By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Despite the accusations of having received secret payments from Saddam's government, Galloway was awarded a huge cheer. He got an even bigger one when he called Bush "the least welcome foreign visitor to these shores since William the Conqueror." Given some of the people who've dropped by since William paid his visit -- Idi Amin, anyone? -- This was quite a statement, though hardly exceptional. "Red" Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, officially marked the day of Bush's arrival by calling him "the greatest threat to life on this planet." He also threatened to charge Bush's motorcade with the same "congestion charge" paid by all motorists entering the city. Welcome to Londongrad, George.
Ron Kovic got a massive round of applause when he was wheeled, or wheeled himself, on stage. "We the people of Great Britain and the U.S. are going to stop this war and create a beautiful world," he said waving at the crowd, but I doubt if anyone believed it. I left before Pinter spoke, but then I'd already read his open letter to Bush in the Guardian. It invited him, along with his "fellow war criminal" Tony Blair, to "wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments." He does have a way with words.
<<<DROPCAP>>>The security arrangements surrounding the Bush visit are a subject of feverish interest to the British media. FORTRESS LONDON screamed the headline on Tuesday's Metro. MASSIVE FORCE SHIELDING HIM bellowed the Sun. The president's "jet-black" armored Cadillac DeVille, the latter reported, is as long as a London bus, boasts an anti-blast floor, a foam-filled non-exploding petrol tank, a missile-detection system, and gun ports and tear-gas cannons. In an appropriately ghoulish touch, it is also stocked with cans of Diet Coke alongside vials of the president's blood. Let's hope they don't get mixed up.
Essentially, the anti-war protestors won their war against the president long before Air Force One touched down in a remote corner of Heathrow airport on Tuesday night. For fear of hecklers, protestors and al-Qaeda suicide bombers, more and more events have either been canceled altogether (Bush's planned address to Parliament, for instance) or moved indoors where the baying of protestors and anarchist shenanigans could not drown him out. ("If he wants a photo-op, we can give him one," vowed Caroline Lucas, a Green Party member of the European Parliament, making it clear that Bush would regret showing his face even for a minute.) As a result, the world's most powerful man has been made to look like a shady fugitive.
The level of security was simultaneously unprecedented and, in places -- particularly royal places -- worthy of Inspector Clouseau. Fourteen thousand police officers are being deployed in London, along with rooftop snipers, special surveillance teams, marines patrolling the Thames and searching bridges and boats for bombs. There are also, I was assured by one person, several George Bush doubles about. (Who will pay the £5 million tab for all this is the subject of considerable speculation.) At the same time, it was revealed on Wednesday that Ryan Parry, an undercover reporter for the tabloid Daily Mirror, managed to get a job as a footman at Buckingham Palace two months ago. Had he not resigned his position yesterday, he would have served George and Laura Bush breakfast this morning. The palace staff was vetted by the CIA, among other agencies.
As of Wednesday evening, though, almost all the action has been in the media. Wednesday's main event was a widely advertised "alternative state procession" starting off at Jubilee Gardens under the London Eye. The alterna-procession included a horse-drawn carriage, lookalikes of Bush and the Queen, an 18-foot inflatable nuclear missile, a pink tank emitting foul blue smoke, and mock secret service agents in suits and sunglasses. The crowd was less spectacular: A policeman I spoke to estimated it at 120 people, once you subtracted all the reporters. (I would have said there were about 400 protestors.) And of the six or seven people I interviewed, three proved to be Americans who live in Britain. Like the crowd at Friends Meeting House on Tuesday night, this one was overwhelmingly monocultural -- I didn't see a single black, Indian, Arab or Asian face. And Red Ken, who had encouraged the procession and was expected to lead it, was nowhere to be found.
I didn't realize the Americans were Americans until they opened their mouths. Their accents were softened by years in the UK, but unmistakable nonetheless. Nancy, a middle-aged New Yorker who's lived in England for 10 years, was wearing a keffiyah, a Stop the War T-shirt under her jacket, and a BUSH OFF sticker on her back pack. She said she was protesting because Bush was the world's No. 1 terrorist, which is exactly what was stated on the Socialist Workerplacard she was carrying.
Another American, Fred, was off to one side of the crowd sitting by himself. He had crew-cut hair, an intelligent but intensely gloomy expression, and exuded a slightly worrying Taxi Driver-ish vibe. He said he'd been living in England for 20 years.
"What is it that upsets you about Bush so much?" I asked.