The 2004 Election
Planning the Trip
Ticket and Protest
The Call from Mike Ruane
Traveling and Arriving
The Article in the Washington Post
ABC TV San Francisco
Will Call Tickets
Celebration of Freedom and the Black Tie and Boots Ball
Sam Farr's Office
Oath of Office Ceremony
My Support Network
Framing - George Lakoff
Billionaires for Bush
Back Home - Now What?
This is the story of a trip I made to Washington, DC from January 17-21, 2005. I went to protest not to celebrate the re-inauguration of President George W. Bush. It turned out to be quite an adventure on several levels. I wrote about it in a detailed way mostly for my own process and memory. If you have the patience to read it all I hope you enjoy it.
Note that all the links on this page open in a separate browser window. I did this so you can keep your place in the sequence here. Given the dynamic nature of the web some external links may disappear at some point. Click on this icon to get back to the top of the page.
From August 30-September 3rd, 2004 I heard about the protests at the Republican National Convention in New York City. See one of those news reports here. I had a definite sense that I should have been there; that the protesters were 'my people'. I wasn't sure that I would have wanted to be among those who had been arrested (1700 in all!) but I did feel a real sympathy with the values shared by the tens of thousands of people present there.
Ralph was not invited to participate in the debate with Bush and Gore and this was certainly something to protest about! I took several pictures at that protest and felt a real camaraderie and sympathy with the people there. It turns out that Ralph had a valid ticket to simply attend the debate, but was turned away at the door because he was not welcome. The authorities feared he might create a disturbance - even though he had no history at all of doing so. Ralph later filed a lawsuit against the CPD (Committee for Presidential Debates) over this denial of his civil liberties.
"There are a lot of people in this country that think very differently than I do and this is a democracy where the majority usually get their way."I've known for a long time that I think differently than most people but the election results really brought it home to me again. Soon after the election I resolved that I would travel to Washington to be present for the inauguration - for the protests. Not to protest the election result but to protest the policies of the administration - past and future.
I also did a web search for "protest inaugural". I first had to learn to spell "inaugural", which was not easy. Yahoo Search led me to www.counter-inaugural.org, a web site for organizing the activities around the inaugural protests. On that site I joined a mailing list and added my name to a 'housing board' where people could seek and offer housing. Click here to see the listing that I placed.
In case I didn't get any private housing I also reserved a space in a youth hostel. I am far from a pauper and could certainly have afforded a motel/hotel somewhere. However, I have pleasant associations with hostels in Europe when I traveled there and decided to do it on the cheap. It seemed more in tune with my sympathies. If the inauguration balls and celebrations were going to cost $40 million, I would take the alternate route - the road less traveled. Plus, I thought I might meet some interesting people there.
Around Christmas I began informing friends that I was going to the inaugural. I often jokingly said,
"President Bush has invited me to attend his inauguration so I'm going to Washington on January 17th."Some were jaw-droppingly amazed but most saw through my whimsical deception. I asked many of them for their suggestions on how I might protest.
I also sent a letter to the counter-inaugural mailing list asking for advice. I was pretty sure that the FBI was monitoring the list (quite likely). If they told my representative that I was coming to protest I might be denied my ticket to the Oath of Office Ceremony. Because of this I decided to "keep it on the down low" (to quote Jack Black in the wonderfully subversive film, School of Rock). I preserved my anonymity by opening a new email account at Yahoo and sent my query to the list as the fictitious firstname.lastname@example.org. Here is one of the responses I got.
"Hello, my name is Mike Ruane and I'm a reporter from the Washington Post. I found your name and number on the internet. I understand you are coming to Washington for the inauguration. Are you coming to protest?"I am rather taken aback by this. I naturally wonder if this fellow is real or not. I hesitate. I pause. And then I ask:
"Forgive me, but how do know that you are not with the FBI?"He explained that indeed he was a reporter for the Post and that he was looking for two people coming to Washington - one to protest and one to celebrate. He was tasked to write an article describing how these two people came to this point in their lives. To compare and contrast. This sounded quite interesting. I said that I was open to the idea. Mike said that he had sent several emails and made some phone calls to people that he had found on the 'housing board' at counter-inaugural.org (where I had placed a listing). He said that he had not yet decided whom to choose but asked that I give him a call when I got into town on Monday night, January 17th. I got his phone numbers and we hung up.
I called him back shortly afterwards to tell him that I had a ticket to the Oath of Office Ceremony and was wondering what form my protest might take. I got his email address and sent him several things from my communications on the counter-inaugural mailing list. So much for "keeping it on the down low".
