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Monday, Aug. 26, 2002 at 1:15 PM
Texans welcoming pResident Bush back to his self-adopted home, cuz you know , he's really not a Texan.
People from around Texas descended on the small Texas town of Crawford Saturday morning to protest the Bush administration's push for a new war against Iraq.
George Bush's "ranch" is 7 miles out of town, but as there is no public space to gather near the ranch, people decided to hold a rally in town and then drive up to the ranch to present petitions to the Federal authorities.
After the protest was announced, George Bush made plans to be in California for the day, ensuring that the major national media would follow him and be removed from a protest in the heart of Texas. Demonstrators turned out in California for his visit, as they do for any visit by him anywhere in the country, so that was not treated as news.
With Bush out of state and 98 F weather, hundreds of people, of all ages, races, and religions traveled 100 or more miles from Austin, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Houston to the rural town to "speak truth to power. Thousands had committed to come earlier in the month, when W was scheduled to be at the ranch, but his flight from the ranch dampened the enthusiasm of most to travel hours in extreme weather when he was not home.
The rally was high spirited with talks by Kathy Kelly -- who has brought food and medicine to Iraq numerous times as part of Voices in the Wilderness, Rahul Mahajan -- author of "The New Crusade, America's War on Terrorism" and Green party candidate for Governor of Texas, a representative of the British Labour Party, and others. Musical interludes included "We Shall Overcome" and "Your Flag Decal won't Get You into Heaven Anymore".
The original plan was to have been a march through town, but the Crawford Police Chief demanded from each sponsoring organization for a permit. As most organizations felt that 0 was too expensive for Free Speech, the alternative of a caravan past the ranch by bicycle and car was decided on.
As the Crawford Police found out about the public plan, they aided the endeavor by closing the direct road out of town heading 7 miles towards the ranch.
Prior scouting had revealed two other roadblocks, far closer to the ranch -- one two miles away by the state police, and one a mile away by the county. So hundreds of cars headed out on a 10-mile trip through the baking heat following eight bicycles. People came out of their farm houses to see a rolling peace demonstration and a government helicopter circled around and around burning up taxpayer dollars.
Given the 15 mph pace of the caravan, the county police had time to move their barricade several hundred meters in order to not confront the caravan with a dead end, but to divert them down a dirt road. They assured the minister in the lead car that although that road was blocked, the caravan would not be blocked from the third turn-off heading towards the ranch. Relying on the veracity of the County police, the minister lead the caravan down the dirt road and to the third turn-off, where, sure enough, the state police would not let anyone through, while Secret Service agents in spanking new ranch-hand duds and earplugs with wires attached watched from the background.
The caravan circled once more past the county police, but instead of a continuous circuit via a 2-mile loop, one protester blocked the next return, telling everyone to park on the side of the road so that everyone could march to the police to present a petition for the US not to go to war.
During the 20 minutes it took to get everyone parked, gathered and provided with water, the county police
drove down to the meeting site and the County Sheriff decreed the road "closed". When asked on what
authority he decreed a county road "closed" and to cite the state or county law, he refused. He then
announced that the vehicles were all illegally parked and that unless people moved right away, he would
have them towed. The sheriff stated that a road's right-of-way extended to the fence-line and that parking
on the right-of-way was illegal on county roads.
Most people chuckled at the thought of towing hundreds of cars and several inter-city busses, but the demonstrator who had taken charge by getting people to park there in the first place considered it a significant threat. While people were negotiating with the county police, an unmarked car crept through the crowd heading from the state police barricade towards Crawford. After shouts of "let the Secret
Service through" the crowd slowly parted as government agents whose cover was blown passed.
When people suggested parking at a nearby country church, the County Police declared that to be "private property" and said that such parking would be illegal.
When it seemed that the hundreds of people had almost agreed to hike up the road to the State Police blockade (followed by the cars to obviate the "illegal parking" problem) to hand over the petitions, the County Sheriff reversed his prior position and agreed to accept the petitions and hand them over to the Secret Service to transmit to White House officials.
The protester who had assumed leadership got the crowd to agree to this by arguing that we could then drive back to "the school" in town where the media was based, since the only national media that was covering the stand-off was Pacifica's Houston station KPFT.
So the caravan headed back to Crawford, even though many people knew that the national media had followed Bush to the West Coast and that they used the local High School only for press conferences. As the bicycles were now in vans and pick-up trucks the caravan returned at a slightly less leisurely pace of 35-40 mph instead of 10-15 (on 65-70 mph roads).
Surprisingly, there were a number of cars already parked at the high school when the caravan arrived. Some people went inside to look for the media (or use the facilities) while others waited outside. Two peace flags went up the flagpole outside the school with a peace symbol on a blue-green field above and a US flag with a white peace symbol replacing the 50 stars below. Police showed up immediately; one demanding, "take them down or I'll cut them down!" -- although the rope he threatened to cut was the school's.
Demonstrators were ordered off school grounds for "trespassing" on "private property". When asked to name the private entity whose property it was, he answered the school district, but could not explain how that branch of the government owned "private property".
After assuring the assembled state, county, and town police that the demonstrators would keep returning until a regime change was effected in the US, the Texans got back in their cars and busses and headed back home, some noting that the demonstrator who had taken charge earlier was standing near the school doors chatting with police.
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