Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov
Last Friday’s anti-Bush protest peaked early when, 20 minutes into the rally, members of the women’s peace group Code Pink unfurled a 30-foot banner, fashioned as a giant satin pink slip, from a balcony of the Century Plaza Hotel. The giant garment told the president, who was about to speak in the hotel’s ballroom, “Bush: You Lied. You’re Fired.”
The women had booked the room overlooking the Avenue of the Stars days earlier and on Friday simply checked in, their banner packed into a suitcase.
“There was a pounding on our door seconds after we unfurled it,” Patricia Foulkrod told me. “We told them we’d be right there, but they pushed their way in anyway — you could tell they wanted to.”
A member of the Plaza’s security staff, according to Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans, ordered the women to stash the banner.
“He said we were inciting a riot,” Evans said.
The outlandish banner, its pink-slip double entendre and the activists’ pink evening attire provided a fleeting moment of political vaudeville for a country that has lost its sense of humor and a peace movement that is still finding its way in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. The rally was organized by International ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War & End Racism) and was a sign that anti-war dissent is still being mobilized, two months after the president declared hostilities over. Bush himself was in town just long enough to fill an armored car with $3.6 million in donations for his re-election campaign — as hopeful a sign as any, I suppose, that there will be elections in 2004. His party chose the most sterile, soulless part of L.A. to hold its fund-raising dinner, but in a city whose big events at the time were National Blonde Day and the U.S. Air Guitar Championship, he still got lots of free publicity.
By all accounts the 1,800 diners who paid a minimum of $2,000 a plate were a happy bunch — the state GOP’s scheme to subvert the 2002 gubernatorial vote, after all, is well on track, and the party’s latest millionaire with no government experience to run for office is about to release a hit science-fiction movie. And, of course, the war has been a stunning success — the war, that is, against the poor, the unions and the environment, an unrelenting blitzkrieg that has met only a few pockets of Democratic Party resistance.
The Plaza’s grateful tycoons and celebrities have been dazzled by the president’s vision: Where most people look upon a simple forest, Bush sees a lumberyard; where past presidents merely regarded the armed forces as a necessity, he sees an instrument to enforce the Republican Party’s will abroad.
America’s Boer right may live in a world far removed from the bruising realities of most of their countrymen, but polls have been showing that the rest of the republic enjoys a pretty hallucinatory existence itself. “By 56 percent to 38 percent,” the Washington Post reported last week, “the public endorsed the use of the military to block Iran from developing nuclear arms.” This is the same dream nation whose citizens, in other recent polls, averred it was just fine to invade Iraq — even if that country didn’t have the weapons Bush claimed as his causus belli — a nation that can’t understand where all the money for schools and hospitals has gone, even as the Pentagon’s budget skyrockets.
Yet some of the thousand or so protesters who stood in the gathering Westside mist on Friday also seemed to have their heads a little in the clouds. The local Indymedia Web site malarially claimed that an estimated 10,000 protesters had shown up, and there were the usual people shouting into dead bullhorns; Billy Tsangares, the maverick owner of Y-Que Trading Post, handed out fliers advocating that people register as Republicans and vote against Bush in next year’s primary.
In the end, it was the twilight’s street theatrics that crystallized the concerns of the left: a group dressed as Constitutional Crisis Team medics who carried the document about on a stretcher; a young woman named Nazie, who was meticulously made up to be a bruised and bloodied Statue of Liberty and who told me that “Bush stands for the destruction of everything I represent”; Pat, a painter who described herself as “a frustrated American,” who had brought a huge canvas depicting a happy family sitting inside an SUV while cell-phone-listening Dad runs over deer.
“I’d tell Bush to step down and put in someone who had more compassion,” she said when I asked what she would tell the president if she could. “I’d tell him to just read the Constitution!”