I was still somewhat suspicious and doubtful about this fellow. So ... I did my own web search! Indeed, Mike Ruane is a reporter for the Post. And an author. He wrote a book about the sniper attacks in the Washington area in early 2002. I bought that book (an eBook) and sent him an email commenting on it.
At the end of the rapid overview of my life I said, "It has been a sad life in many respects but quite varied and unique at the same time!". The telling of the story was, of course, incomplete. ANY telling of a story is incomplete. I did share a great deal but not everything!
I told Mike right up front that I was not the most articulate, informed, or eloquent speaker for the progressive/liberal agenda and that I was not a leader or organizer, either. He still chose me - as being representative of many others. I did say that I had strong feelings and sympathies and synchronies with the progressive causes. I think he saw me as being a colorful character that he would be able to make a good story out of! I'm not sure how many choices he had, actually. He said that it was somewhat difficult to find people that were coming early in the week. He had a deadline to meet so the story could appear the day before the inauguration. Perhaps I was his only choice!
At this point in time I began some internal emotional processing about how I view 'fame'. The phrase came to me: "I'm not dazzled by fame but I'm not immune to it either." Fame is, indeed, fleeting but while it is present it is very motivating! It wasn't only fame I was processing. Everyone has a deep need to be heard; especially if you have a strong feeling about an issue. It is every protester's dream to have press coverage so that their message is amplified. To have a summary of my life appear on the front page of the Post was way beyond my wildest dream. Of course, I wouldn't be speaking for myself but through the reporter. Furthermore, the article was not going to be an extended political discourse but a summary of the route I took in life to get where I am today.
This dialog took place at the end of the interview:
I took a cab from the airport to the hostel. The cabby said earlier that day he had taken a Texan lawyer to a penthouse! Mike Ruane and a photographer named Rich Lipski were waiting for me when I arrived at the Hilltop Hostel.
The next day (Tuesday) Mike came to pick me up and gave me a ride
to the "Convergence Center". This was a place where protesters could
gather for non-violence trainings, planning meetings and
I donated $40 to a group that came to provide food for everyone. I think I did this partly to impress Mike with my generosity! Mike left and I hung out a while - eating, observing, chatting. I called Mike later that afternoon to report that I was a little sad that the 'Convergence Center' was on such a low budget and was so disorganized. My sense of order and standard of excellence was disappointed. Later that day I met some people from Billionaires for Bush and was glad to see that they had their act more together. I helped them with setting up and taking down their booth and banner. The press came for a while. A photographer from the Post tracked me down and took several close up (almost fish-eye) pictures. I felt honored and famous!
I had dinner that night with an old friend from graduate school and had a wonderful wide-ranging conversation. The next morning (Wednesday, January 19th) I woke early and went out to get a copy of the Post.
I had some reservations about the wording of the article. The writing did invoke obvious simplistic stereotypes for both the protester and the celebrant. I didn't like that it said I was a "laid-off software engineer". While true at the present moment it was not really reflective of my long and varied career! It sounded like a "laid-off software engineer" was a type of engineer. The article also said that I "had lived in a commune". Mount Madonna Center is not really a commune. 'Commune' is a charged word, easily misinterpreted. I had described the center to Mike as a "high functioning commune". A better term would have been "intentional community".
So it was not perfect but still I was pleased. I called Mike Ruane and left him a message thanking him and saying that I felt that I had been heard.
I realized that 'the time was now' - carpe diem - that this was my '15 minutes of fame'. Fame is, indeed, fleeting. I decided I would celebrate my fame before it faded by buying many copies of the paper and mailing them to all of my friends and relatives. I went to the 7/11 and local drug store and bought all of their copies of the Post - 48 total! I took only the front section and left the rest of the paper with them. The clerks at the stores were dazzled - they were meeting someone famous - and they hadn't even read the article! The clerk at the post office (where I bought stamps) apparently HAD read the story and there was a shock of recognition when I told her why I was buying the stamps. I would mail the papers later but wanted to get the postage for them. At the drug store a woman overheard me explaining my purchase. I had not spoken with her in the store but as I was walking away from the store she smiled and waved to me from her car. Ridiculous. I thought, "This is a great way to get girls!".
When I tried to enter the press area the next day, access was blocked; I did not have press credentials. The interview never happened.
I went to the outside hallway and sat at a table to look at the materials in the envelope. The tickets were rather beautiful. Souvenir quality.
