It was about 7:30 p.m. when I arrived. Dozens of protesters had already set up shop in front of the Union Station, where Republicans, dressed to the nines, from Alaska, Alabama, Louisiana, and Kansas, were filing into the Main Room to attend the so-called “Freedom Ball.” The day’s best theater troupe, the Abu Ghraib frat hoppers, were in full swing by then. So were the Code Pinkers and a host of other dissent groups.
What was different about this scene were the cops that encircled the protesters, countless numbers of them, surrounding the rather innocuous demonstration like a fortified wall. Blinking cruisers were parked in at every angle in the intersection. Helicopters were hovering above, search-lights visually frisking the crowd.
I walked towards the protesters, while scribbling down some notes. Immediately, a D.C. police officer intervened. He demanded, “What are you doing here?” When I explained that I was a member of the press, the cop responded, “You have to stand over there. That’s where the media stand,” motioning about 10 feet behind the blue-uniformed perimeter. When I paused, he took the liberty of ushering me to the area. There stood a cameraman from MTV, sitting on a concrete barrier, smoking a cigarette. Two Washington Post reporters huddled together, their mouths agape, as if stunned by the sheer volume of police. No one was recording a thing.
Eventually, I walked around a parked ambulance, across the street, and came at the protest from another side. Black-clad kids were skipping and singing, to the tune of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, “We all live in a fascist regime.” Protesters draped in orange shouted at the fashionably late ball attendees, “Do you know what you’re supporting?” Other than that, most of the protesters stood silent, taking in the security.
“It’s just typical police tactics,” offered Russ Buchan, a Los Angeles resident who found himself arrested at the RNC in NYC this past August. “It’s either keep us divided [into small groups] or arrest us en masse.”
Despite the heavy police presence at the end, Buchan said, most protesters felt like the day had ended in success. “They couldn’t get us off the street today,” he said, which meant that Bush and his supporters “couldn’t possibly ignore us.”