Democratic Underground

This is What Democracy Looks Like

August 31, 2004
By Mark Drolette

I have some good news to report: Democracy is not yet dead in America. Try as they might, George Bush and pals have not quite hammered into place the final nail of the Constitution's coffin.

There was a march in New York City on Sunday. People, signs, puppets, banners, music, costumes, shouting, cheering, dancing - it was all there. I heard no official crowd size estimates during the day, but judging by the three hours I spent watching the proceedings on C-SPAN, here's my best guess: Lots.

The First Amendment was fully on display, and it was a grand and glorious thing. The streets of the Big Apple were full of the usual suspects who appear at such events: Americans. Old ones, young ones, white ones, black ones, brown ones, gay ones, straight ones... but best of all, all patriotic ones.

It must have pretty disheartening to the ideologues in charge of the GOP. No doubt Dubya himself was safely ensconced in his usual truth-averting bubble in which his handlers have always kept him, but the handlers themselves surely noticed the goings-on.

And naturally, when they are asked, they will grit their teeth, give their best little tight-lipped smiles, and dutifully report: "Ah, yes, Paula/Brit/Sean/Bill, this is what America is all about," all the while knowing in their dark little shriveled hearts (or the balls of ugly black muscle where their hearts used to be) there are obviously a lot of citizens out there who have done a little independent thinking over the last few months and years.

Folks who think for themselves pose the greatest danger to the Bushies, whose number one concern is control: control the image, message, and environment. The Bush White House is like a giant information transmogrification machine - something goes in, gets an extremist makeover, and emerges looking nothing like the original (sort of like Michael Jackson). Anyone deemed the least bit likely to upset the communication applecart is highly unwelcome. Just ask Richard Clarke, Paul O'Neill, or Joe Wilson.

This paranoia now even touches everyday citizens who attend personal appearances by Dick Cheney and the Bubble Bush, manifesting itself in the form of loyalty oaths people are required to sign before being allowed to enter such events.

That's right, loyalty oaths. Steve Larese of the Boston Globe reports that on July 31 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, "several people who showed up [to attend a Cheney speech] complained about being asked to sign endorsement forms [for Bush]." Larese also writes that 64-year-old Nick Lucy "was turned away from a May 7 rally in Dubuque, Iowa, at which President Bush spoke." Lucy "was denied access because he is not a registered Republican," and though no one requested he sign an oath, the police were summoned to remove him from the premises.

Republican National Committee spokesman Yier Shi, according to Larese, explains logically that "everyone is welcome at the rallies as long as they support President Bush." I guess you really couldn't get more American than that - that is, if you're talking about the old separate-but-equal parts of America where everybody was welcome to sit in the front of the bus or at the counter as long as they were white.

It's not just someone's party affiliation or refusal to swear fealty to the imcumbent and his sinister sidekick that gets the GOP all in a dither at its wing-dings; apparently, apparel appears able to also activate apoplexy.

The Saginaw News (Michigan) reports Marvin, Barbara, and Theresa Miller were evicted from Saginaw's Wendler Arena while awaiting a speech there by Bush. It seems Barbara "had carried in a rolled up T-shirt emblazoned with a pro-choice slogan." She explained to the News she uses the shirt for running, hadn't pondered the garment's wording, and had only brought it to put on in case she got cold.

That mattered little to the campaign worker who took it from her, stating: "We don't accept any pro-choice, non-Republican paraphernalia." Sheer confiscation wasn't enough for the young man, however, because, obviously feeling his newly-unleashed power, he returned later with a couple other folks and, after charging the Millers with "smuggling in T-shirts," gave them the old heave-ho. (I'm so out of touch: I honestly had no idea the black market T-shirt gig at GOP rallies was so huge.)

Defending the Millers' inglorious ejection, a mouthpiece - er, sorry - spokeswoman for Bush, Jennifer Millerwise, said, "These events are put on for people of an open mind who are interested in hearing (Bush's) positive message and his vision for a future." She didn't specify, but by "open mind" I assume she means those who have had their craniums lifted and brains sucked out.

Meanwhile, over in Missouri, the John Kerry/John Edwards train tour in early August stopped in Sedalia, where no oaths were required and, thumbing a nose at Republican sartorial sensitivities, people could wear whatever they damn well wanted. It still didn't prevent some right-leaning locals from heckling the Democratic ticket and their wives who accompanied them.

Perhaps some were just leaning, period, as the Globe's Patrick Healy reports, "one woman swore at [Kerry] and then added, 'I hate you!'" Inside the train later, an unperturbed Kerry said, "She was so drunk. Did you see how drunk she was?" Upon reading this, I had a flash and thought it could actually explain a lot of things many of us have wondered about Bush supporters for a long time.

Say what you will about Kerry and the Democrats (and I know a lot of what can be said 'cause I've said a lot of it myself), but at least they're not picking and choosing what Americans they'll address or get near. The Bush administration from day one, starting with its furtive national energy policy meetings right on into the present, has embraced secrecy with an ardor that would make even Dick Nixon envious. Access is allowed only to those on a need-to-know and want-to-pay basis, even including at rallies and speeches. The Constitution, transparent government, and the American people themselves be damned.

I've honestly wondered if Bush has ever even read the Constitution. His incuriosity is no secret. His arrogance is obvious, and he wears his religiosity on his sleeve as if it were some sort of bona fide substitute for real humility. He gives no indication of understanding that, by law, he works for us and not the other way around; on the contrary, his remarks and actions show he clearly luxuriates in his power, from his issuing of extensive executive orders to declaring American citizens "enemy combatants."

And then, of course, there is the ever-present matter of his ineloquent speech (which really is an undeserved maligning of ineloquence). The very few times he has stepped outside of his safe havens he has always exposed himself for the malapropism machine he is. But it's not only his embarrassing misspeaking that is eye-popping and ear-crunching, it's also his startling lack of knowledge about things a man in his position simply must know. (His "answer" to a question about "tribal sovereignty" at the recent Unity Journalists of Color Convention was, even for Bush, astounding - and I don't mean that in a good way.) Hence, the super-protective field around him.

Having been so shielded from the very beginning of his presidency, I think it's a safe bet to say he truly is unaware of how much he is despised around the world and in his very own country. Because Bush's inner circle (his "praetorian guard," O'Neill called it in Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty) has been largely successful in isolating him from hearing almost any opposition to his screwy ideas, Bush almost assuredly would have been surprised to read (or have read to him) the signs at Sunday's uplifting march in New York City: "The True Patriot Act: Dump Bush," "Quagmire Accomplished," "Neither Compassionate Nor Conservative," "Re-Defeat Bush." I'm sure "Let's Start a Democracy" and, my favorite, "Let's Evolve Already," would have gone right by him, too.

It doesn't matter anymore, though, what Bush or any of his henchpersons think. They've taken their best shot at keeping their dirty deeds private and burying our rights, and they've failed - miserably. Pulsating throngs of Americans proved Sunday they know what democracy is all about, and they demonstrated it proudly and peaceably. There's more of that energy and power to come, and on November 2, it will concentrate and sweep George Bush and his rotten crew right out of the White House. Dubya will have plenty of time then to catch up on the Constitution if he is so inclined.

In addition to all of the signs held aloft and various activities taking place during the march, there were, of course, plenty of chants. The following call-and-response sums up best, had Bush somehow mistakenly been allowed by his watchers to take a peek, exactly what was on full display Sunday in America's streets:

"Show me what democracy looks like!

"This is what democracy looks like!"

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