May 28, 2001
We drove through the night to attend the first Voter March for Democracy in Washington, D.C. Rain greeted us midway through Virginia, escorting us the rest of the way. The showers bid adieu as we entered the city, an auspicious sign indeed. Rain or shine, we were dressed for success, sporting anti-coup T-shirts, buttons, and signs that read "Toxic Texan" and "Resign Thief." As we began to make our way to the Voter March East protest in Lafayette Park, a group of college-age youth walked by. They sneered and rolled their eyes, but said nothing. Then, when they were about half a block away from us, one turned around and shouted, "Get a life!"
Such wit! Such bravado! The youth was obviously a Bush supporter. He was also a perfect example of those who refuse, or are unable, to recognize the coup. Even worse, get agitated when they see Americans exercising their free speech rights. Citizens like him apparently believe that gathering to defend the Rule of Law and the U.S. Constitution means that one has no life.
Perhaps these "Americans" also think a woman that has spent her days tending a home, raising a family, and going to church on Sunday has no life.
"I have never protested in my life, can't quite explain it. I just had to come," soft-spoken Cletties Self stated flatly. The unassuming grandmother from Louisiana went on to tell me about how the hard-edged philosophy of the New Right had invaded her daily life. Her decision to march in D.C. was no more profound than her decision to leave her church, where she had worshipped for decades, because the Sunday sermons had become political lectures about the sins of Left and salvation of the Right.
Mrs. Self's round-trip bus ticket to Voter March was a Mother's Day present from her son. She and her husband traveled a thousand miles with a busload of Texans. They had arrived just in time for the march and were leaving right after because many had to be back to work on Monday.
Cletties Self has the gracious manner and quiet widsom that only comes from living a full and wonderful life. It was an honor to walk beside her.
Voter March for Democracy could also have been called Americans March for Democracy. Citizens from as faraway as Alaska made the journey to our nation's capital. Buses carried many from Texas, New York and Florida. Some folks flew, but most packed up the car and trekked from the Plains, Great Lakes, Mississippi Delta, and Ohio Valley. Many drove in the rain and through the night, across the Great Smoky and Appalachian ranges. Caravans formed along the eastern seaboard, down from Maine and up from Florida. Hippies, Yuppies, Generations X, Y and Z showed up. Men and women—married and single, gay and straight—walked side by side. Veterans from World War II to the Gulf War were present. Seasoned activists and newbies mingled. People of all ages—tikes, teenagers, newlyweds, and grandparents—carried signs and symbols expressing their outrage at the past and hope for the future. People representing a range of philosophical beliefs attended : Christian, Jew, agnostic, atheist; Green, Democrat, Independent; conservative, moderate, liberal. Tall, short, skinny, chubby, brown-eyed, blue-eyed, rich, poor—the faces of America marched side by side, chanting "This is what Democracy looks like! This is what Democracy sounds like!"
The diversity and camaraderie among the marchers was summed up by Fitz Fleenor of Nashville, Tennessee, "Observing plenty of Greens made me realize that you don't have to be a Democrat to care about the 'Toxic Texan' stealing the election. It was inspiring to get to meet people from different groups whom I communicated with over the Internet. You know ... putting the name with the face. I really love D.C., and being with others who echoed my feelings about being patriotic. Not exactly textbook patriotism, but patriots (all of us)—just the same. I'm particularly empowered by the Voters Bill of Rights which gives me a banner to carry into the future."
Fulfillment through meeting and finding common ground with people from different walks of life—Mr. Fleenor not only has a life, he has a lust for life.
Voter Marchers are simply the faces of America. Citizens united to protest the illegitimate Regime, widespread voting irregularities, possible fraud (in Tennessee, Missouri, and Michigan as well as Florida), and promote positive solutions to make sure that what happened in election 2000 will never happen again. Those that participated in Voter March believe in civil rights, which include the right to vote and have that vote be counted. They understand that having a voice in our representative democracy is the birthright of every American.
