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CONFESSIONS OF A "BUSH BASHER"
by John Pagoda
Email: Pags1222 (nospam) aol.com
09 Sep 2004
The Daily News headline read "1000 Anarchists arrested".Page 4 of The New York Post chirped "900 Bush-bashers arrested", and Newsday doled out "A Taste of Anarchy". The people who read these papers behind will never know the truth that, in reality, "freedom" is only a myth. .
"Americans are asking, "Why do the terrorists hate us?" "They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other". George W. Bush, 09/20/01
address to a joint session of Congress.
On Tuesday, August 31, 2004 two coworkers and I went to New York City to protest the use of the 9/11 tragedy by the Republican Party for political gain for it was on their watch that the death and destruction occurred and still occurs. I also went to express my objection to the "bring em on" rhetoric of a war president who in reality showed neither courage nor valor when the attack occurred.
Originally we had planned to attend 20 minutes of sitting meditation and 10 minutes of standing meditation at Bryant Park and/or Washington Park seeking compassion for the oppressed and the oppressors as well sponsored by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
We never met with that group and thus became a footnote to a chapter in our nation's history when we returned to Albany on Wednesday, September 1, 2004 near midnight after experiencing the myths and realities of American "freedoms".
On 9/11 nearly 3,000 innocent people died for their "freedoms". So said the president. The media passed it off as truth. Three years later those who tried to exercise those same freedoms were arrested. On both occasions the commander-in-chief, the war president did nothing but perpetuate the terrorism that occurred on his watch. On both occasions the press by their silence or spin was equally complicit in the crime.
What follows are the words to express the snapshots I took in mind on my journey from Ground Zero to Liberty St. where once upon a time the ashes of the dead were scattered in the suffering.
3:00 pm - Not more than a dozen people including we three from Albany and more than two dozen uniformed police are at Ground Zero. Where is everybody? A white man driving a Chinese Taxi is more interested in taking pictures of us and the increasing numbers of protesters than giving anyone a ride. The police are also taking our pictures. I muse about being a male model for freedom of speech.
3:30 pm - By now a few hundred people and a few dozen more police are at Ground Zero looking for direction.
3:45pm - I'm standing 3 deep. I see a uniformed man in a white shirt and I hear him say that he is aware that we do not have a permit but he will allow the march only if we walk two abreast and do not block the road or the sidewalk. He says we can start now.
The march begins. A stroll across the street. There are few posters, the chant "this is what democracy looks like", a solitary drum beat. A peaceful march. Men and women, young and old. Ministers among us. War resisters and Catholic Charities are the groups I recognize. No anarchists dressed in black. Three people with "Buck Fush" t-shirts. I don't get it. It seems so trite but they too have a freedom to speak.
We cross the street in twos with the light. Traffic isn't blocked. We walk half a block. I notice two dozen police on bicycles and assume they'll follow the march to 34th Street.
4:00pm - A voice says "stop". We do halfway to Liberty St. An 8 foot cast iron fence surrounds the Trinity Church cemetery that contains more uniformed police among the graves disgracing the dead with their presence. A phalanx of police runs from Ground Zero between us and the police on bicycles. The press is told to leave. "Oh shit. This isn't good. The whole world won't be watching this picture of our police state".
Someone from indymedia puts a microphone in my face, asks me what I think - I tell him "my father fought in Okinawa, my brother and I are Vietnam Era vets, I have 17 years of military service, my friend fought in Gulf War I. This is a god damn shame. Aren't these the same freedoms that the terrorists were supposed to hate so much"?
The scene becomes surreal I've never seen so many police with so many cameras taking so many pictures. We are no longer in twos as police begin to fence us closer together in an orange netting. A young woman is pressed
against the cast iron gate of Trinity Church cemetery. She is topless. Her nipples are pierced. A stunned look on her face mirrors my thought - this can't be real. What did we do? We were in twos. We didn't block traffic. There wasn't any violence yet the police are getting closer. I think maybe they'll stop before they reach me. Wishful thinking.
4:30pm - I am arrested. I am not told what I am charged with nor am I read my Miranda rights. One officer looks around and says "this is bullshit". It becomes clear that at least some officers don't like what they're doing while others seem to enjoy "doing their job".
We are told to sit down. I refuse and tell an officer I'm no threat I merely want to meditate on my knees. He consents. Among the chants of "whose streets, our streets" and "this is what democracy looks like" in the hot
afternoon sun I begin to chant the mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion - Om Mani Padme Hum.
An hour goes by. An officer stops in front of me. "That must hurt". I look into his eyes and tell him "not worse than my loss of freedom from Ground Zero to Liberty".
Another hour passes. A marcher goes limp in the middle of the street resisting arrest. There are five prisoners to one arresting officer who loads us on a bus. Sitting down my wrists are in pain, I notice pieces of dirt and asphalt embedded in both knees. We leave near sunset to the cheers of fellow marchers who never crossed the street from Ground Zero. I have no idea where we are going. My mind is in survival mode. The banter on the bus is one of incredulity at our situation. We were set up. Why? What if there was an act of terrorism? All these police arresting people who were doing nothing while an explosion occurs in another part of the city - who would be responsible? Would the protesters be blamed for that too?
An officer tells us he just wants to get us some food and something to drink. We arrive at our destination Pier 57 now referred to Guantanamo on the Hudson. Our hands are still bound behind our backs standing in line
through a small window I see sunset rippling on the Hudson. Seventy to eighty men of varying ages are herded into 15 x 30 chain link cells topped with razor wire. I don't remember restroom facilities in this set of cages covered with flood lights. So this is the liberty and freedom that other countries envy.
