By Leslie Harris, After Downing Street
The recent uproar over the blatant hypocrisy of the Arlington (TX) School District’s decision not to show President Obama’s address to school children (which would have cost the district nothing), while at the same time preparing to bus (at taxpayers’ expense) about 500 students to the gargantuan, shiny new Texas Stadium to hear former President George W. Bush speak, was mitigated when the district’s embattled superintendent apologized and canceled the field trip.
The public seemed appeased, but not lost on some of us was the fact that several school districts were still planning to spend taxpayer money to send young, impressionable children to hear an address by a man who is considered by many to be, at worst, a war criminal, and at best, criminally negligent (not to mention his habitual assault on the English language, which doesn’t seem like such a good thing to model to young students). We felt compelled to remind people that even though George W. Bush is no longer in office, he and any government officials involved in decisions that led to torture and other crimes should still be subject to prosecutorial investigation . . . just as ordinary people are investigated when there’s a possibility they’ve committed crimes. Why? Accountability! Without accountability, what’s to stop future administrations or officials from thinking they can get away with the same criminal behavior and abuse of power that has caused so much destruction in not just our own country, but the world?
So, with our own children’s and grandchildren’s futures in mind, a group of us, including Cindy Sheehan, headed out to stage a protest at Texas Stadium. As we displayed our signs and banners on a busy street corner outside the stadium, passersby honked and made gestures. The few one-fingered salutes were far outnumbered by the enthusiastically positive comments, honks, waves, peace signs and thumbs up. In fact, a few people even joined in and held signs with us. One such sign read, “MR. BUSH, TURN YOURSELF IN,” but, alas, he did not come out to surrender himself…so the “Pink Police” did a mock arrest of our substitute in prison garb and giant papier mache head.
Meanwhile, Cindy decided to go into the stadium and try to find W. He had already finished speaking and been whisked away before she could confront him, but she did get former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback and Bush-supporter Roger Staubach to pose for a picture with her. Getting into a Bush event, wearing a t-shirt with a bloody handprint that read, “Stop the War”: fun. Photo-op, shooting the peace sign, with Roger Staubach: fun. The expression on Staubach’s face: priceless!
As the busses full of school children filed out of the stadium parking lot, we brandished our signs and waved. Some waved back enthusiastically, some stared in wonderment, but all took notice. After the line of busses had passed by, we noticed that there was one bus left standing in the parking lot. A closer look told us that behind the bus a couple of classes of school kids were lined up under the shade trees in the grass, eating their lunches. We stealthily (okay, maybe not so stealthily), walked up behind the bus. Before anyone noticed us, we swerved out from behind the bus into full view and paraded, single-file, in front of them, with the prison-garbed “W” in tow, displaying our signs for them to read. The teachers, bus drivers, and security personnel just stopped and stared…but the kids reacted immediately.
The dialogue went like this:
Students: “Are you protesters?!”
Us: “Yes, we are!”
Students: “What are you doing?”
Us: “We’re exercising our first amendment rights. Do you know about the first amendment?”
Us: “Go back to your classrooms and ask your teachers to tell you about your first amendment rights!”
Us: “Which amendment is that, again?”
Students: “First amendment!”
Us: “Let’s hear it for the first amendment!”
Everyone: “First amendment! Woo-hoo!”
Wow. Can you say, “teachable moment?!”
And if that moment wasn’t enough, there was icing on the cake. After being “escorted” back out to the sidewalk by security, we did a short demonstration and march back to our cars. We all hugged and celebrated a successful morning of awareness-raising, and then dispersed. Three of us – two in Pink Police uniforms and one in an “ARREST BUSH” t-shirt, decided to have lunch at a nearby restaurant. We thought about changing into our “civilian” clothes, but decided that, no, it might be another chance for some awareness-raising. We ordered our food and sat down, and sure enough, people started asking, “What are you ladies in pink doing?” We explained what we were up to, and more importantly, why. Some said, “Oh,” and left. Perhaps they weren’t exactly “with us” – yet – but we planted a little seed of truth for them to consider. Others said things like, “I’m with you ladies,” and spent quite a while with us. We told them about what we and our organizations do and gave them our emails, the toll-free number for the capitol operator, and links to websites like www.afterdowningstreet.org, www.codepinkalert.org, and www.dallaspeacecenter.org. We told them about our local peace and justice groups and how to get involved. They were thrilled to find, in the sea of conservatism that is North Texas, a group of similarly-aware people with whom they could ride the progressive current. I suspect we might see one or two of them again, soon.
It was the “roots” of grassroots activism: people talking to each other, one-on-one, face-to-face. We were so glad we hadn’t missed the chance for one more great “teachable moment!”