"I had to do something," commented Darryle Heslop of Neosho Falls, Kansas. In addition to traveling to D.C. to stand up for the "Voter's Bill of Rights," he has gotten involved back home—a place he calls "GOP territory." Coup2K motivated him, and two of his daughters, to run for local offices as democrats. All three were elected! The election of one democrat was a surprise, three was a miracle! It indicates that conservatives willing to look past partisan rhetoric are not too pleased with the direction their party leaders are taking our country.
Mr. Heslop and his daughters turned anger into positive action by working to improve their community. Can't get much more of life than that!
We gathered at Lafayette Park to reaffirm what our minds, hearts, and souls have been telling us: Americans do not get over a coup. One person, one vote—and that vote must be counted. The first leg of our protests was mostly about building and drawing energy from one another. It was as easy as breathing clean air. Thousands of complete strangers unified by a universal belief in fairness, equality, and justice. A community of humans, who readily agreed to discard the layers of social and economic veils that separate us in order to work together to repair and strengthen the core beliefs that unite us.
Jack Hamilton, a student at Texas A&M, told me that he "came to D.C. to tell others that the good people of Texas do not support Bush." He expressed personal embarrassment about the selection of Bush by the United States Supreme Court because Bush was from Texas. I reminded him that Bush has spent much of his life in Connecticut, Maine, and Washington, D.C. He is as much a Texan as Larry Hagman.
A young man who is willing to speak out against a member of his state's ruling dynasty is rare. Sounds like he is already more of his own man than the Resident will ever be. Jack's definitely got a life.
As we streamed from Lafayette Park onto the streets of D.C something magical began to happen. One would think that as the group spread apart its energy would dissipate. Yet it did not. With each step, the dynamism increased. It wasn't until we were marching along Constitution Avenue that it hit me. I should have been exhausted, not only from the hike, but also from the continuous chanting of slogans "Selected, Not Elected," "Cheney needs a heart; Bush needs a brain," and "Gore Got More"—but I wasn't tiring out, I was firing up! We all were.
Without a doubt we drew strength from one another, but something else was propelling us. My epiphany came as we approached a middle-aged man dressed in a sport coat and slacks. He was standing on the street corner across from us, seemingly oblivious to the loud humans that were flowing past him like a river. Then suddenly, as if jolted out of a trance, he put his thumb and index finger up to his mouth and gave us a blaring whistle and pumped his other fist in the air. This caused our section of the line to cheer wildly and even louder.
We were focused on creating awareness, on breaking through the haze of apathy. We, the People, became a rainbow of humanity stretching as far as the eye could see and filling two of five lanes normally reserved for motor vehicles. The expressions on people's faces were priceless —curiosity and confusion replaced by dawning recognition and gleeful affirmation. Folks responded, as Americans must, in their own unique way. A bus driver beep-beep-b eeped while his passengers pressed their faces against the windows, cheering and waving. Car after car slowed and honked, passengers waved and whistled in agreement. Pedestrians applauded, whooped, waved, and snapped photos. A beverage vendor on the street corner nodded in appreciation. A cyclist rode by twice and then followed us to the Capitol. A couple across the street seemed to want join us, so we waved them over and they did! My personal favorite was when the few sour-faced hecklers were drowned out—not by our chants—but the cheers and car horns of Americans offering overwhelming support!
Like lightening rods, each time our energies sparked an observer's interest, the sensation heightened and expanded. Their response did not simply buoy us, it catapulted our message beyond our physical reach. The observers connected with us and became part of the march. The marchers' physical boundaries remained the same, but the spiritual boundary expanded in all directions. There were barriers, to be sure. Walls of closed minds existed but could not stop the potent positivism created by a pro-active group projecting sentiments that struck a chord with other open-minded individuals. We connected! And it was truly a groovy experience.