At this point I overheard a conversation at the next table. A lady was sitting there doing some kind of paperwork for the Will Call arrangements. A fellow walked up to her with a newspaper in his hand saying,
"Look at this guy. He's a vegetarian pacifist. He looks real hardcore. There's no telling what he might do."My ears perked up! They were talking about me! This seemed like a scene in a movie! I don't remember or didn't hear much more of their conversation. I pulled my stocking cap down a bit further over my face and gathered my things. Leaving the building - exiting the scene - seemed to be indicated. I could have introduced myself to them and had a friendly chat so they would know (and love?) the real me but I didn't feel like it! I made my way outside and decided I would take a cab to the "Celebration of Freedom" event. I got in a line and started chatting with a well dressed man - likely a Republican businessman who had come to celebrate. The 'dress code' for Republican men seemed to require a perfectly pressed dark blue or black wool overcoat and this fellow's was looking good. Three or four minutes later a lady came up to me accompanied by two men in security guard uniforms. She greeted me and said,
"Hello sir. I recognize you from the article in the paper this morning. I have to ask for your tickets back. We know what you are thinking of doing."I was nonplussed. Taken by surprise. I quickly pondered what I should do. There was not much time to react. I didn't just want to surrender and roll over and acquiesce to her demand. Yet, I didn't want to make a big ruckus either. So I said, "Just for what I'm thinking?". It seemed like I was being persecuted by the thought police!
"Yes. This is an invitation only event. And you are not welcome at my event."(I distinctly remember her using the word 'my'.) I believe one of the men piped up a little as well - to add his voice of 'male authority', perhaps. Since I am a pacifist I didn't want to make a scene. So I gave them the envelope with the tickets and they went away with no further interaction. In retrospect I wish I had done something more. I could have asked for their reasons in writing or asked for their names. Even pacifists can make a scene ... just a non-violent one! They seemed afraid somehow. Tense. As if their jobs were in danger or something.
I was stunned. I walked away in amazement at what had just happened. Because I was pondering a rather innocuous form of dissent (which was spelled out in the article) at events where tens of thousands of people would attend I was denied a ticket and was deemed a persona non gratis. Amazing. There was a striking cognitive dissonance in that I was not free to attend the "Celebration of Freedom"! They would allow no dissent of any sort, however mild. Coerced agreement. It is true that I got access to the tickets via an email to a Republican/GOP mailing list of which I was not truly a member. But these public events were not just for Republicans. This was not the "Republican Celebration of Freedom". It was ostensibly for all Americans, all citizens. Furthermore, even Republicans can disagree with the president, yes?
I wondered how and when they realized they had given me the tickets. My picking them up must have raised an alarm. Why hadn't they marked the tickets with a note? Or removed them. Did they go looking for me to see if I were still in the area? Did they bring the paper along to match my face to the picture? Did they rush around gathering security guards to make sure they outnumbered me? Imagining this is almost laughable! I could have picked up the tickets the day before! Darn!
I then went to a protest outside the Black Tie and Boots Ball. There were perhaps 60 or 70 of us protesters in front of the entrance to the event. Many had signs and banners. We chanted slogans and challenged the people walking in and driving up in their big SUVs. I specialized in yelling "More Money!" and waving fake $100 bills. It was fun! I seriously doubt, however, if we made any friends. One protester asked if I was the fellow in the paper and offered his congratulations. The two women (from Code Pink?) I met making signs were there and also commented on the article.
At this point I was totally exhausted. Tired, cold and hungry. I found an Italian restaurant and had a nice meal to warm up and rest.
Returning to the hostel by Metro I saw a fellow in a magnificent cowboy hat and I complimented him on it.
He said he had just been to the Black Tie and Boots Ball and that the Stetson company had given a hat to every man there. There was nothing for the women, however. He said it cost $150 to attend and there were about 12,000 people there. President Bush came around 10:00 pm and stayed for a few minutes. If you wanted to be in the same room as Bush you had to have arrived at 4:00 pm. Earlier in the evening Bush had attended several candlelight dinners for the people who had donated more than $100,000 to his campaign. So we chatted for a while. He was a resident of New York City and he admired Bush for his leadership post 9/11. He felt that Bush was the best one to protect us from further terrorist attack - i.e. The Fear Factor. As he left the subway car I asked him to take a look at the front page of the Post. I didn't explain why.
Sitting next to me on the Metro was a strikingly beautiful young woman from Russia. She was for Bush because Putin supported Bush. He did? I then had another talk with another woman on the train who was not a Bush supporter.
"I know you! You're the fellow in the paper yesterday!"He had my ticket ready for me. I didn't even have to give him my name. I felt welcomed home. When I told him of the ticket revocation the day before his jaw dropped in disbelief.
