Kansas City  - Protesting at Dick Cheney's Photo-Op
 by Michael Bersin
 

On Friday, July 20th, Dick Cheney visited the U.S. Treasury Financial Management Service Center located at a
business/light industrial park in Kansas City as part of a "tax rebate" photo opportunity and campaign propaganda trip.
The media reported that Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-California), Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri), Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), Representative Sam Graves (R-Missouri), Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) and Rep
Ken Lucas (D-Kentucky) were also in attendance. A media report also stated that a total of 250 people attended the event.

I was in a small, but genial and determined, group of protesters who also attended, sans invitation, carrying sarcastic and somewhat witty signs of various designs. Since we weren't invited, we were relegated to the task of spending three hours
outside in the sun, heat and high humidity.


 

I first became aware of the planned Cheney visit through a brief mention in the Kansas City Star in the week before the
event. I had previously spoken with another activist in the Kansas City area about organizing to protest at these types of propaganda events when they are held in our area. With that in mind I contacted her and we posted requests for further information on this particular event on an activist discussion list.

Early on in the week of the event the Kansas City Star published the address of the service center. Another activist drove
to the address to try to confirm the location of the site. On July 19th the Kansas City Star reported the address and 10:30
a.m. start time for the event along with the information that it was "invitation only".

We posted directions to the event along with an admonition to wear light clothing, a hat, and sunscreen (because of the
forecast weather) on two activist discussion lists. We also reminded people that they would probably not have access
to amenities (which proved true) and to bring plenty of water.

We arranged to meet in a public area a few miles away from the event site at 8:30 a.m. Two individuals drove in from
Columbia, Mo (approximately 150 miles). I drove from Warrensburg, Mo (about 60 miles). Others attending were from
Kansas City and Independence, Mo. We left several vehicles in the public area and car pooled to the event site.

We drove up to the Treasury center looking for a place to park. There was a small temporary sign stating "protest area"
in a grass lot across the cul-de-sac from the building.
 
 

The entire public street area in the park was conveniently posted as "no parking". When we first arrived we asked
some workers by a loading dock if we could park in their lot. They said, "okay." As we were leaving the lot to walk
to the protest area a management type came out of the building, saw our signs, and asked us if we were protesting.
We replied that we were. He then told us to get our cars out of the lot, or he'd have us towed.

Subsequently we were informed by two police officers stringing barrier tape that the "protest area" was "here" on the
sidewalk on the public street (about 100 yards further away) still within sight, after a fashion, of the Treasury facility.
I suspect Dick Cheney's advance people didn't want him to hear what we had to say.

While the rest of the group continued on to the newly designated protest area, two of us drove our vehicles out of
the complex. We found parking across the traffic way after asking two Kansas City police officers in that area for
directions to a place where we wouldn't be towed. The weren't too enthusiastic, but directed us down the street.
The two of us then walked a considerable distance back to the protest area.

The Kansas City Police were unfailingly polite, and less aloof, particularly after we engaged them in conversations
(later two Kansas City police officers were especially helpful when one of our number became affected by the
mid 90's heat and high humidity).

A Secret Service agent and another individual drove up to us and got out of their car. The agent spoke politely,
explaining to us that we should not stand in the street and that the sidewalk was "ours". The agent continued
that "freedom of speech" allowed us such. I told the agent that we understood they were just doing their job.

By this time the "invited guests" began driving up to the event in air conditioned comfort.

One of our protesters, a retired union organizer, drove up in his working person's car. He managed to drive in closer
to the Treasury center and park in the area reserved for the media. I have no idea how he was able to pull that off.

Another protester had a disposable camera and made a great show of taking a photograph of every vehicle which
drove in for the event. She actually didn't take any pictures of them. The two police officers "assigned" to watch us
laughingly asked her, "How many pictures do you have in that camera?"

I held up my "I voted for Al Gore, but who's counting?" sign. A man driving by us in a pickup truck called out to me,
smiling, "I can't believe you'd admit that." I just smiled back and waved. I regret holding my tongue.

I must say, I have never seen so many well dressed people in expensive cars utilize the extended middle finger
gesture when they weren't cutting me off in rush hour traffic.

Others had looks of horror or disgust. A small minority smiled or laughed, possibly at our signs (like - "Visit Alaska
before it's too late!", "Every Vote Should Count", "Don't Throw away your vote, let the Supreme Court do it for you",
"Cheney, send my electric bill in with yours", and "Vote Fraud, Tax Fraud" among others).

Two of the younger individuals started returning the gesture. I just held up signs and laughed.
I figured if they were "flipping us off" we were getting to them.

The motorcade drove past us before 11:00 a.m. Then we waited (mostly in the sun) for the exit after the photo-op.
Several well appointed individuals in pricey vehicles tried to drive in to the event after that - they were obviously
invited guests who were late. Security would not let them in. Some of our protesters heckled them mercilessly for
their apparent difficulty with timeliness. The heckling also continued when security made one of the hapless
latecomers who had tried to stop in the street pull into a parking lot across from us.

One of the businesses had a large flashing sign, similar to those highway construction message signs, which
alternately said "Bush Cheney 2004" and "Thanks for the tax cut".