"I'm here to get the word out. Florida was not the only state where odd things happened," explained Marvalene Pankey of St. Louis, Missouri. She is part of OPERA ( Opposition Parties Election Reform Alliance ), a grassroots organization dedicated to looking in to voting irregularities in Missouri.
The afternoon was spent on the steps of our nation's Capitol listening to a range of speakers. Some reiterated the stunning events of the past six months, covering moral, ethical, social, legal and political dynamics and offering perspective. More importantly, all offered constructive ways to effect change. The blame game has no winner. We must be willing to do what we can to educate and empower ourselves, and then reach out to others. Success begins and ends with each of us.
"After speaking with and listening to several people—young and old—from Florida about the outrageous voter fraud that went on from early in the morning until the closing of the polls in the evening on November 7, 2000, I will NEVER compromise what I believe should be done to George W. Bush, his brother Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris and the felonious five! Impeachment is too good for them!" exclaimed Nancy Lynn Nagy, a Tennessee Fringe Folk.
Those of us who have followed the presidential campaign, what transpired in Florida on election day and after, and the illegitimate agenda that is being forced down the majority's throat, know that Nagy's sentiments are justified and shared by millions. Yet at some point, we must move past the anger in order to heal, and to stop the obscenity. Ironically, the righteous anger stirred up as a result of Coup2K is a potent weapon, once it is channeled toward positive change.
Ms. Nagy's willingness to turn her anger into action to effect positive change is a big step toward this end. She, along with thousands of other citizens from across our country, can feel proud about their contributions to improving our democracy. Their individual participation in Voter March East on May 19, 2001 may not seem significant right now, but history has shown nothing is more powerful than the human spirit.
Those that don't "get it" can only respond to those of us that do with single-syllable, corporate-driven slogans like "get a life." I do not waste my time responding to ignorance. Yet to any that have not dead-bolted their hearts and minds, I say: I have a life. Like the majority of Americans, I choose to strive for a more enlightened one. If that bothers you perhaps you should check your pulse. You seem to lack that which separates human from machine.
May 28, 2001
May 19 — The sky was overcast early Saturday morning and a light smattering of rain fell as I made my way from the metro station to Lafayette Park, site of the Voter Rights March.
Trudging across the gray, mostly empty streets of the capital, I couldn't help but compare this morning to the scene last January on Inauguration Day. Despite rain and icy temperatures, the vibe in DC was crackling dissent then as protesters crowded the streets by the tens of thousands, outnumbered only by the massive show of force made by the police and military.
Now, as an occasional car or SUV splashed by or a group of men wearing expensive suits arrogantly strode past expecting me to step aside for them, I couldn't help but think that the soggy quiet was an unpromising omen for the march.
My interior landscape was just as gray. I was groggy from a rough workweek and from my one-year-old twins causing a few restless nights for my wife and me. In a larger sense, too, I was feeling burned out after enduring four months of the Bush regime's relentless blitzkrieg against progressive democracy in America. Like the slogan of the evil Borg in "Star Trek : The Next Generation," I was beginning to feel that resistance may indeed be futile.
Unfortunately, my hopes didn't improve much as I approached the White House. Across the street from the occupied President's House, I could make out a very small group of people gathered near the fountain in Lafayette Park. Resisting the urge to turn around and retreat for the day into the bookstore I had passed a block or so before, I thought I'd give the demonstration a try, however large or small it might turn out to be.
Although about fifty people were there when I finally straggled over, the initial low number didn't seem to concern anyone. In fact, they were downright enthusiastic, discussing bus rides from around the country (everywhere, from New York to Alaska), laughing at anti-Bush slogans on homemade protest signs, and sharing stories of renewed activism that has ignited since January 20.
As I milled around listening to these animated discussions, I got a sense of how each individual story was part of a larger, vibrant national narrative. It's a story as old as our country, one of passion for democracy and hope for a just society, but one incompatible with the fables promoted through corporate-owned media. I only saw one cameraman from the local ABC affiliate at Lafayette Park, so I doubt the story made much of a splash in the mainstream consciousness this time around either.
