Monday, May 26, 2008
On the McCain trail
On the McCain trail…
On May 22, three of us from San Francisco CODEPINK, Nancy Mancias, our new intern Katelyn and I, went to Stockton, CA to see John McCain. He was speaking to a crowd of about 400 Republicans (although the organizers said there were 1,500). We went “undercover” (not pink), I in a brown suit, Katelyn in a US Army shirt, and Nancy, in her blue suit with red-white-and-blue lapel pin, looked very Republican.
We decided that I would go in by myself, and Nancy and Katlyn would follow together. With our banners and bibs tucked in our clothing, we made it through security with no problem.
Inside was an orgy of red, white and blue—HUGE American flags, little flags given out to everyone at the entrance, and hats, ties, shirts, sweaters, even shoes screaming “I am a patriot—I wear the colors”!!!
The whole event was tightly choreographed. Select representatives of different constituencies—veterans, Asian Americans, farmers, youth—were carefully positioned behind the podium. An organizer then handed out signs made to look handmade, with slogans like “Asians-Americans for McCain” and “Farmers love Mac.” All very tacky. Even the initially enthusiastic father standing next to me commented to his son, “That’s not right, handing out signs looking like they’re homemade when they’re really not.” Welcome to McCain’s Disneyland.
We had to wait two hours for McCain to show up, listening to dull politicians proclaiming their love for the Senator, mariachis singing “Cielito Lindo” to a crowd of white people, paunchy elderly flagbearers leading a hearty pledge of allegiance with a special emphasis on “under God.”
One moment was particularly painful. A young Latino soldier terribly burned and disfigured by an IED in Iraq was brought on stage for recognition. He didn’t say a word, but was introduced as someone who “bears no grudges and is a happy guy.” Even after many rounds of reconstructive surgery, you could barely make out this poor young man’s features and his hand had melted into a permanent fist. He did not look like a “happy guy.”
The emcee prepped the crowd for McCain by teaching them the proper call and response. “When I ask, What’s the greatest country in the entire world?, you answer: ‘USA, USA’. When I ask, What’s the freest country in the history of the world?, you say ‘USA, USA.’ When I ask, Who do we want for president?, you respond ‘We want Mac, We want Mac.’” In addition to chanting, the crowd practiced waving their flags and McCain signs wildly in the air.
Adding to the patriotic fervor were the bikers of Rolling Thunder--a pro-war group of Vietnam Vets who have been constant “counter-protesters” at CODEPINK events. They often show up at the Berkeley Marine Recruiting Station when CODEPINK is there, revving their $35,000 Harleys and calling us communist bitches. Their t-shirts say lovely things like Will Kill for Oil and Jihadi Crusader, and some of them tell us the “solution” is the Middle East is a nuclear bomb to kill all the Arabs. This is the same group, by the way, that met with George Bush over the Memorial Day weekend and anointed him an honorary member.
So Rolling Blunder, as we call them, gave the crowd a treat. They drove their monster bikes right into the building, revving their motors to the cheering crowd. And when McCain finally appeared, the first thing he did was thank Rolling Thunder and ask them to start their motors again. Over the deafening sound McCain smiled broadly and said, “Isn’t that wonderful?” Thinking of our soldiers dying for oil in Iraq, I failed to see the wonder.
Then McCain launched into his the-world-is-out-to-get-us-so-we-have-to-get-them-first spiel. When he began ranting about Iran and chastising Obama for advocating diplomacy, I slipped on my McCain=Endless War bib and yelled out, “But Senator, Iran is not a threat to us, just like Iraq was not a threat. Stop the killing, stop the war.” To drown me out, the crowd starting yelling “We want Mac, We want Mac.” The people around me grabbed my banner, and pushed and pulled me like a yoyo until the police saved me by escorting me out.
McCain continued his painfully militaristic message, prompting Nancy and Katlyn, who were still inside, to jump up on the stage and unfurl their “McCain=Perpetual War” banner. Nancy was dragged to the ground by a McCain zealot, and both were quickly escorted out as they yelled, “No more war, no more war.”
The police and even the secret service who came out to question us were very nice--perhaps because we provided a brief respite from the boredom of the canned event. They took our IDs and checked to see if we were on the “most wanted list”—which I guess we weren’t. Since the job of the secret service is to make sure that we’re not a physical threat to McCain, one of the agents questioned me about our motives. “The war in Iraq,” I said, pointing to the sign on my chest. “I just returned from the Middle East and saw the horrible consequences of our policies, like five million Iraqi refugees. I want to end this damn war and stop another one in Iran.”
“Oh, you’re just protesting the war,” he shrugged, “then I guess there’s no problem,” indicating that we were free to leave. No problem, indeed—just people being killed and maimed every day and a presidential candidate advocating more of the same!
Nancy, her brazen self, asked one of the secret service guys if he would take our picture. He obliged, and we put up our peace signs and smiled for the camera. They escorted us out the gate, saying “Have a nice day, ladies.” “We’ll see you on the campaign trail,” I replied.