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I Protest. . .       
(Aug. 24, 2004)

        George W. was due at Santa Monica Airport imminently, and the protesters gathered a half-mile away, on two sides of an Ocean Park intersection---pro on the west (left), con on the east---near the one-time site of the almost entirely forgotten Douglas Aircraft Company.
        To get to "my" side of the protest, I had to walk through a pack of roiling Bush supporters. A thousand-armed monster of white eyeballs, bared teeth, and American flags signs sticking up like pocupine quills.
       I carried no Kerry sign, no sign calling for Bush's castration, no button reading "BUCK FUSH." My 1968 hair garnered a few suspicious glances, though, so I figured it was a matter of time before I was found out. Strange feeling, trying to pass for an American in my own country. . .
       I wondered about the pixies who had conspired to put me back on this corner, forty years after I had first visited it, when my old man took me to work with him one day in 1963 at the Douglas PR department. I wondered about the effectiveness of protests, and the physics of mob mentality, and the disgust in the eyes of Santa Monica cops, and I wondered about the anti-Bush protester carrying the baffling sign, "No More Socialism."      
       As I wondered, and wandered, someone asked me to help hold up a huge banner reading "Troops Out of Iraq," so I stood there stupidly, holding the back of a big sheet for about ten minutes. Of course, I wanted the troops out of Iraq, although it sure doesn't seem like we can just cut and run and let the whole place devolve into civil war. Better that we drag it out for many years and many more deaths, like Vietnam, and then cut and run and let the whole place devolve into civil war. Well, no, er. . .
        I was thinking about such ridiculous stuff, there in the friendly late afternoon sun and cool, caressing ocean breeze, and sky as easy-blue as faded jeans. Not that it did much good to think about such things, really, or, even to hold the big sign up. But it beat doing nothing, and I figure it's important that the media report protests wherever George W. happens to get up in front of a microphone and pretend to speak English.
I turned my peace symbol into the raised middle digit, which was kind of like throwing tennis balls at Dobermans in an open pit.
        Hordes of cars stopped at the light in front of the protesters, or honked in support as they passed, and the people waved signs and made that monkey "woooo" sound that is so popular. Some cars grew arms that held "Bush Cheney" placards through SUV sun-roofs, prompting friendly booing, unfriendly booing, and an occasional ritual exchange of profanities. The looks on the well-coiffured Bushfolk was like the looks on the faces of those Midwest tourists on the buses that went to Haight-Ashbury in 1968 to "see the hippies." As if they were witness to an entirely different, lesser species. Once in a while, an anti-Bush person bolted into traffic to try to persuade a pro-Bush person to reconsider.
        This, of course, is like trying to pee backwards.
        Although I must say that one such ambitious woman engaged three testosterone-deranged young men in a conversation for a good three traffic-stalled minutes! I mean, a real discussion. The young men stopped scowling and waving her off, and were actually listening, even responding. Nice of them! I doubted that I would have had the same luck at engaging their attention, as I don't have breasts and a lyrical female voice, but still, it was nice of them.
        "Can cops vote?" asked a young fellow with three-foot dreadlocks standing next to me.
        "Sure," I said, not adding, "how could you possibly be so ignorant?"
        He held a big Kerry sign, and courteously suggested to passing cars containing Democraps or Repugnicans to "please remember to vote." He told me his name was Dave and he was from Minnesota, and had come to L.A. to "go to graduate school and learn to surf." Dave turned out to be a hell of an affable guy. More affable than the passing parade deserved.
        I couldn't exactly say the same for Gertrude, or whatever her name was. Her curly, frenzied hair seemed to grown straight out of her curly, frenzied synapses. When she saw Bush-Cheney signs, she lunged into traffic, shrieking things like "BUT THEY LIED!" Well, of course they did, but I didn't see how this contention was going to turn any pro-Bush heads.
        "I can't help it!" she told me, in a pronounced South American accent. "How can these people not understand the lies! Why don't they care?"
       I told her I had no idea, and I really didn't. Stupidity has something to do with it, but also gullibility, naivete, hard-heartedness, paranoia, misguided notions of patriotism, and Fox News. But even those things didn't explain it sufficiently. Maybe it's genetic. No administration in history has lied as constantly and flagrantly and spectacularly as this one, yet many either don't object, or don't see it. Of course, many people don't think there's anything wrong with Dr. Phil, either.
        It was, overall, your standard West Side anti-Bush protest. The usual mish-mosh of nice Santa Monica liberal folk, goofball self-proclaimed "socialists," a few Nader supporters (gasp!), the hilarious theatrical troupe, "Billionaires for Bush" (chanting "Blood for Oil!"), a smattering of polite gay lads upset about not being able to have the church and government sanctify anal intercourse, glamorpuss TeeVee Newsmannequins, and the big etcetera, of which I am a charter member.
        I dutifully held aloft a Kerry sign someone gave me, and made with the peace symbol at passing traffic for a couple of hours, alongside Dave and Gertrude and the gay lads and the barmy "socialists" and the nice liberals and glamorpuss Newsmannequins. I smiled for a guy from Homeland Security or the FBI who took my picture from the island in the street, but I guess he didn't like the pose, so he took several more. Once in a while, when particularly aggressive Bush cars passed by, I turned my peace symbol into the raised middle digit, which was kind of like throwing tennis balls at Dobermans in an open pit. Wow, did they get mad!
        One thing struck me as tragic. The pro-Bush crowd waved more flags than the Daughters of the American Revolution on July 4th, while the anti-Bush folks boasted exactly one Old Glory. It was huge, but it was very lonely. How sad, I thought, as this will fuel stereotype notions about how the left "hates the country" and lacks patriotism. How sad, I thought, as this renders the banner symbolic of rage and authoritarianism.
        Suddenly, Gertrude left the line and chased after three strapping young pedestrians holding a sign reading "Bush Freed 53 Million People, Many of Them Muslim!" She was all over them them a mu-mu on Kirstie Alley.
        "You call Iraq and Afghanistan FREE?" she roared. There was some further unintelligible exchange, giving way to "WHAT HAVE DEMOCRATS DONE FOR HISPANICS?" from one of the young fellows, spouting a classically insane generalization of the ilk typical in campaigns.
        Gertrude, whose English wasn't so hot, grew a bit flustered and returned to the line, where she mentioned that one of the guys was a Marine. I promptly caught up to him and shook his hand.
        "We undoubtedly disagree," I said, "but I wanted to thank you for serving the country, and to wish you the best of luck."
        The Marine stared, a bit perplexed, waiting for the punchline, then offered that he was soon shipping out to Iraq. I wished him courage, and more luck, and when I resumed my place next to Gertrude, mentioned what I had done.
        "I don't do that," she said, bitterness in her voice. "I come from Uruguay. I live under military dictatorship! I don't like any military!"
        I was taken aback at her apparent lack of humanity, but then I figured that if I lived under a military dictatorship, I probably wouldn't be going around shaking Marines' hands, either.
        And so it went. As I left the protest, I had to again walk through the pro-Bush throng, this time with a big "GET BUSH OUT" bumper sticker slapped on my chest. It was a dead giveaway! A mass of people I had never met, and who knew nothing about me, and who might enjoy playing poker with me, turned into a raging, sneering wall of antagonism.
        "He can't take the truth!" shouted one.
        "You're deluded!" shouted another.
        All-in-all, I preferred my first visit to that corner, when I accompanied my old man to work at the Douglas Aircraft Company back in a simpler time called 1963.

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