Connect the dots.
What do Condoleezza Rice, the Kennedy Center, the Saudi Embassy, Mayor Anthony Williams, the IMF, the World Bank, and the White House all have to do with each other?
Yeah, we protested at all of the homes of those people, or we went to those places in a two hour period, but what else?
Geographic proximity? Sure. That’s not it, though.
Tons of police failing to daunt protest? Sure, but let’s think harder. Why would a group of people decide it was worth their while to go to all of these places? This report, analysis, and commentary is the story of working through that question. In fact, in some ways, that story, and that working through those connections is the microcosm of our movement.
Condoleezza Rice was the original target of the protest that began at 7PM, January 20, 2006, from outside the Metro at Foggy Bottom. A group of activists joined DC Anti-War Network’s (DAWN’s) call for an action against neoconservatives. This call for action is part of a commitment by DAWN to organize at least one action every week. Those who came did not necessarily know that they were going to Condie’s home until they arrived, but at that point, all who were involved in the action had the opportunity to participate in decision-making on the ground. The route to the Watergate, where she lives, had not been pre-planned, and the action began with a group discussing a march route that took it snaking through the campus of George Washington (GW) University.
The marchers went into the streets of GW’s campus. Some marchers with less experience in non-permitted street marches expressed that they felt this was empowering, especially when no one stopped us. One Secret Service car kept track of us, but no one kept us from marching through the streets, not even the general complacency of GW’s student body. This continued right up to the front door of the various Watergate towers.
At the towers, some protesters talked to the doormen while onlookers looked down from their office windows. From different doormen who corroborated each other separately, we discovered which tower she was in. Some said that they knew she lived on the fifth floor. Of course, the Watergate is a very strange looking building with surprisingly good outdoor acoustics. In the doorway of Condie’s tower, our sound amplified several times. As we shouted, a growing crowd of Secret Service and Metropolitan police hovered around.
Of course, Condoleezza Rice may or may not have been home. We don’t know. Certainly, her neighbors knew. They looked at us as though they had never seen a protest before. It would be surprising if she doesn’t find out, but we cannot be sure, which suggests the need to go back.
Condie’s relationship to the anti-war agenda is very obvious, an easy dot to connect, in her current role as Secretary of State and her past role as Bush’s National Security Advisor.
Before the action, DAWN’s working group made a conscious decision to go both to Condie Rice’s home and to the home of DC Mayor Anthony Williams (known not so affectionately by many in the group as “Tony the Rat,” which is an unfortunate denigration of rats). However, when you plan actions with too much mystery, you owe it to the people coming to the action to give them as much say in the action as it is going and any reassessments along the way. So, those who did the work organizing the march believed it was only right to meet to make sure that everyone was on board. After one police officer erroneously claimed that we were not allowed to protest in a residential area, we huddled up to decide next steps. One person proposed the Kennedy Center because of the relationship of the money the center receives from the oil industry, though I cannot say I knew about that, and I doubt most of the protesters did, either. Nevertheless, people were open to it, if only because more and more DC Metro Police and Secret Service were surrounding us, and some unpredictability seemed to be a good idea. It’s not as though the connections don’t exist everywhere. The Saudi Embassy is across the street from the Watergate, and so others wanted to go there to cite the relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family as well as the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia, which ironically is a theme of neoconservative commentators. However, the two views of democracy are quite different, and similarities stop there between the two sides.
We could see the connections all over the place. The Watergate, of course, is very infamous in American folklore, but no one talked of Nixon, or the plumbers, or doors of duct tape. Nevertheless, how can you take action at the Watergate and not think of corruption, of abuse of power, of the problems that are epidemic in this so called democracy? The Kennedy Center…the name Kennedy…a man who represents some liberal neverland of an America that was imagined to have been better, but a man who got America into Vietnam, who did little on Civil Rights until he was pushed, and who was so thoroughly corrupt belonging to a corrupt family that built a fortune on bootlegging and real estate. And, there were the Saudis, a home of horrible hierarchical corruption, and a friend to tyrants like Bush. Across the way, Mayor Williams lives in an apartment, and in his single-handed crusade for a baseball stadium, for a $700 million stadium, he didn’t care enough to put his passion into making sure that DC General Hospital stayed open. More than that, the mayor has overseen a widening class gulf in this city that is sending more and more homeless people to the streets and driving the working poor (and in some cases middle class) outside of the District. This widening class gulf only serves the military industrial complex, making it easier for the powerful to exploit. The policies of Williams make it harder for people to join together to resist large overpowering forces, makes them more scared, and more consumed with their very survival.
We walked to the Kennedy Center, but I don’t think all people were convinced that this was a good place to go, even though no one raised serious concerns. We climbed the steps toward the Kennedy Center, though a security guard came toward us and tried to stop us; when the group kept going, he retreated. There wasn’t a lot of chanting or energy, and we decided to head to the Saudi Embassy after a stay that lasted no more than one or two minutes. As we were leaving the Kennedy Center, we noticed the police were driving toward us from behind but couldn’t keep pursuing because we walked back down the stairs. As sheer luck would have it, we avoided another confrontation there with police, though in fact police were all around in pretty much every direction. There were many more police than the previous Friday’s action at Cheney’s house.
We walked toward the Saudi Embassy yelling a pro-democracy chant making reference to the evils of the Bush family’s friends in the House of Saud, but that part of the action also seemed off kilter. The connections are obvious, but not all obvious connections resonate right then and there. So, very shortly after arriving, we left the embassy to surround the Watergate again across the street, walking on the sidewalk along the street from the Potomac. We saw police all over the place, in crosswalks and following us along the road, but we generally ignored them as we yelled, “Cheney, Rice, CIA, how many people did you kill today?!!!!” We noticed that the police were following along the road with a divider, so we decided to reverse course. Those police couldn’t keep following us as a result.