"What? 5 people to a room?"Oh oh. I think they're talking about me again. What else could "5 people to a room" be referring to except the sleeping conditions at the hostel described in the Post article? It was time to once again pull my hat down a little further over my eyes. I just chanced to overhear this conversation. How many others had there been?
"He sold his soul."
I made it through the security search; I had nothing but a camera and various papers in my pockets. At that point I realized I had forgotten my wallet in the youth hostel in my dazed rush out the door. I had put it under my pillow for safe keeping and had left it there. Luckily I had a Metro pass so I could get back to the hostel. Otherwise, I guess I would have had to resort to begging! Hilarious.
I took various pictures of the soldiers lining the streets and of the crowd as it surged towards the Capitol grounds where the ceremony would take place. I felt like a small drop in an ocean of Republicans; a pure raindrop in a polluted ocean. None of us could see very much; we were too far away in the Green Zone. There was a large television screen but at such a distance even that could not be seen very well.
We could hear some music and some of the speaking. There were people much further away in the Gold Zone.
My plans for a protest were withering away. When Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif) name was announced during the introductions of the dignitaries present there was hissing and booing from the people around me. I felt like I was "in the lion's den".
I couldn't do much in the way of protest but I wanted to do something. For reasons that were personal, ritualistic, and symbolic I feigned a coughing fit during the administration of the oath and then walked out during the inaugural speech. No one seemed to notice or care but that was all I could manage. If I had been with some other like-minded people perhaps we would have had the joint courage to do some kind of chant. I heard in the news later that a small group did just that. See this news story from the San Francisco Chronicle and also this one on Democracy Now where Medea Benjamin of Code Pink explains what happened.
On return home many of my friends have said that the quote in the article:
"I can't believe he's our president. He's such a misspoken bumbling fool."did resonate strongly with them - that they feel much the same way. This essay from December 2002 is an excellent psychological analysis of why Bush is viewed as misspoken.
The words "freedom" and "liberty" were used so often in the inaugural speech that they eventually lost their meaning for me. They could be seen as 'code words' for further expansion of American empire and dominance. Amy Goodman noted that:
In his speech, Bush mentioned the words "freedom" and "liberty" more than 40 times but he never directly mentioned the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jon,I slept. On waking 3 hours later I decided I should have a shower - it had been several days. The hostel did not provide towels (spartan!) but I showered anyway and dried myself with a shirt. I went downstairs, watched some of the inaugural parade on television and chatted with several people there.
Welcome to Takoma Park.
We support your values.
(Washington Post, Jan 19, 2005)
Let us know if you need a ride somewhere
or if you'd like info on local stuff.
Two middle aged women (Azzree and Anna) tried my patience. They were incessant blabbers (loquacious is the word) and had endless stories to share. (Hmmm. Is this an endless story as well?) Azzree was a religious black woman who adored President Bush. When I extracted myself from that conversation Anna grabbed my ear. She was a radical leftist absolutely sure that Condoleezza Rice was Bush's mistress. Both were charmed by my recent fame.
Michele told me of an excellent web log by an unembedded independent journalist in Iraq named Dahr Jamail.
Kirsty returned from the protest at the parade and shared some of her experience in a delightful Australian accent. She had spoken at length with some Republican evangelicals about the existence of evil in the world. I invited Kirsty to dinner. We shared a Middle Eastern vegetarian meal and talked of many things. It was a very nurturing mutual exchange most welcome to me after my several days of tumult. She shared digital images and videos she had taken at the parade protest.
The next morning (Friday) I called the fellow who had left the card for me. We met for breakfast before I left town. I thanked him for his effort at finding me and delivering the card. Not many take the time these days to make such gestures of goodwill. On return home I exchanged email with him. He asked that I not reveal his identity in this story as he had heard of some people being harassed for their progressive values. This is what the email said, in part:
Regarding the Republicans rage against Democratically minded employees... One of our neighbors was fired from a photo shop job by his Republican boss when he said he didn't like the war that was started in our name. I don't have any reason to doubt his words. My former boss, a young millionaire godist, used to grill me on what political party I belong to when I wasn't even a citizen and could not vote for anybody. Just recently we went to a party and two women there complained that they had to work for Republican-run firms and are constantly screened for their political views. One person had to go for a job interview and they asked her where she came from that morning and when she said that she came from Takoma Park the interview was over.
Apparently the city of Takoma Park is a place where many liberals and progressives live and it has gotten a reputation for such. I did not choose the hostel because of that; I just lucked out, I guess!
