People chanting "This is what democracy looks like" changed meaning as the rally protesting Bush's appearance in Springfield unfolded, July 30. Initially the phrase described the thousands of people lined up with tickets, waiting to enter the field house, being reminded by people carrying signs that not all people in Southwest Missouri thought this president deserved four more years of leadership that had launched wars resulting in thousands dead and tens of thousands wounded, a national debt increasing at $1.69 billion dollars a day, and an atmosphere of secrecy and civil rights erosion in America.
The secret service had told us where we could gather, and the location was excellent, as we stood across from where people were entering the field house, exercising our right of free speech. Democracy was working: People were exercising their right to assemble while others exercised their right to protest.
But when we were told we had to move about 200 feet away, while the people supporting Bush remained on the street, the atmosphere began to grow tense. When I tried to call the secret service agent who had assured me he would be "right there" if I needed him, he was not available. When the police said ,"We are only following orders," we called the media to let them know what was going on, as one reporter had asked me if I felt we'd been put in a "free speech zone" earlier in the week, and I'd said no. But now we had been, and the rules of the game had changed, as we were herded away from the action while Bush's supporters were allowed to stay. It was time for our media to be there, recording the action, so people who weren't there experiencing the discrimination could find out how democracy was playing out in Springfield, MO.
When the police responded to protests about where we'd been herded by saying we could join the Bush people behind the barricade, our group displayed ingenuity by not going to the end of the line and ending up essentially out of the picture, but climbed the grassy knoll in Jordan Park so when Bush's limousine approached it looked as if hundreds of people were protesting, as the signs were waving above the crowd below, and it all looked "protest" to the many people accompanying Bush as he wheeled into the ball park. What a coup!
But all was not well, for when the gatekeepers decided to seat those with tickets in a grand rush forward, some of our people who had tickets walked with them, but were not allowed to enter. A couple of people reported having their tickets taken and torn up, and were threatened with arrest if they argued back. At least two people were arrested, and stories from witnesses report this was with little provocation, as our people could not move back fast enough because of so many people behind them. I was in the "free speech area" waiting for the media to arrive, and did not realize any of this had happened until I joined the folk on the corner and saw three people across the street sitting in the grass, handcuffed, "taken down." Here's the part I hate to share: I went to a policeman and asked what had happened, and he said they'd "resisted." I did not pursue that, and I can't account for why. I was not afraid, I now realize I was unable to comprehend what had happened in my country. Today's episode has gone a long ways in erasing what delusions I had left about how we treat each other.
Later, when I went by the police department and then to the jail to try to find the people I'd let down, I couldn't find out anything, as I had no names, except the police receptionist knew one last name. I came home, found that name in the phone book, and called and left a message. Then calls started coming in, informing me of others trying to help, with bits of information.....
...you may hear about a democracy trying to work, but needing to be more successful, for people were taken to jail today because they want better leadership from our government. And all the people gathering today, from several different organizations, and all the people unable to attend but who were supporting the protest in whatever way they could, were doing their best to show how "democracy works." But when the chant arose from the crowd at the arresting of folk who hadn't moved fast enough, "This is what democracy looks like" took on an ominous tone. People were being taken down, and the picture was not pretty.
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