From there, we walked back along the Watergate and toward Mayor Williams’s. Of course, he was home. His lights were on, and then they were off as a round of the anthem, “Tony the Rat!” began. What is interesting is that police stopped tracking us for a few minutes until we showed up at Williams’s, and then more than 10 police cars showed up with many other police outside milling about. The police claimed we couldn’t stand there, that we had to picket. Then, the police said that we had to stand, that we couldn’t picket. We at first stood along the sidewalk, and when the police started their usual games, we started singing “Kum-ba-yah”, “Someone’s homeless, Lord, kum-ba-yah”, and then we broke into another round of “Tony the Rat!” You can tell that there was a spirit of fun in the air.
Eventually, the Mayor’s security started coming out, and ultimately a couple black vehicles left. Some believe that was the Mayor, but some others didn’t believe it was. I cannot say; the main car looked important with a security car escorting it, but I have no definitive confirmation that the Mayor had decided to escape the noise.
The action was scattered, erratic, all over the place, going to places as tangential as the homes of Condie Rice and Mayor Williams, and those two by plan! That says nothing of the Kennedy Center or the Saudi Embassy! It’s easy to see that the critics will wonder “how effective” we were, why we “lacked focus,” or how we are going to build a popular movement or convince people by wandering around all over the place. Those criticisms fail to connect the dots, fail to see that a movement isn’t sustained by some arbitrary definition of “effectiveness,” but by a sustained culture of action. Earlier today, I mentioned the twin goals of these actions: first, that we disrupt corrupt and murderous policymakers and let them know there was something rotten in the state of … ahem; and second and more importantly, that we work toward the internal goal of building the movement through sustained, regularly occurring actions. We may or may not have achieved the first, but I am sure we are in the process of achieving the second. I mean, some people go to movies on Friday night; I bet we had a lot more fun. And, the actions were empowering. We proved again that a group can walk in the streets of DC in protest without needing to wilt at the first sign of a police car. However, for some people, that was their first experience, and they will not forget it. It suggests that in the street there are possibilities. It means that as much as dissent has been assaulted, it is not dead to those who are not afraid.
What’s more about this action, the police continue to overreact in force, though they are never quite sure what to do with all their many numbers since our threat is not the kind of threat they imagine it is. I only heard one officer threaten anyone with arrest and that for the spurious charge of making noise in a residential neighborhood. Nevertheless, despite public pronouncements that these protests are aimed merely for expressing displeasure, and therefore for disrupting the sanitized lives of people who are perpetrating such acts of evil, they don’t seem to understand that a robust society has less dissent if it embraces the dissent that exists. And, so not understanding that, the police keep coming out, and they continue to draw more attention to us. Then, people ask questions as to why; it opens their eyes to a problem, namely that dissenters aren’t welcome. I once asked a Secret Service agent who was challenging my protest what he would do if I stood with a sign that said, “Enjoy Coca Cola,” instead of, “Your Wars Shame Us,” and he said he would do nothing to me. That’s freedom; freedom of limited consumer choice within the limited means of an economy controlled by an oligarchy of nation states and private corporate interests. I can announce to the world that I love Coca Cola, but if I dare say anything that wanders into something perceived as political, the rules change.
With those connections in mind, we decided to walk by the IMF, World Bank, and end at the White House. We know that the connections between the global justice and the anti-war movement have been made many times, and yet many still do not truly appreciate how the institutions of the monetary and political empires work together, how the movement which fights against one must also be fighting against the other. Strangely, after we left the Mayor’s, the cops stopped following us for awhile. We walked right by the IMF chanting, and the guards came to the windows to watch. We walked right up to the doors of the World Bank, and more guards watched, and then finally a police officer came. From there, we kept walking to the White House, finishing off with chanting, which was, of course, witnessed by more police.
As we left, one member of our group stayed behind. He caught up with us to tell us 3 people with very short hair – that the protester described as looking like marines – were wandering around lost asking the police where the protesters were, apparently upset with us. They weren’t able to find us; we had left. That all felt slightly comical and appropriate.
Last week’s action was more intense, in dark sidestreets, involving direct confrontations with the Secret Service and Pentagon Police. In some ways, all those same things were going on tonight. Dissent is an annoyance to the authorities but not so much to us – I mean here on indymedia where I’ll be publishing this first, I don’t know what I would do without all the insightful and intelligent criticism; it’s a marvelous cesspool of hatred that the world would be the worse for losing. I laughingly digress. To the authorities, our action is an annoyance at best and a horrible danger…a danger to what? Is freedom a danger to freedom? By stopping us, are they protecting the world from Osama bin Laden? They monitor our posts; they know who we are. They know the difference, don’t they?
We are either dangerous to our critics or horribly ineffective. Those are the criticisms, though too often these same critics will say both about us and contradict themselves. Frankly, I don’t care because I don’t ever find dichotomies all that useful. All I know is that we are people who stand up for justice and are looking for a way with limited resources to help build a movement that can tear down this oppression. We do our best, and we’ll keep going out there, we’ll keep making the connections, and we’ll keep taking action. Whether it’s local, global, economic, or even at times tangential, there’s room in this movement for anyone who is willing to work together for justice, for giving every person a voice, and for smashing the power dynamics that keep us apart from each other.
Those are the dots that we’ll keep connecting.
I wonder what we’ll be doing next week.