Monday, May 21, 2007

CODEPINK New Hampshire Crashes Gonzales Event

by Barbara Hilton

You may have seen me the Tuesday night of May 15th on Chris Matthews' Hardball (Gonzales tries to put scandal behind him) or caught a bit of the story on-line from's Political Ticker or Yahoo! News (Gonzales Heckled During Speech) or read about it in The Raw Story (Gonzales pins list of fired US Attorneys on outgoing deputy by Michael Rostin) or The (Gonzales: Paul McNulty was major figure in firings by Mike Soraghan). There I was being rather purposefully escorted out of the National Press Club Ballroom as I continued my request: "Mr. Gonzales, please resign! You dishonored your country! You've destroyed the Constitution!" At least I said "please!" I wish I had said "I know you don't recall it, but you have dishonored your country, etc."

I was variously referred to as a 'heckler' (dismissive and disparaging) and an 'unnamed protestor' (much preferred). No one had paid me the least bit of attention (that happens to us gray/white- haired women of a certain age) as I sat at the members and guests-only breakfast for close to an hour awaiting the late arrival of Gonzales and the start of the program.

Okay, let's go back a bit. Monday night we had a meeting in the peace room to talk strategy for the week. Mention was made of the National Press Club event and the possibility of some of us trying to crash it. So when I got dressed Tuesday morning, instead of my pink, I put on my long black skirt and long-sleeved, scoop-necked, cottony-soft and clingy light-olive green shirt (my daughter is studying to be a fashion designer) and my dangly-silver lady-earrings. Some later called it my 'Republican outfit.' If you look closely you can see I had on the lightest pink, sleeveless tee shirt underneath.

The Breakfast was scheduled for early and there was some confusion over the time so we piled into the car and discussed strategy on the way there. I had never been to the Press Club before so Medea gave me a brief description of what I would find when I got to the thirteenth floor. It was decided that several of us would try to get into the event. Diane and I were let out of the car about a block away and I took off for one entrance as she went toward another. I walked in, strode to the elevator and up I went. The other people in the elevator were going to the same floor and when the doors opened I walked out as if I knew what I was doing. I took a series of wrong turns, popping into a variety of different events, until I came across a Women's Room and took refuge there for a few moments as I tried to figure out what to do.

I came back out, stumbled one more time into the wrong room, and as I exited I came face-to-face with a photograph of Gonzales on a poster announcing the Breakfast event. Having some guidance from this, I walked with renewed vigor and purpose into the near-empty Ballroom and sat myself down at one of the twenty or so tables laden with abundant table settings, coffee pots, sweet bread baskets, glasses of water and orange juice, and parfait glasses filled with fruit. Sitting, regaining my composure, I glanced around, being cautious to look unobtrusive and at the same time haughtily proper so no one would dare address me. It paid off. I was left alone. The press was busy setting up cameras, the techies were busy checking mics and wiring, the wait staff was busy bringing dishes and pouring coffee for the slowly-gathering attendees.

A bit later, I saw Diane saunter in and sit down at the other end of the room. She looked so cool, calm and collected that I took courage from her. I noticed her pour herself some coffee. "Oh," I thought, "I could do that." From then on all food and drink supplies on the table were fair game. People slowly began to enter and tables began to fill. Diane, I now noticed, had company. A woman I did not recognize in a bright pink jacket had sat down next to her. I looked around behind me and saw Lisa sitting at a table talking to several people who I didn't know. I looked over at the head table and heard a snippet of conversation about protestors outside and smiled sweetly to myself knowing my fellow CODEPINKers were everywhere.

I began to compose the message I wanted to deliver to Gonzales. Message composed, I went over it about a zillion times so I wouldn't forget it. Suddenly I heard shouting and looked up to see Diane being lifted out of her chair and hauled off by security. I sat for a bit and wondered what had made her choose to reveal herself at that time. The room was still far from full and Gonzales was no where in sight.

I later learned that the unfortunate circumstance of the woman in pink sitting next to Diane had aroused the suspicions of security. CODEPINKers wear the color pink everywhere. Most people in Washington have a visceral reaction to the color pink depending on their political alliance with what we stand for. Security had come over and asked to see Diane's invitation and didn't like that she didn't have one. After putting them off initially, they returned and asked her to show them her ticket or she would have to leave. She said she thought it was in her purse, reached down to supposedly retrieve it and handcuffed herself to another chair. Diane was into handcuffs this week. She had lost her expensive pair during her arrest the day before at the action following the Mothers' Day March. The pair she had just used at the Press Club was inferior in quality and opened in seconds. But Diane was not going to be escorted out without her say. Loudly she protested Gonzales and called on him to resign.

