Neville Island on Labor Day 2002: First Amendment Behind Bars
Report from the Front, by Michael Rectenwald
I arrived at the fenced-in, designated "protest area" around 12:30 PM. In walking through Neville Island, a disinformation agent of some sort was trying to get all those carrying anti-Bush signs to give them up, saying that we wouldn't be able to carry signs along the presidential motorcade route or anywhere near the training facility. I tried to assure some of these protesters that we indeed had a "protest zone" where we could display our signs. When I arrived, one of our number was outside of the fenced-in area and already getting harassed by two cops. He was a middle-aged gentleman who wanted to know why he had to be put inside a fence to express his first amendment right. I since learned that his name was Bill Neel. Bill has sent us his report on the day. I asked people with cameras to take shots of Bill being escorted away by two cops.
I went behind the fence for now, and started yelling about how that is what had become of America and our first amendment rights; one had to go to a virtual prison to actually USE one’s freedom of speech. With the help of two wonderful radical cheerleaders, Andalucia and Etta, whose fantastic national group I've just come to know, the fifty or so people assembled there, with our signs and bullhorns
chanted against the Idiot Usurper in a political hip-hop songs. It was great. We tried to engage passersby in our chants and to dialog with them about the state of the union, which is atrocious. The chants included lines such as (solo) "Who's the world's biggest terrorist today? (chorus): "Bush, Bush, Bush!!!" "Who funded bin Laden?...Bush, Bush, Bush." "Who bombed innocents in Afghanistan?... Bush, Bush, Bush!" The chorus was slightly syncopated, and the lines are merely approximated here. A radical cheerleader squad near you is available for your next protest!
Also represented among the group were some great people from the Thomas Merton Center, David from Moveon.org, and other protesters of conscience.
All in all, we numbered around 60 or so by the time the 2 o'clock hour came. Finally, the Usurper's motorcade arrived, with the prince of darkness behind tinted glass in a black limo. We screamed at the top of our lungs. I am glad to report that we were the first assembled people he could possibly have seen in Neville Island today! He must have been a tad taken back to hear so much yelling of "fraud" and "no War," etc.
After that I decided to venture outside the zone. I told our jailers that I was just going home and needed to take my signs. I was leaving, I said. But I stopped on the street, where I met Frank Beal, with his "Selected not Elected Sign." I was simply holding my CLG banner, newly made, plus a sign that read, "That’s OK, I wasn't using my civil liberties anyway." I put the latter aside for a while and just held the CLG sign, as such:
Soon after Frank left with a plan to spring the inmates from the pen, I was accosted by three officers—one a plain-clothed Secret Service agent, flanked by two state troopers at either arm. He began screaming at me, saying "You know where the protest area is. You know where you’re supposed to be. Now you are REALLY pushing it. He was 'in my face,' pointing violently at me as if he was about to rip my head off. I said, "all I am doing is standing here with a sign." Across the street there were people holding signs saying "Go Get'm George," and "We Luv you George." I said, "My sign says only 'Citizens for Legitimate Government.' The only way this sign can be construed as negative is if our government ISN'T legitimate." He then said that I was "this close" to crossing the line, and that I would be arrested on felony charges for violating a federal protection order, or something very near to that effect. He definitely said I was bordering on being arrested on felony charges. He proceeded to say that he was putting two armed state troopers on me, and that if I so much as opened my mouth, I was going down on a felony charge. I said, "if I so much as say a thing, these guys will arrest me?" He said, "Yes!" Regis T. Sabol from A New Deal Online Magazine and his colleague both witnessed these threats and harassment, and couldn't believe their ears. Read Regis' report here.
I decided that it would be more useful and satisfying to scream inside the pen, than to stand mute on the street outside, with two armed guards ready to seize me at any moment. Likewise, I told them I'd go instead. "Have a nice day," one of the officers said to me, sarcastically.
I then told the jeering crowd as I passed by that this is what has become of America under Bush. I found that I did have some support. An older lady said that it was terrible what had happened to me and what was happening to the country. I agreed.
Back in the pen, we chanted and shouted at those who left the staged Bush photo-op with labor. Then the Usurper came by again, and we all shouted, in unison, "Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!" It reminded me of the good old days.
On the way back to our cars, I accosted a Roman Catholic priest and asked him if Christianity sanctioned an unprovoked war on a defenseless country. He said, sure. Then, a woman asked what mine and Frank’s signs said. I showed another which said, "Organized Labor Says Bush Must Go" and John Sweeny’s quote about Bush being the worst president for organized labor in 50 years. The woman's husband said there should be more of them. More of what, I asked. More protesters, he answered. The old man wanted to put up the 'Labor Says Bush Must Go' sign, but his daughter in the adjacent house said she wouldn't let him. I said, "what about his right to free speech." She said, "he's my father and he isn't putting that sign in his yard."
I was on the local CBS news holding my CLG sign.