Friday, April 21, 2006

An Anatomy of Protests at the Hoover Institution

An odd sense – is it euphoria? Satisfaction? Exhaustion?
We had protests today on campus against Bush and his policies. He was here to consult with several Hoover Institution fellows, including Former Secretary of State George Shultz.

A flurry of e-mails came in last night announcing the news of his visit; a series of e-mails soon detailed the protests that were planned in response. I wanted a pro-environment message to be delivered along with the stream of political comments likely to be present at the rally, so I sent them along to the Sustainability list.

We met in White Plaza at 1:30 p.m. to make signs. (I blew $45 at Staples this morning on posterboard and pens. I get the feeling that I won’t see any of them again).

Already, in the morning, you could see campus security lining up the metal barricades, waist-high, all around the school, along the lanes that lead to the Hoover Institution. I traipsed by many times: on my way to the SIEPR Energy Policy Forum, then to section, then back to SIEPR for lunch, and again on my way to “set down” for Sustainability. Last night, I had already started thinking about the possible entrances to the Hoover Institution. I could come up with three. Today, the back entrance was covered by a large blue tarpaulin, probably to obscure the entry/exit of an individual and his security detail. It looked like it would be the most likely entrance to use, since the front was next to the street where protestors could gather. I laughed when I saw six American flags in front of the Hoover Tower. There’s usually nothing there.

During and after “set down” was the sign making. I’m glad we had lots of original signs about different issues: the war in Iraq, abortion rights, the environment, genocide in Darfur, etc. (By the way, writing block letters first and then filling them in yields better results than writing and later thickening the strokes). After a while, a crowd gathered. At that point, I was hoping that the demonstration would have more than 40 people, because for a while, it looked like it would be a small troupe. But the crowd continued to swell -- someone got on the microphone and began to chant and call people into the square. And then, at 2:00 p.m., with our group radiating out of the plaza, we began to march toward Hoover Tower.

The long parade of students moved down the lane alongside the quad (with one wrong turn toward the back side of Hoover, before a corrective circle), ending up at MemAud. Onlookers lined the street as we marched, taking photos with digital cameras and cell phones. (Alas, mine was out of power today).

Last night, and also at poster making, I wondered if conservative students might decide not to come to our school because of the protests. But we ought to consider two factors: Students at the nation’s top universities are generally liberal in political orientation, so the protest might have happened at any of those schools. And it is a positive sign for the president to come to your school and consult with your professors.

I had hoped that the crowd would gather next to the right-hand side of the Hoover Institution if approaching it from the back. Those three lanes from which he could enter -- Serra street, from either direction, or the back way, along Pampas/Panama -- could be easily monitored from that position. Instead, we were barricaded on the opposite side of the fountain. I looked for a way around the building, and then made my way to the open street side with a couple of others. The guy with the microphone in the quad (name was Tim) led cheers and chants on the original location. However, on the new side, the people present were mostly from the community, with a much higher average age. (And consequently, no chanting, although there was some singing). But gradually, our forces built up, especially when the microphone guy came over with some of his friends.

A variety of chants:
- Hey ho, hey ho. Bush is here, he’s gotta go.
- Tell me what democracy looks like? This is what democracy looks like?
- Peace in! Bush out! Peace in! Bush out!

I stood, held my sign aloft:
(Picture of earth)
NO MORE OBSTRUCTION. I periodically joined the chants.

Some of the mass-produced, outside-community signs bothered me. I really did not like the “U.S. out of Iraq NOW” signs. That would be such a bad policy for the Iraqis. It should be “U.S. out of Iraq as soon as reasonably possible.” Furthermore, people carrying the signs didn’t seem to know what they were doing propounding; they just wanted something to wave. The problem is that photo-copied signs warrant even fewer looks than the original creations; they don’t have a unique message. Someone in the crowd described it as “simplistic”. Those posters did have sticks though; for the rest of us, our arms got tired after holding signs aloft for hours.

While we were standing with our backs to the fountain, next to the white, retractable bollard, police in riot gear lined up along the street facing us. After about half an hour of our chanting and sign waving (photographers were there taking pictures), the police forced us to move. They kept saying “Clear the street! Clear the sidewalk!” (the second of which makes no sense.) After we went to the opposite side and turned to face the fountain, the police formed a new line in front of us. One particularly funny incident occurred when the police were trying to force people back from another direction. Apparently the police officer said something about "Get behind the bush" [next to the street]. The crowd laughed and started to chant, "We're not behind the Bush!"

After a while, they brought in additional metal barricades to keep us from moving forward again. People promptly sat down in the street and refused to move back any further. A policeman on a motorbike tried to make announcements to “Clear the street”, but chants kept rising up and drowning him out. (Probably purposefully timed to start every time he started to speak). “Who’s streets? Our streets! Who’s streets? Our streets!”

