How did I get to give the President the finger today? To be fair, I was about 3-400 feet away at the time, so I doubt he saw me. But, like homemade gifts, it's the thought that counts, right?
The President came to my old high school, to speak in its shiny opera house-esque performing arts center. Something called the World Affairs Council brought him in, with financial help from my dad's law firm. My dad is on the firm's allocations committee for giving away money to various civic and philanthropic purposes. Needless to say, he was not pleased when someone offered the chance to give $5,000 to let Dubya prattle on for an hour and a half. He tells me he wrote three emails expressing this displeasure, though he only sent the one where he managed to keep a civil tongue in his head and not reach through the computer screen and throttle his fellow committee members. He was outvoted, and was feeling pretty good when the committee was having trouble finding guests to come with. Unfortunately, some clients gleefully expressed interest, ruining his day.
While I for one came out of the experience with a full camera memory card and mild sunburn, you, dear reader, get to enjoy the viewpoint of each individual member of my family. Roll call time:
Stewart: Wandering around town, photographing pro/anti-Bush folk,
My sister: Trying to go to school while it's under lockdown.
Dad: Front row of the audience for the speech, as the President likes people who toss money at him, even if they do so begrudgingly.
Mom: Watching the news coverage from home. For once, she got the easy job.
I woke up at the stroke of 11:30, had a very quick breakfast, and walked towards town, pausing alongside a postal worker to watch a Federal Helicopter buzz the neighborhood. My second sign of something out of the ordinary was watching a procession of about 7 small children with their parents, decked out in red, white and blue clothes, flags, frighteningly red cowboy hats emblazoned with flags, and carrying large signs with lariats on them, with the words "You have a friend in me" inside. Toy Story references aside, the children happily played in traffic on their way past a home construction site, where the builders had erected a makeshift sign out of plywood and orange spray paint that said "Builders for Bush". Many hours later, as I walked home, these builders could be found shouting such patriotic phrases as "Four More Wars!", "Four More Queers!" and the simplistically-ominous "More War!" as they worked. Oh, for the days of catcalls and wolf-whistles.
Walking up to the high school, so far the mental tally of pro-Bush to anti-Bush people was leaning heavily toward the former. There were several more people with Bush/Cheney signs, and various other posterboard signs welcoming the president, and telling him how he was doing the right thing, etc. It was here I witnessed one of the more interesting parental admonishments I've seen in a while, which went something like this:
"Billy, pick that up! What would the President think if he came by and saw your sign on the ground like that?"
My dad later told me of a parallel experience, where, at around noon, a client called him up and asked him if he could drop everything and work on a project for him for four days. My dad's reply?
"Sorry, I'm meeting with the President in a little while..."
'Cause really, even if you don't like the President, there's little one can do to argue with something like that.
Fortunately for me, I soon saw some proper protesters across the street, and managed to snap a few more pictures. I had to wander around a large quantity of trucks to do so. As they did with the Gerald Ford funeral, large vehicles (salt trucks, snowplows, garbage trucks, etc.) were used as roadblocks, though they had to bring in some from nearby cities to block all the roads in need of blocking. It was at this time I got a call from my sister.
The high schoolers, you see, were faced with an interesting choice. Come to school, or join the massive protest being organized off school grounds. The high school would be sealed up tight soon after school started. My sister chose to go to school, and had to pass through metal detectors and the like (never before seen at my little school) to do so. Many of the entrances were blocked the whole day, guarded by Secret Service agents in business suits and nametags ("Hello, my name is Secret Service?" I asked my sister. She said I wasn't too far off.) SWAT teams and dog sniffing dogs roamed the halls. The gym was turned into an area for the media (which apparently involves installing about 100,000 phones, or so I'm told) The theater's Green Room was turned into a staging room for security. Translation, according to my sister: It was filled to the brim with guns. No people visible, just guns. Some students did manage to have their school and protest too; protest signs were taped to the classroom windows, making a case for peace, or pace in the Latin classroom window and paz in the Spanish classes. However, the mood was rather tense. My sister described the following exchange:
Somewhat ditzy girl: Why are all those SWAT team guys carrying guitar cases?
My sister: Those aren't guitar cases, those are sniper rifles.
Somewhat ditzy girl: Eeep! (Hides)
Unsatisfied with the small crowds at the front of the school, I had to go the long way around to get to the back. As I walked toward the police station I saw a massive gathering of law enforcement. Two fire trucks flanked the building, each with a person standing on top, alternately looking authoritative and as if they were about to start doing the macarena (this one guy was doing something odd with his arms, which is why it came to mind). The library parking lot next door was filled with police cars from all the neighboring cities, as well as State Police, Highway Patrol, a SWAT team, and the Sheriff. This is sort of odd, as this area is nowhere useful, as the President came and went southeast of their position. My only theory on why they chose to gravitate here is that, if the protesters got rough, the police could swoop in from behind. This is, admittedly, a rather paranoid and unrealistic theory.
Speaking of protests, as I walked past the gathering of policemen I was confronted by a massive protest heading up the street, chanting and otherwise being loudly enthusiastic. Many more photos were snapped before the protesters stopped in front of the police barricade. They were here for a while, as nobody was sure exactly how the President would arrive. There were two ways he could have come, three if you believed the rumor going around the high school that he would be brought in via helicopter. The protesters seemed to be massing around one entrance, and not surprisingly the President's limo (plus the decoy, several black SUVs, and a parade of unmarked vans) came and left via the other way. The crowd, I later heard on the news, was between 1,000 and 2,000 people, which seemed pretty accurate. There were a lot of people from out of town (hence such a large number) but I ran into a fair amount of people I knew, which was fun. There was one impressive moment where someone unrolled a massive spool of paper, which had the names of all the American soldiers who had been killed so far on it. It stretched much further than I'd have liked.
There were plenty of news reporters about. Fittingly, NBC, CBS, and ABC were allowed to park their news vans within the police cordon, while Fox News was stuck outside, down the street. Curiously, this happened to be exactly the route the President took to go to and from the high school. Conspiracy theorists, that one's for you.
Once I find the login and password for this site's corresponding Flickr account, I'll try to get some photos of the event to you. In the meantime, feel free to bombard me with questions and comments, such as "Where the hell have you been? It's been months!"
So let's attack that subject head on, shall we? I admit, after my last massive post I got rather burned out, especially after losing all the links I was trying to archive. And now, as some of you may know, I'm headed off to grad school, for a frighteningly intense program which crams 40 credits into nine months, including many hours of student teaching. Free time will be a luxury, long story short. Thus, you can expect the occasional post, but unless I clone myself or suddenly become the god of teaching, this site may be dormant 9 times out of 10. If you're desperate for political news, I can tell you where I usually go to find it. At this point, simply keeping in touch with friends (something I'm also crap at) takes priority over talking politics.
Feel free to keep talking on Politics for All. Email me if there's something I can do to help--or for any reason, for that matter.
Yours in politics and otherwise,