While we waited for the end of the event (held indoors, in air conditioned comfort, of course) we took the
opportunity to converse with the two Kansas City police officers assigned to us. During the wait one of our
protesters was affected by the heat and humidity (and a lack of sleep - from the long drive). The officers
placed her in the front seat of their air conditioned car. Later, when she sat down in the shade of a very small
tree as we held our protest signs in an effort to shield her from the sun, the officers quickly came over and
offered to place her back in the car.  She declined their offer. Those of us with her made sure she drank
additional fluids as we continued to shade her.

By around noon the event at the center was finished. The Secret Service agent who originally spoke with us
drove by. Holding up my sign, I smiled and waved. The motorcade proceeded past us on the way out. As Dick
Cheney rode by, several of us laughingly waved while others in our group heckled him - and Dick Cheney waved back.

After the motorcade left the area the invited guests were allowed to leave. Many of them repeated their entry
gestures to us as they drove by. I continued to point and laugh at them, as did a few others in our group.

One of protesters (the one who had almost passed out from the heat earlier) started returning the gesture.
The same individual in the pick up truck who called out to me on his way in pulled over and got out. He started
taking issue with the young lady, saying, "Why did you direct that at me? I didn't do that to you...Don't assume
you know what I'm like." Another activist heatedly jumped in at him, saying, "You're here [pointing to the Treasury
facility], aren't you?", forcefully pointing out that we all had been on the receiving end of such gestures throughout
the morning. The police officers quickly came up to make sure the confrontation de-escalated. It did. I sincerely
regret that I did not speak up in more forceful terms.

I recall seeing a single "thumb's up" from a passenger in a car leaving the event - obviously a subversive.

(Later that evening when I related the day's events to an acquaintance who I might describe as a conservative
Republican, I was asked, "I hope you respect the office [of Vice-President]?" I replied, "Of course I do, I was
protesting their policies..." This individual was visibly unsettled when I described the volume and vehemence of
gestures from those attending the event which were directed at those of us protesting on the sidewalk.)

The media whores brought up the tail end. Two individuals in a car stopped in front of us and took our pictures
- someone in the group shouted at them to identify themselves. They were somewhat vague, saying they were
"media from Michigan". One activist yelled, "Get their license plate number". After additional pointed conversation
with others in our group they drove off. Other than that, none of the media talked to us. I saw the political reporter
from the Kansas City ABC affiliate in his station's van as they drove by. I yelled, "Hi, Mike." He gave me that
dyspeptic look he always has when he's not on camera.

As the procession continued to pass us I noticed a women from one of the businesses in the complex standing
about 50 yards down the street from us holding a small hand lettered sign. I'm assuming she was showing support
for Cheney, otherwise she'd have probably joined us. After all, we did have extra signs.

After the place was cleared out we all thanked the Kansas City police officers who were with us throughout
the event - I shook their hands.

Our retired union organizer walked a short distance to his station wagon, drove back to us, and picked up most
of our group. The two of us remaining started walking out of the complex back to our parked cars. After dropping
off the first group our friend came back to pick us up. By this time the temperature was in the mid 90's with a
heat index above 100, so we were thankful for the lift.

I suspect that until 2004 those of us in and around Kansas City will have several more opportunities to tell this
administration how we feel about their illegitimate ascendancy.

A few lessons learned for the future:

1. The media will continue to uncritically print and broadcast the pabulum they are fed by this administration.
The coverage of the event by the local media was breathlessly nauseating. We can't count on them to report
any dissent (of course, there was no mention of our protest).

2. I believe that we should all be more assertive about access on public property at these types of events when
it doesn't involve security issues. The hoops we had to jump through to get to the site contrasted greatly with the
ease of access by those with "invitations". Please don't bother to tell me that difference in treatment was a matter
of security. We were kept away to make it easier for the media to ignore us.

3. I understand the frustration of those without a voice - those who have been and continue to be disenfranchised.
Several of the protesters with us had recent experiences at events similar to this one, where the opposition and
those in power tried to intimidate them and make them fear for their safety. While I might not be as "in your face"
as they were, I understand their anger, for I feel it, too. I refuse to judge how they make their voices heard, for
they are among the powerless.

4. By their reaction to us, I realized that just our being there was disconcerting to those privileged few who were
given access (by the way, I wonder how much they all contributed to the occupant's campaign?).

Of course, those with the real power weren't affected one whit by our presence. This administration does not care,
nor does it want to hear our voices.

If we had more people, I would have stationed a larger group at the intersection of the site and the traffic way, so those
who were passing by would know that people like them won't let anyone forget what happened in the election last fall.

5. These events are designed to make access by the general public next to impossible. Gee, why else hold their
propaganda event during a time when most people have to work (that's why some campaign events are scheduled
after work hours, when possible), unless they don't want working people to spontaneously attend? Determined
people can find a way - and continuous organization can help other determined people who want to attend in protest, too.

6. Grandmothers make the best protesters. They don't take crap from anyone.

The view from the sidewalk of Dick Cheney's visit to Kansas City was interesting, to say the least. I'll take the
liberty of labeling it, in the words of Anita Hill,  as "Speaking Truth to Power". I'll participate again without
hesitation. I highly recommend the experience.

Michael Bersin
 

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