Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How A Planned Day of Civil Disobedience (As Part of the Occupation Project) became a One-Way ticket to Bizarro World

Maggie Freilich February 12, 2007

We showed up signs in hands, energy level up, in non-violent anti-war protester mode to occupy the Pasadena office of Congressman Adam Schiff. The consensus was that Schiff, as a member of the appropriations committee, could help stop the supplemental money, for escalation in Iraq, before it hit the floor for a vote. Therefore he made a good first target for the Occupation Project. The premise of the Occupation Project is to hold non-violent sit-ins in congressional offices around the country so that our elected officials might experience a feeling of occupation. Several various Westside peace group united in the planning of this event. We had volunteers willing to get arrested. We were ready.

Things started getting a little weird while we were out front planning strategy, waving signs and getting people to honk for peace. Plans were in a state of finalization when out of the building comes one of Schiff’s assistants, with a big smile and a plate full of cookies. It must be noted that they were catered, not box cookies. This seems like a small point unless you are a cookie gourmand, but looking at it analytically it reveals a pre-meditation on the part of Schiff’s office to send out the welcome wagon. The assistant gave credence to my theory with his big grin and announcement of appreciation at our concern and involvement. He said Schiff was interested in what we have to say. Several activists spoke out on our grievances and concern about increased funding for the Iraq war. Cookie Man took notes and seemed to be a good listener. He disappeared back into the building. We all looked at each other with a “what the…” look in our eyes.

We continued our demonstration outside and gave interviews to the media folks that were there, while waiting for some of the designated, willing to be arrested, people to show up. Cookie man returns with letters on official Schiff stationary (made from recycled fibers) that starts out, “Dear Friends, Thank you for taking the time to come by my office to demonstrate your concern over the war in Iraq.” Schiff continues, in the letter, saying he is against the escalation and is willing to use the power of the purse to change direction. Was this letter written in advance as the “occupation” plans have been all over the Internet, or did his assistant write the desired response to please the audience at hand? It seems that it was pre-planned as it included most all points that peace activists want to hear. The righteous thoughts are there yet lack specificity, clouded by the layer of political ambiguity our representatives are so skilled at. My main comment on Schiff’s letter is rhetoric is not action or in street lingo, if you talk the talk, then walk the walk.

The planned action was delayed because a number of potential arrestees failed to show up. This was after all Monday, in Pasadena. There was debate on whether we should have the action tomorrow. One thing for sure is progressive types do not walk in lock step. While debating and continuing to get drivers to honk for peace, Cookie Man returns. Smiling. With cookies and water. He acts so nice and deferential that if he were in drag he’d be a perfect Stepford wife. Anything you need. More fresh baked cookies. Mimi surmises that maybe the cookies are like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Hum. Maybe Schiff figures when he votes in a manner that is objectionable he will be less likely to find demonstrations outside his office because everyone was so nice and hospitable. Stepford Mom, cookies and great big smiles.

We went up to Schiff’s office to voice our complaints, lead by one of his constituents, Jamie. Jamie laid out our demands and concerns. The female manager bobbed her head in agreement, smiled, and said Schiff will hear all our concerns. I wonder if one of Schiff’s donors has any connection to the company that makes Prozac. She said, “If there is anything else I can help you with let me know.” I make my demand, “Is there a bathroom we can use?” “No problem, and if anyone needs to use it, just send them up.” The Bizzaro World weirdness factor begins welling up within me. For those who know, finding “facilities” near many peace events and protests can be a daunting task. Unless you are at a really, really big (and well financed) event there are not going to be any Andy Gumps in a row waiting for your deposit.

Our crowd thins. People have to pay the man. The meter, or feed their bodies. A young man across the way puts a hand written sign in his window that says “Impeach.” We cheer him later when he comes onto the balcony. Sam asks if we can hang a banner over his balcony. He replies, “Sorry but I’d get kicked out of my apartment,” another free speech victim silenced by threats of retribution.

Later a few decide, despite the curve ball that has been thrown, a sit-in will be staged. In a gracious manner, but ready to rumble. I am outside with Shawn whose persuasive manner gets many political zombies to honk for peace. One trucker horn was so intense it caused the street beneath to vibrate. Shawn got him to do it a second time. That was some horn. I go upstairs to take some photos of the sit-in only to find Schiff’s local manager holding court with the protesters. Everyone gets to say their piece about their desire for peace. I angle for photos of our civilized discussions. These will make the front page…not. I attack the oatmeal/ chocolate chip cookies surmising that somehow my tax dollars helped pay for these cookies. I have to leave because things seem just too nice and I am eating way too many cookies.

Downstairs I return to the peaceful demonstration. The upstairs so called sit-inners come down stairs and fill us in on the scoop. Schiff’s office recognizes the concern and wants our motley crew of protestors to know that they are welcome to sleep over in the office, order pizza and use the bathroom. We also found out that he told the police not to intervene. Talk about a civil disobedience buzz kill. This day is rapidly moving from Stepford to Superman’s Bizzaro World. The Stepford wives are like Orange County Republicans (my mother was one so I know this tribe) but Bizzaro World, even though the players are the same, does not correlate to any known earthly environment, which is how unreal our Schiff action is becoming.

As Sam and I drove back to the CodePink LA office we wondered what was behind this so called premeditated kindness attack. I wonder if these sort of kill them with kindness attacks occurred at any other Occupation Project events? Was this a coordinated plan or conspiracy to diffuse the anti-war groups? Stun them with good vibes and cookies so they won’t know what hit them. Was it about holding on to political power? Why would the Dems design such an attack? Did Schiff channel some sort of warped Rovian political strategy or is he really thankful to have anti-war protesters at his doorstep? Time and Schiff’s voting record and actions will reveal the truth. These are questions that must be answered. Whatever the outcome we must keep up the fight against this unjustified war and must remember that we are the people and we will prevail!

1 comment:

Cassandra Complex said...

did y'all spend the night?

i know that it's not what you expected but wasn't the aim to get schiff to consent to defunding?

could you have spent the time with the staff figuring out how to notify constituents of his change of heart? and then how to spread his word to other leaders? codepink is great at throwing parties, why not throw them a coming out of the war party and invite him to be the host or guest of honor and then have him invite others to the party?

spending the night/eating cookies/camping out would all lead to dialogue. isn't that what we're after?

it sounds like you feel like you were played. if you were played it was only by your own warlike tactics.