9:00pm - I finally know the time because my restraints are finally cut after 5 hours as I am removed from this cage, put in line to be searched, and separated from my property - a black bag containing my cell phone,
"Meditation" by Rob Narin, notes for a future commentary on the 2004 election, and pain medication in case my kidney stones begin to pass. I ask for my medication the officer says I can't have it. If I'm in pain they'll
send me to their clinic which will only increase my time inside this hell. The officer doing the search then throws out two lighters and half a pack of cigarettes. "You can't smoke here anyway". I see another officer being much more physically forceful while conducting his search of a fellow marcher. I sign the paper work for my property and am told I can pick it up later.
9:30pm I am issued a paper cup for water and put in another case of similar dimensions but this cell contains port-a-johns. My companion that I last saw five hours ago is in the same cage. The other companion is in an adjoining cage. We plan where to meet after our release which we assume will be before
There are still 70 to 80 men in each of the cages of either side of mine. The floors are covered with grease and oil. You can use the port-a-john if and when you get an officer's attention and request using the bathroom. The water is piss warm, has a peculiar taste, and is constantly running out. One has to walk over prostrate bodies to the water. Somehow a few men can sleep. I'm not one of those lucky few. There are two benches where not more than a dozen bodies can fit. It's prime real estate in cages that contains a
growing human stench.
The food consists of stale white bread and one piece of cheese, or one piece of baloney, or peanut butter. Vegetarians eat the bread. I refuse to eat.Some use the sandwiches for pillows as they lay on the grease stained floors. Some toilets don't have toilet paper and the resourceful find a new use for stale bread.
Buses are pulling in all night. As people exit the bus the cages explode with applause. And chants of "let us go", "fight the power", and "power to the people". One young man in my cage tries to start a chant "whose cage". It's the first time I laugh in hours. It doesn't last long.
No sleep. No food. I erupt in a tirade - "I hate this fucking complacent country. Most amerikans are too fucking ignorant for freedom if half of them approve of a fraud that is neither compassionate nor conservative. Fuck the press that prints the rhetoric and ignores reality. This country didn't change after 9/11, this country changed that day in December the year before when democracy died in Bush v Gore........." My friend tells me to quiet down "you don't know who is listening". "Fuck them - better to die than live
in fear and hate". Time to become aware of my Buddha nature. I become silent trying to focus on letting go of the anger.
2:10 a.m. - My friends are lined up, cuffed and led out of this hell. Political discussions subside. Some are still sleeping on the floor. Others including myself stand frozen as if in a nightmare world. Still no sleep, no food. At least the anger subsides while I try to be the moment.
5:15 a.m. - My name is called. I leave the cage. My arms are bound behind my back once again for a painful bus ride to the 5th precinct a smaller cell with steel bars, open toilets some which didn't function, but still not enough room for the number of people that were held without being charged. I see my arresting officer for the last time and thank her for her compassion when she loosened our restraints.
The menu hasn't changed. The water is still piss warm. For the next 12 hours every two hours my name is called with anywhere from 4 to 11 others. We are lined up against the bars or walls. Shackled together and taken to another cell on another floor. Finger printed by computer during one stop and held
over in other cells for no apparent reason or purpose.
I visited no less than 6 cells at this testament to liberty and justice for all. In one hallway a group of blacks are chained together. "Are you with the protesters" one asks. We tell them we are and a young woman says "then you're black like us. All power to the people". We reply "power to the people" and raise our one free fist in the air then it's time to shuffle off to the next cell.
In one cell there was a young man who did political rap for our entertainment and applause. Some men juggled sandwiches. Others played coin shuffle board. I played paper/stone/scissors with a 19 year old journalism
student at Boston U. Nobody won.
2:00pm - Once again I am in the same cell as one of my friends. Our other friend got out before noon. I tell him if he gets out before 7 just head back to Albany I'll take care of myself. I meet my favorite prisoner in the cell across the hall. A big muscle bound cop asks his name. "John Doe". "What's your date of birth John Doe"? "My name is John Doe". "Well John Doe if you want to be a smart ass you'll stay here 72 hours. Let's try it again. What's your name"? The young man replied "John Doe". Applause and cheers erupt from the men in the other cells.
4:10pm - We reach the 12th and perhaps top floor on our journey in this Kafkaesque nightmare so reminiscent of "The Trial". It is the first time those of us from outside the city are allowed to make a long distance call. Our guard assures us this is our last stop. Those who have a spare dollar throw it on the floor for the last man who leaves. She gives us handiwipes to clean up and insists we take more. No food for 30 hours. No sleep for 36 hours but at least I can clean up.
6:00pm - My name is called. I exit the cell on the 12th floor. The steel door slams behind me. I'm chained to 5 other men as we head for the 3rd floor and a meeting with a legal aid lawyer who asks if I know what I'm
charged with. Since 4:30 yesterday I still didn't know what I was charged with after asking several different officers and guards at various stops. She informs me I am charged with two counts of disorderly conduct, both
violations, neither a misdemeanor. No food. No sleep. My brain has shut down. I can't think in order to decide. She informs me I can take an ACD and I'll be released. I give her a brief statement about the police allowing the nonviolent march then shutting it down.
6:30 pm - September 1 - I appear before the judge. The doors open from the belly of the beast and spit me out into the streets to the applause and cheers of 50 or more supporters. My vision is blurred. I manage to see my friend who was released at noon. We embrace each other. We survived Pier 57.
On the Metro North we read The Daily News headline "1000 Anarchists arrested". On Page 4 of The Post "900 Bush-bashers arrested", and Newsday "A Taste of Anarchy". The people who left these papers behind will never know the truth that in reality "freedom" is only a myth when "freedom" can not be exercised without arrest. Ironically the same freedoms we are told that the terrorists hate are the same freedoms our government hates.
The author is the Programs Director of the Thomas Paine Project
This work is in the public domain