’s Cup. My region is serving as a sort of unofficial parking lot for the golf event, and as I was readying myself to go down to DC and protest, the people in my community were loading up their Hummers and Lexuses to prepare for a big trip down to the golf course. Never was I more aware of how I do not belong in this community, and what a mistake it was to move here.

I reached Huntington Metro Station (which seems to be the ideal staging ground for trips into DC, at least for me) at around 9:00. The sky was gray, threatening rain that would never really materialize, and around me were hordes of people easily identifiable as protestors. No, not identifiable by any stereotypes of “hippies” and “peace protestors” but by their signs, or their pins, or the buttons on their backpacks. These were people who were clearly ready to mobilize and make their voices heard. The train arrived earlier than expected, and the crowd filtered in. The car was surprisingly full for a Saturday at 9 AM. There was space to sit, but the train out of Huntington at that time usually only has a handful of people per car. I thought it was an encouraging sign.

Sitting opposite of me was a family who had traveled from Memphis to be there. It was interesting to see the energy of the children, especially the youngest daughter, who had never seen a taxi. How do I know? She cried out when she saw one out the window. Interesting little dichotomy of worlds there.

I later ended up beside these folks at the rally, if only for awhile. Here is a shot of them, dressed in red:

To my right on the train was a sharply dressed conservative couple. They weren’t going to counter-protest, to their credit, but their discussion was completely soul-crushing, especially for someone who was going to protest against the status quo and had just had the Presidents Cup epiphany. You know, typical Suburban stuff – how he was going to handle his Cub Scout pack, their childrens’ spelling bee results, etc. The kind of ennui that I really fear. Between that and the Presidents’ Cup, I really began to understand why I feel so nuts living out here.

The trip in took quite awhile. I found it more than coincidental that the Metro Transit Authority chose this weekend to work on the lines, especially when Amtrak was also experiencing “Power Outages” up and down the East Coast (more on that in a bit). A few transfers, and an hour later I finally made it to the Ellipse. Along the way, I saw more and more protestors load in, including a large group of African Americans all dressed in a white “uniform” – they were from the Black Concerns Working Group.

I got off the Blue Line at Federal Triangle and climbed my way out of the “pit”. Around me were plenty of protestors, and outside waited even more. For the record, the first sign that I saw hoisted in protest (rather than sitting at someone’s side) had a picture of Kanye West on it. The legend? “George Bush Doesn’t Care About Black People”. I didn’t get a picture, but I did have a good laugh.

The Great Set-up

There was electricity in the air outside the metro station; groups of people milled around, exchanging jokes and chants, taking a breather before heading down to the Ellipse.

For those who are not familiar with the Federal Triangle, it is “located between Pennsylvania Avenue, Constitution Avenue and 15th Street, NW and…is comprised of a unified group of important and prominent Federal office buildings.” Words don’t really do it justice, however. The architecture contained therein is amazing.

I didn’t really bother with getting shots of the architecture because I was far too focused on the reason I was there: the people involved in the movement. It was incredibly encouraging to see a group of white anti-war activists speaking with black anti-racism activists, then sharing a group hug (I shit you not, a real group hug, and the emotions were clearly genuine), but this was only one of a hundred tiny dramas and inspirational scenes playing out before me, in the area depicted in the second image above.

I hung around there for a bit before following the crowd down and out onto Constitution, where people were assembling into groups for the trek to the Ellipse. This was the first throng of protestors that I encountered, as we hit the corner of Constitution and 14th:

It was even greater than it looks in that picture. As our group waited for the light, we were approached by a group handing out signs and stickers. I didn’t take a sign because I wanted to have my hands free, but I did take this sticker:

And I wore it with pride, believe me.

It was about this point that I heard the speaker on the Ellipse talking about the Amtrak outages and how thousands were being held up in Stations all up the East Coast. The good news? Those folks were holding spontaneous demonstrations inside the stations, sending their sprit to be with us even if they couldn’t physically be there. What an awesome and humbling message to hear. I have video of the speaker repeating the message, and may post it at some point in the future.

Signs and billboards were set up all along the route toward the Ellipse. This was my particular favorite (if you can’t tell, the image on the left hand side of the billboard is New Orleans):

My first stop was at Camp Casey.

The sight of the crosses and, on the other side of the field, the boots of fallen soldiers, was incredibly moving and poignant – the first of many times where I was moved to tears by what I was witnessing. I went inside the tent to find the Veterans Against the War were meeting inside, laying out plans for how they would assemble for the March.

Outside, two protestors were wearing masks of Dick Cheney and Condi Rice.

After Camp Casey, I went to visit the group tents on the other side of the field. Included in the groups were NO DU,, and the Green Party. Being a Green member of sorts, that was the first table I visited, and purchased a Green “Bring Them Home NOW!” Ribbon, which should go over well in our ribbon-pasting, flag-waving community, and a Green Party button. While I was there, we spoke about the suspicious train outages around the area, and one of the fellows informed me of a little operation going on this weekend called Operation Granite Shadow, a story that ran in the Washington Post recently. We all agreed that it was somewhat suspicious that they were running such an operation on this weekend of all weekends, especially when such little snafus and worries were hitting us as a group. The description of Granite Shadow?

Granite Shadow is yet another new Top Secret and compartmented operation related to the military’s extra-legal powers regarding weapons of mass destruction. It allows for emergency military operations in the United States without civilian supervision or control.

A spokesman at the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region (JFHQ-NCR) confirmed the existence of Granite Shadow to me yesterday, but all he would say is that Granite Shadow is the unclassified name for a classified plan.
That classified plan, I believe, after extensive research and after making a couple of assumptions, is CONPLAN 0400, formally titled Counter-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Concept Plan (CONPLAN) 0400 is a long-standing contingency plan of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) that serves as the umbrella for military efforts to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction. It has extensively been updated and revised since 9/11.

The CJCS plan lays out national policy and priorities for dealing with WMD threats in peacetime and crisis -- from far away offensive strikes and special operations against foreign WMD infrastructure and capabilities, to missile defenses and "consequence management" at home if offensive efforts fail.

All of the military planning incorporates the technical capabilities of the intelligence agencies and non-military organizations such as the national laboratories of the Department of Energy. And finally, CONPLAN 0400 directs regional combatant commanders to customize counter-proliferation plans for each of their own areas of operations.

When that "area of operations" is the United States, things become particularly sensitive.

Uh-huh. Anyway, after visiting that area, I made my way across Constitution and into the stage area, where the speakers were blaring Bob Marley, Rage Against the Machine, and Blackalicious. Here, not only electricity was in the air, but the ever-so-subtle scent of Marijuana and Patchouli. Here I also discovered that my brilliant plan to freeze my Propel Water backfired: solid ice. Man, was I thirsty.

While we waited for the rally to begin, we milled around, led in spontaneous chants from the stage. The sole sour note was when the folks on stage asked people to lower their signs so the press box had a clear shot of the stage – that drew a few boos, but I could understand both points-of-view. Folks from different groups circulated, handing out flyers (which will earn their own post sometime in the future). Meanwhile, a police helicopter circled above, no doubt coordinating the effort on the ground, but they managed to earn the enmity of the crowd.

After what seemed an age, the speaks took the stage, and the rally began in earnest.

Posted by crimnos @ 2:36 PM