Ever since his college days, when he snuck into the campaign headquarters of a Democratic candidate and stole 1000 letterheads to distribute false messages about the campaign, Rove has been involved in subterfuge, chicanery, theft, and subversion--and not in a good way. In fact, he has been using these tactics in the worst way possible: to get corrupt politicianselected so they can enact murderous, genocidal policies and enrich the richest of the elite's upper crust.
That's why so many people showed up yesterday to do whatever they could to oppose this man and the violence he has imposed on this world. Tactics ranged from mild to militant: some were content with speaking, chanting, and singing, while others yearned for the bittersweetness of direct action.
When I got there, people had already been mobilized for quite some time. The drums were beating and the chants were flowing. Someone or a group of someones had spiked the fountain outside the Claremont McKenna College's venerable Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum so that the waters ran as red as the blood that flows in the streets of Iraq. Participants, some of them masked, carried signs reading "Karl Rove I Want You [with a picture of Uncle Sam] Tried for War Crimes," "KKKarl Rove Architect of Lies Deception Terror,""How Many Lives Per Gallon?" and "USA vs Rove."
A table was set up with fruit, cookies, and lemonade, and later, volunteers brought a tray full of grilled cheese sandwiches. We helped ourselves as more people started showing up and a microphone was set up for to allow a little bit of free speech.
There were probably five or six speakers, total, who attempted to address the crowd through a weak PA system. Some of them had better luck abandoning the mic altogether and using megaphones. One speaker was a woman. Many of the speakers encouraged the assmblees to register and vote. Most of them were Obama supporters.
I don't disagree with voting in principle. Especially when we have the opportunity to vote against such vicious proposals as the homophobic prop 8 (wanting to re-ban gay marriage) and the anti-choice prop 6 (yet another "parental notification" bill). It's rare enough that they let the common person have any say whatsoever, so I think voting can be an important tactic to use. As long as we realize that it is one of many, and we don't get caught up in it and allow voting to be conceptualized as "the" means of political participation. But I do resent it when "leaders" among us attempt to channel leftist resources into the election machine. They deliberately divert the strong, positive energy and thirst for justice present at the event into electoral politics.
The people present at the protest realize that voting is not going to get justice for Rove. It is not going to end the war, sexism, or poverty. And it is definitely not by voting that last night's participants created a community that organized and acted. The dedicated people who showed up last night had a different tactic in mind: direct action.
After the brief microphone session, fifteen minutes of which was taken up by a well-known and well-liked professor, we were invited to attend informal teach-ins held concurrently on the nearby lawn with professors from the Claremont Colleges.
"I'm glad they brought the professors," I overhead one compañer@ remark. "I really needed someone to tell me what to think."
Some of the teach-ins began ending, and one young woman led those gathered in a collective Om. Further chants arose, and certain activists began demanding that either the police present arrest Karl Rove or they be allowed to execute a citizen's arrest. They were denied entrance to the building.
"I don't get it!" exclaimed one compañer@. "There's like three of them [cops]. Why don't we just rush in?" Many explanations, but many more questions, came to mind, but the crowd was seemed to be too caught up in the drama of the man with man with the megaphone to ponder them.
Which is not to say that individuals didn't do their part to push the discourse in positive ways. Many of the signs were very artistic. And many people felt free to shout out their own, often radical, messages. And often, I was witness to many individuals breaking the bounds of anonymity to introduce themselves to other compañeras and compañeros. All beautiful sights.
One of the most beautiful actions of the night was a song, inspired by Bush's reference to Rove as the "architect" of his 2004 "re-election"1
springing seemingly spontaneously from the crowd:
"Architect of terror
architect of hate
throw the man in jail
lock his ass away"
While the song was beautiful in its spontaneity, mutability, and melody, its subliminal message was not lost on everyone. One compañer@ opined:"Like it's really gonna do anyone good to lock one guy up, you know? I mean, we need justice, but, at the same time, we're perpetuating this idea that the only way we can have justice is through locking people up!" Later on, someone complained, "Imprisonment is plaguing our society, and here we are demanding more."
We realized our only chance for action was at Rove's egress, so we decided to cover every exit, ostensibly to issue a citizen's arrest. A large crowd gathered in front of a limo parked in back of the Athenaeum just beside the rear exit. A small group kept its eyes on a small side entrance guarded by two nervous security guards. The largest remained outside the north entrance, although for some reason, most of us remained within the confines of our partial plastic-chain enclosure of a "free speech zone." There we used a combination of approaches, from reaching out to heckling, on the shameless fascists exiting the event. These tie-choked, starched-collar, spiked hair white fraternity boys foamed at the mouth to see such an energetic group daring to peacably assemble and demand redress of greivances. Perhaps they felt they were protecting their rich parents and Claremont's conservative elite when they yelled at us, calling us "hippies" Most of the demonstrators yelled "Arrest Karl Rove!," but some near the front had more interesting messages for the
Then, a large group mobilized toward the south entrance of the building. It seemed that they had been attracted by a police mobilization and the fact that cars had pulled up at a small roundabout there. Lines formed, and police brought out their riot gear. I saw them pull out a large, red-colored weapon. Some of the protestors said it was used for pepper spray. A confrontation seemed imminent. I saw one cop pushing one protestor away from a car. But nothing really happened.
At various times, organizers requested that people cover one exit or another when it appeared (based on cop activity) that Rove may be leaving. How do we know, I wondered, that the cops aren't going to take advantage of this to smuggle this guy out?
Which is what happened. A rumor circulated that Rove had made to another (yet somehow connected) building and was attempting to escape from a distant side door. Nonetheless, people went running. The paper today claimed that a bomb threat caused the shift in manpower that distracted a number of protesters.2
But we knew the real reason the cops claimed there was a bomb.
People who refused to be tricked stuck to where they knew Rove was. There, some of them were maced, which allowed Rove's driver to exit, plowing through the few remaining activists without regard for their safety in the midst of the confusion.
A small group of militant squares taunted us. "Looks like the hippies failed again!" Some people started to fall for this classic provocation, but were counseled otherwise. An organizer announced a reconvergence at the front, and a few die-hards, chronic networkers, and communists remained to pursue their agenda, but most people began leaving about then.
1) Bush, George W. "President George W. Bush Gives Thanks in Re-Election Acceptance Speech
," November 3, 2004. Accessed September 16, 2008 http://www.4president.org/speeches/georgewbush2004address.htm
2) Woods, Wes. "Rove speech greeted with protests, bomb threat, claims of pepper spray
". Daily Bulletin
, September 16, 2008. Accessed online at http://www.dailybulletin.com/ci_10471652