But that's not the point, really. I realized that no matter how large the Voter March would turn out to be or how much coverage it received, it was important that we still come together in a shared community and celebrate that we're not alone. The online protest community, effective as it is at transmitting information quickly and keeping the drumbeat of dissent pounding around the country, can't replace the spirit this kind of face-to-face communion generates.
As the morning progressed and the day began to brighten, our small group of enthusiastic protesters proved to be a tiny seed that soon sprouted into a sizable grassroots march that filled the streets of DC. By the time the last speaker was finished, the group had swelled into a broad range of energized Americans numbering in the hundreds.
Led by folk singer and activist Les Souci, who carried an enormous American flag fluttering in the increasing morning sunshine, we rallied behind a group of World War II veterans and marched by the White House, chanting and blowing horns. We were barely out of the park when our first victory was scored by drawing the attention of surprised tourists away from the White House and onto signs protesting the stolen election. After the initial shock, many people smiled and gave us a thumbs up, and some even joined the march.
With DC police on motorcycles and in squad cars escorting us through Saturday morning traffic, the march grew to at least 1,500 to 2,000 protesters, according to most estimates. People throughout the city honked their horns, waved, and smiled as we chanted that Bush is a thief and that we weren't going to "get over it." I saw a group of African-American girls in their mid-teens eagerly join the march, chanting with the rest of us that they were never going to forget what happened in November.
Aside from one guy who drove by alternately flashing three fingers then one finger over and over again (he was either saying that "W won"—get it?—or he was proudly telling us his IQ ... or both), everyone else who responded to us was positive. It was, however, a bit unsettling to see so many people who appeared puzzled or stared at us blankly as we marched by. Maybe these poor souls just aren't familiar with what democracy looks like.
By the time we reached the Supreme Court, the momentum of the march was rolling full force. In a unified, thundering voice that must have shaken the windows of the building, if not its foundation, we shouted "Shame on the Court! Shame on the Court!"
We finally reached the Capitol Building where we hit the steps like a wave, flooding the area with protesters. It felt nice to sit in the occasional sunshine and cool breeze, listening to the voice of speakers like Lou Posner, the march's organizer, booming throughout the mall area. The only minor flaw in the setting was a lone rightwingnut heckling speakers and holding up a puny sign with a patch of the American flag stuck beneath a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker. Apparently he was unaware of the new civility his president has brought to DC.
When I realized what he was doing, I made my way over and stood beside him, holding overhead the Gore/Leiberman sign someone had given me during the march. Bracing myself for an elbow in the side, a fist in the face, or obscenities shouted in my ear from this guy, I noticed he had scrawled his name and address in pencil on the back of his sign, perhaps for when his medication wore off and the authorities needed to know where to return him.
The man from Stafford didn't do anything, however, except have a couple heated but brief exchanges with protesters. Mostly everyone ignored him. It's hard to imagine the same tolerance at a rightwing rally, isn't it?
After I left the rally, walking across the mall area to a metro station, I had a renewed and reassuring sense of hope. I saw all the people peacefully strolling around among the monuments and museums, all different races and cultures, families and homeless people, affluent and poor; and I remembered the face of an elderly Asian woman who drove by during the march, the look of joy and gratefulness at seeing us in the streets; I even thought of old Stafford, Virginia, and how he could be the lone heckler at our rally and not get pelted with stones or torn to pieces by an angry mob.
Reflecting on this and filled with the positive vibe of the march, it occurred to me that our democracy may be shaken, but it's still got a heartbeat. And I realized that democracy's heart pounds a lot more vibrantly whenever we come together and infuse it with the kind of spirit generated by a celebration like the Voter March.
I'm willing to wager that this ain't something I would've found in the bookstore, either.