On the train to New York I found myself trapped. The woman next to me was on her cell phone yapping away and then the fellow in front of me received a call and started speaking loudly. They were in their "bubble of self-absorption" yet intruding into my space. I was uncomfortable so I escaped to the cafe car to get some orange juice. I greeted the woman behind me in line. She was a reporter from New Jersey who had covered the inauguration and one of the balls. I mentioned that I had been in the Post on Wednesday. She lit up and exclaimed,
YOU'RE THAT GUY!!So we shared our stories. All the way from Washington to New York. She was Stanford educated, very smart, and awake. She told of the mindless fear-based security measures at the ball she had covered.
Amy had written a series of stories for her newspaper about an extraordinarily gifted high school student whose family was from India. Everyone in the family had received their immigration green cards except him and it was severely interfering with his application to college. In the end it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity and bureaucratic bungling. Fascinating.
Jan 22, 2005For a few people who I knew would enjoy it I included a "No W" sticker.
Dear Friends and Relatives,
Through a series of conscious choices and chance events a story about my life appeared on the front page of the Washington Post and I thought you all would like to know. Fame is, indeed, fleeting so we need to celebrate it while we can! Some of you may disagree intensely with my political views yet I hope you enjoy seeing someone you know get some national media exposure!
For my very Republican uncle, Gerald, I included an official inaugural information pamphlet and a large button (4 inches in diameter) with all of the presidents arrayed on the perimeter and a prominent picture of President George W. Bush in the center. I hoped these two gifts might to some degree offset the horror he might feel on knowing that his nephew had publicly called his beloved President a bumbling fool.
For such political merchandise of every description visit www.cafepress.com/politics or www.t-shirtcountdown.com.
The pictures on the inside page were more interesting. I think I look engaged and intelligent. It was taken in the living room of the youth hostel. The painting behind me was of a man named "Manda", a friend of the owner of the hostel. With it as a background it looks like I'm addressing some serious civil rights issue - which I was not! The picture of Anna Bryson has her posing triumphantly in one of her ball gowns with a cutesy ceramic elephant statue behind her. Again, a stereotyped image. Her picture is a higher quality digital scan grabbed from the web.
The Post did not include a picture of me on the web site - only the one of Anna. I asked Mike about this. He said that his only duty was to write the story. Others take the pictures, choose which pictures to include, write the copy under the picture, write the headlines and decide where the article will appear in the paper. He said the web site is created in an entirely different building. It must take a lot of people to produce a paper like the Post every day! And a lot of sophisticated technology. Mike said it is completely computerized now. When he began as a journalist (1970's?) there were no computers at all and type was actually set by hand.
Laura Ingraham is a nationally syndicated conservative talk show host. Her web site is www.lauraingraham.com. Here's a picture of Laura at the Republican National Convention:
She saw the article in the Post on Wednesday, January 19th, and thought it would be good material for her show that day. She focused especially on my profile. I assembled excerpts from her show into this mp3 audio clip. The whole thing is 11 minutes long. She mentioned the story 3 times before she actually read portions of it - as a way to tease and entice her audience, apparently. Because there are several fragments pieced together there are some abrupt transitions. I also included some context around her comments so that you could get a sense of the kind of show she presents. I view her as a female version of Rush Limbaugh - both of them are quite the motor mouth, full of exaggeration and character assassination, and loyal to the conservative agenda at all costs. They are administration apologists generating lots of heat and little light. When she did the dramatic reading of the portions of the article about my life it seems she purposefully left out the fact that I have a master's degree in mathematics and had worked for the Census Bureau. It wasn't just that she was trying to save time. Including those details might have 'legitimized' me too much for her show. Her reading was clearly selective to suit her agenda. Entertainment was more important than truth.
In another small excerpt (2 minutes) she belittles ABC's Diane Sawyer for interviewing a mother who lost her son in Iraq. Laura actually said that it wasn't important what the mother thinks.
She let him speak to some degree but mostly she simply harassed him. She asked him if he were a vegetarian. I presume she did this only to see if that were another way that she could have mocked him. The interview lasts 17 minutes. Given the way she treated Marco I am perhaps thankful that I was not interviewed by her directly. It would have been nice to be able to "speak for myself", defend myself and explain myself in a more complete manner. I likely would have also tried to challenge her abusive harassing techniques. In the end, however, she likely would have talked over me and around me and out-talked me and left me feeling silly. If I did consent to an interview I would first get some coaching and practice!
This story is now over and I'm back home and life is back to 'normal'. Now what do I do? Any suggestions?
Ideally, I would love to find a place where I could be paid for using my computer programming skills in the service of a progressive political cause. May that come to be.