After an hour or so, they sent a fire engine with sirens blaring, trying to cut through the crowd. It seemed like a ploy to get us to give up our location, but most of us moved out of the way (intending to form back on the street after the fire truck had passed). However, three students sat down in front of the truck and refused to move. A fireman got out, tried to warn them, cajole them, claiming that there was a “medical emergency”. (It was actually a ruse, because a second fireman reportedly said that they were just trying to get the crowd to move.) The three students continued to sit in the street in defiance of police orders, and five minutes into the standoff, officers moved in to drag them away. It looked like they were warned a few times -- a policeman was leaning over them for a while -- and then the officers picked up the students by the arms and dragged them away. One boy fell, and the police continued to pull him forward. He nearly lost his pants in the scuffle. Another girl (I think she’s in Sustainability) was lifted bodily and also taken to the opposite side of the street. They were bound with zip-ties and forced to sit on the ground. The crowd reacted by shouting, yelling, screaming (some people were very riled), but there was not too much pushing. The police sensed the undercurrent of…not anger, but something seething, and the fire truck backed up and left. (Apparently the “medical emergency” had been mysteriously canceled). We stayed for the rest of the afternoon, alternately chanting and cheering, holding signs up in the air, sometimes singing. At one point, when presidential helicopters passed overhead, the booing was quite intense.

So about the situation with the fire engine and the students who were detained in consequence. They ought not to have blocked the fire truck -- it could have been a real emergency. (But it seems that they heard the second fireman admit that it was a ruse, so they refused to move). It was an ingenious but devious -- and not quite ethical -- tactic by the police -- to get the crowd to move. (We reformed on the street soon after, anyhow). A law professor in the crowd said that there probably won’t be any charges filed against those students, but in the meantime, there were loud protestations to “Let them go!”, and chants of “Where’s the fire?” and the like.

It was quite galling that some members of the crowd made ridiculous references to the law enforcement officers’ actions as “fascistic” and calling the country a “police state”. These outlandish claims were definitely not appropriate. Obviously, if we were living in a police state, we would not even have been allowed to assemble; we probably would have been beaten and jailed. People in Nepal are being killed for demonstrating; it’s completely out of line to compare our situation to that of a police state. (discussion with Gwen about this point)

I’m not sure why people were anti-police. Do they not have any other authority figures to challenge? (They were from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, and were relatively un-confrontational) Another problem is that we can’t just “pull out” of Iraq, unlike the protests of nearly forty years ago.

So for the next couple hours, I held up the sign. When my arms got tired, I would put it down, and then raise it a few minutes later. I Joined various cheers and chants.

Late in the afternoon, in the four o’clock hour, Bush and his security detail still had not shown up, although people were still waiting. The crowds did begin to dissipate a little. A yellow Hummer pulled up (an H3) with a pair dressed as Bush and Condoleeza Rice. (She was the Stanford provost before becoming National Security Adviser. She was going to return to Stanford this year, but then was asked to serve as SecState.) They parodied the president and entertained the crowd for a bit.

By this point, it was probable that Bush had either already come and gone, or was not going to show up. We later heard that some students had seen Hoover fellows come outside the back entrance, stand around for about five minutes, then leave in a convoy of vans, so it seemed that they had left campus to go to the meeting instead of having Bush come to the Hoover institution.

How embarrassing for Hennessy if that scenario did happen. Imagine: a university president, and he can’t even get the U.S. President onto campus for his meeting.

I’m glad that I waved the environmental sign; someone needs to speak up for the planet. At around 5:30, the Santa Clara County Sheriffs were replaced by San Jose Police, who brought in eight mounted officers as well as ground troops. I left to go to a meeting, but most of the roads were still barricaded. I didn’t want to walk all the way to the end of campus and re-enter again, so I cut through Encina Hall, weaving through various corridors and coming out onto Encina Commons. Unfortunately, there were also barricades there, and no crossings. But at this point, either the president had already left, or was not coming, so the guards were much calmer about letting students cross the fences (under guard).

After the meeting, I walked through the parking lot to the vehicle. I saw Jindong, who asked about the sign and protest. A Japanese lady in the passenger seat of a car wanted to know if the protest was over. I told her that it seemed as if Bush had already left, since police were also leaving. Finally, a lady who had parked next to me asked about new developments, and informed her that mounted police had arrived, but other police were leaving the picket lines. She said that she had heard on MSNBC (Maybe she meant read it on MSNBC?) that Bush had decided to go directly to George Shultz’s house instead of coming to campus, because the protesters were too many. “A small victory”, she called it. I was inclined to agree.

I’m pleased that I was there, in that auspiciously chosen corner, where the riot police formed lines and pressed into the crowd. The events of the day played out there quite clearly in front of our eyes. Ah, but they didn’t just happen. We were among the creators of those events.

I have the sore arms, ink-stained fingers and tired disposition to prove it.

It is no small irony that the energy policy forum today talked about oil resources and CO2 emissions. My protest today was environmental.

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