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BOWLING GREEN, OH.
Remember “The Truman Show,” starring Jim Carrey? Trapped from birth in a huge, corporate-controlled movie set that doubled as a fake small town, Carrey played an unwitting salesman, perpetually on-camera. In one scene, a man tries to warn Carrey, parachuting onto the set with a sign that says, “You’re On TV!” He’s immediately hustled off-camera.
There’s a smaller, mobile version of The Truman Show’s set traveling westward across the country that you should go see if you get the chance. The admission ticket to the John Kerry “From Sea to Shining Sea Believe in America Tour” warned “No Signs.” An event for the newly minted Democratic presidential candidate and his veep, John Edwards, to which the public is invited, held outdoors on a public street, in downtown Bowling Green, Ohio…but no signs are allowed. No doubt, the Republicans have their own Truman Show, probably dubbed the “Give ‘Em Hell, Dubya Tour.” But for some reason (foolish me) I expected better from the Dems.
A check with the local ACLU confirmed that the organizers of the event were within legal limits. If I wanted to express an opinion, I’d have to become a free speech criminal and secret a sign into the tightly-controlled movie set that passed for a political rally on Main Street in this small town, 30 miles south of the heavily Democratic city of Toledo. Welcome to the Brave New World of Fortress America.
The first step was getting through the metal detectors and security guards that allowed one person at a time through the checkpoints. My criminal accomplice and fellow Veterans for Peace member, Erhard Kock, is an experienced world traveler. Upon seeing the crush of people who had waited over two hours in 90-degree heat to file through the sensors, he said, “in France or Germany, people would never stand for this. They would rush through the checkpoints and tell the guards where to go.”
Guards barked, “back up, back up!” with little effect, but the basic procedure remained intact. We were instructed to remove all metal items—including Kerry campaign buttons, watches, coins, keys, pens, lighters (in case anyone wanted to self-immolate); turn on all electronic devices and then slowly pass through the detector. The final order I received as I hurriedly picked up my approved metal belongings, was (no kidding) “…and take a drink out of your bottle.”
For a second this command didn’t register. But a look at the checkpoints on either side of us confirmed that people were dutifully swallowing mouthfuls of suspicious-looking clear liquids from plastic bottles. Looking at the Rent-a-Homeland-Security guard, I said incredulously, “you gotta be kidding!” His angry visage and the increased volume with which he repeated, “TAKE A DRINK OUT OF YOUR BOTTLE,” prompted me to reply, “keep your goddamn bottle,” and walk away.
We entered the corral-stockade-movie set, unarmed, sans signs, tightly packed and ready to hold up whatever placards the Kerry campaign distributed.
Erhard and I donned our VFP caps and I pulled the criminal “TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ NOW: Veterans for Peace” banner out of my pants. We held it up as high as we could without the aid of any deadly sticks, hoping our message would get out through the media, indicating that someone, somewhere in this bright land had something on their mind other than “Kerry/Edwards 2004,” or “A Stronger America” (just what the world needs these days).
If Erhard and I were lucky and our sign caught the eye of a photog, maybe…just maybe, the fact that people are dying and suffering by the hundreds every day in Iraq might intrude on an otherwise sterile, vapid, choreographed election campaign.
More likely, though, you’ve not seen an image of a piece of white fabric, with broad, red homemade letters, held barely over the heads of hundreds of movie extras, that demands “TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ NOW. Veterans for Peace.” Kerry’s choreographers most likely succeeded in insuring that never was heard a discouraging word.
Peace, after all, is “off message” this year.
Mike Ferner is a recidivist First Amendment practitioner and a member of Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org