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
THE BIG INTERRUPTION is what made Bush’s acceptance speech interesting last week. You may have noticed the break that came between two applause lines — something about prevailing against al Qaeda and how Iraq had been a gathering threat — when a quick succession of ruckuses erupted, followed by boos and chants from the audience that forced the president to pause. The ripple in Bush’s practiced drone was short but seemed endless, as our famously quick-witted commander-in-chief smiled nervously, waiting to get back to the safety of the programmed words of the Teleprompter.
Code Pink founders Jodie Evans and June Brashares pulled off the coordinated act of protest. “We were able to get close and get our message across,” Evans said after being released from jail and returning to Los Angeles. “For once, the president himself actually heard us.”
And not just the president. Code Pink got its members inside the convention to disrupt major speeches in all three prime-time speaking slots: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dick Cheney and President Bush. In most cases, the activists obtained media passes and slipped in unnoticed. Brashares actually gained entrance to the convention with no credential at all. Dressed in a skirt suit to look the part, Brashares boarded one of the shuttle buses departing from a delegate hotel, and, arriving at the Garden, she claimed to have lost her credential. Security issued her a new one and sent her along.WEB EXCLUSIVE: Visit Joshuah Bearman's RNC blog for ABC footage of a protester getting kicked by an RNC staffer on the floor of Madison Square Garden.
During Bush’s speech, Brashares made the first move. For maximum visual effect, she chose as her protest spot a seat down in the delegation rows on the floor, taking a chair offered to her by an unwitting Pete Wilson. As the delegates stood on their chairs to cheer Bush, Brashares unfurled her banner and was the only one still standing when everyone sat back down. The banner said: “Bush Lies, People Die.”
This, by the way, was a very brave act. Between the NYPD, the Secret Service, the convention staff and the various branches of the Department of Homeland Security, the security at Madison Square Garden was omnipresent and intimidating. Not to mention the overwhelming presence of thousands of delegates and RNC staffers waving signs and flags all around the seat where Brashares made her stand. Within three seconds, Brashares was being dragged out of the hall by men in suits and yellow “W 2004” hats. Not wanting to be charged with resisting arrest, she was careful to remain limp, but continued to yell her slogan all the way to the door.
Moments later, Evans stood up. She had been hiding out in the press stands, just above the Massachusetts delegation’s section. In what’s become a signature of Code Pink’s demonstrations, Evans pulled off her dress to reveal a pink slip on which she had scrawled the slogan “Fire Bush! Women Say Bring the Troops Home Now!” Since security was still preoccupied with the commotion from Brashares, Evans managed to stay put for about a minute before security grabbed her and started for Gate 75. On the way, Evans lost a shoe. And her purse. “I told the guy that I would leave voluntarily if asked,” she said. “But he pulled me out anyway. I think they were mad I’d eluded their attention for a while.”
Evans was brought to the basement of Madison Square Garden, and after being subjected to “that old good-cop-bad-cop routine” — one officer claimed her actions met the criteria for inciting a riot — she was charged with disorderly conduct. Evans was jailed for 21 hours, but she was surprised to discover that her arresting officer agreed with her opposition to the war in Iraq. “I talked to him for about an hour,” she said. “His wife was in the reserves, and had just been called up and gone to Iraq. I said we were fighting for them.”
Brashares was not so lucky. Despite that she was barefoot, an RNC staffer involved in her removal from the floor claimed to have been kicked and left with a wound that required stitches. So Brashares was charged with felony assault, transferred to Riker’s Island and held on $5,000 bail. She is free now but has to stay in New York for the arraignment this week.
THE MOST EFFECTIVEprotester of the night wasn’t arrested at all. That was Jorge Medina, who had also sneaked in with the help of credentials from Code Pink. Medina’s son Irving was killed in Iraq in November 2003, and when Tommy Franks began adulating the president (whose war plans Franks himself resisted) earlier in the evening, Medina stood up to reveal a shirt which had a picture of his son, and the more heart-rending version of the protest slogan: “Bush lied, my son died.”
This put the Republicans around Medina in a strange position. Here was a man who couldn’t be dismissed as a hippie or a know-nothing or a softie Francophile; Medina was a father who had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war they’d been hooting about all week, and whose grief couldn’t be ignored. “The people watched the picture of my son,” Medina said, “and I could see in their eyes that they looked at me with compassion. Some of them said they were sorry.” The police, Medina said, treated him gently, saying they understood why he was there but they had to do their jobs and ask him to leave. Medina was questioned for a few minutes and then released.