The room settled down again. Plates of food were being distributed. I ate a bit and eventually my plate was taken away. Two men came up to Lisa at the table behind me and asked her to come with them. Having little choice, she left the room. A young man approached my table and asked if he could join me. I said that was fine and he sat down. He introduced himself and the newspaper he worked for and asked my affiliation. This was a press event after all. I gave him my name and the name of a local, fiercely-independent paper from my home town. We chatted about this and that and I had the opportunity to throw out some of my pet peeves about the media. My young friend was approached by a wait-person and asked if he had a ticket, which he promptly produced. I had still not been asked for one by anybody. A sudden shout from the other side of the room alerted me to the fact that Lisa was being thrown out, but not before she had her say.

The room was very chilly for how I was dressed. I mentioned this to my new table mate and he gallantly offered me his jacket. Knowing what lay ahead, I declined. I asked him if he was at this event to write a story about it. He said it would depend on whether anything interesting happened. I bit my tongue. The security guys that had escorted Lisa out cruised by, the one saying to the other, "I told ya I had her pegged." I smirked inwardly.

I continued sipping, chatting, waiting, reviewing my message, and looking around. Eventually the place was full, the head table was coming to order, the lights were turned on, all the photographers were assembling in front of the podium and Gonzales strode onto the stage and was escorted to his seat. The live event began. Introductions of the people at the head table were made by the National Press Club guy and Gonzales was introduced. As he rose and took his place at the podium; I, too, rose and in my best theatrical voice projecting into a huge theater I called out those infamous words I cited at the top of this story: "Mr. Gonzales, please resign! You dishonored your country! You've destroyed the Constitution!"

It seemed like only a half of a second and security was on me. As I expected, I was led out of the room. But someone, at some point in the past couple of weeks had said, "Keep talking for as long as you can." So I stayed on message until the ballroom door was closed behind me. I expected at that point to say goodbye and take my leave, although Medea had mentioned that they might get upset, throw me out, or bar me from the Press Club. But when the guy started threatening me with arrest, I got upset. "Why?" I asked. "I was just using my constitutional right to free speech." "Well," he informed me, "I had no right to free speech in a private club. I had interfered with their event and I was trespassing." "But, I countered, "you're not doing your job as the National Press if I have to come all this way from New Hampshire and interrupt your event to have my views expressed in this country." He didn't agree. I tried to get away by looking for a bathroom. He said I wasn't going to use his bathroom. So I said I'd gladly leave his building, no problem. He said "Oh no you won't, not so fast," grabbed my arm and escorted me into the elevator. Our dialogue continued in this manner, with me a bit weepy, until we arrived at the first floor and were met by Security with a big "S." The police were being called. I was being escorted to a chair by the front door wistfully noticing the other CODEPINKers doing their thing outside, on the street, just yards away.

Security with a big "S" was awfully nice. He tried to calm me. I said, "Do they really have to arrest me?" I told him I was really sorry for what I had done, but it really had needed to be done. He said, "Just sit down there for a minute and I'll be right back." He walked a few yards away and called the guy from upstairs. "Do you really want to press charges?" I heard him ask.
He came back a minute later and told me that they wouldn't press charges, but that I would have to give them information on who I was and sign a barring order. No longer could I come into the National Press Club. No biggie. I'm 58 years old. I've managed to live all this time without needing the National Press Club before. I think I can survive.

It took about 10-15 minutes for them to locate a barring notice for me to sign and a camera so they could take my picture. I had ample opportunity to escape through the front door to my friends outside, but I was afraid they'd change their minds about my arrest if I failed to escape and besides I had established such good will with the security guy downstairs that I didn't want him to get in trouble.

I later learned that Desiree had been inside on the thirteenth floor as well. She had gone limp when they tried to arrest her and they had to carry her all the way down. When they got her to Security near the front door, she struggled and caught the attention of fellow CODEPINKers who rushed in to help her. Desiree is tall, with beautiful long legs. Other CODEPINKers came within leg's reach and Desiree wrapped those legs around someone else until they were able to get her free and out the door.

This, plus other events that happened while I was in the Ballroom that I'm not as familiar with prompted Medea and others to try to reach me by phone and alert me. After all, my one stipulation in the car as we traveled to the action was that I didn't want to get arrested. When you arrive at the CODEPINK House you fill out a chart in the hallway with your phone number and email address so that, if necessary, you can be contacted. Many calls were made and a text message sent to my home in New Hampshire. My sleeping daughter was awakened so much that morning by the ringing phone that she put the ringer on "mute." Answer it? No way, it was her morning off from work. Just as well. By the time she noticed the text message: "They want to arrest, be careful," it was over and I was fine. Lesson learned, I gotta get a cell phone if I'm gonna be a good activist.

My reward came when, after signing the barring notice and posing for a pretty picture I was allowed to walk out the front door and into the startled face of Medea. "What happened?" "We tried to call you." Everyone was so proud of me I would have done it all over again in a minute.
And, later that night, back at the house, as we watched the news, my exploits were replayed, over and over and over again.

The bonus: My daughter saw the links and when we spoke the next day she said: "I'm so proud of you, Mom!" It doesn't get better than that!

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