Readers respond to "Keeping Dissent Invisible," by Dave Lindorff.

Published October 19, 2003 1:13AM (EDT)

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The Bush administration and Secret Service effort to shield President Bush from protest began way before 9/11. Recall the elderly protesters arrested in Florida? Remember the Installation (oops Inaugural) Parade, when tickets were bought up by the RNC to ensure no protesters were anywhere near the Capitol?

Oh, and you ain't seen nothing yet: The Secret Service has already designated the RNC Convention and ground zero "Secret Service zones," meaning there will be no protest in New York in September 2004. No wonder Bush thinks that the "good news" isn't getting out. The doors to the "truth" are closed shut.

-- DeeDee Arnelle

President Bush recently visited my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend a fundraiser at the Indian Hill home of local business bigwig Carl Linder. A group of protesters virtually brought traffic to a halt on Interstate 71, holding banners and signs they hoped would be visible to the passing motorcade. Except the motorcade exited the Interstate before reaching the overpass where the protesters were gathered.

Coincidence? I honestly have no idea whether the motorcade was diverted from its intended course by the presence of the protesters, or perhaps was on its scheduled course all along, and the protesters just picked the wrong place to set up. But I do hope everyone who's been protesting any of the Bush administration's policies will remember to vote next November. I know I will.

-- Jennifer Baker

As a reporter for a southern Oregon newspaper, I can attest to the many "designated free-speech zones" established by law enforcement for protesters during presidential visits. When Bush landed in Medford, Ore., I was there covering the protests and witnessed the zones set up at the Medford airport, at the fairgrounds, and at the burn site where Bush toured the smoking remains of the so-called Squire Fire. Interestingly, similar practices have accompanied nonpresidential events, including timber protests at the local Bureau of Land Management offices.

Then there were heavy-handed deployments by state police, sheriff's deputies and local police that accompanied the Iraq War protests in Ashland, Ore. Whether or not these tactics were inspired or directed by the Secret Service, there appeared to be wide emulation of the same tactics following the president's departure.

I, for one, am glad for the ACLU's efforts in bringing this far-reaching trend into the spotlight. I am proud that our Founding Fathers included the press under the protection of the First Amendment. But I care equally about the freedom to assemble.

-- Sean Wolfe

Bush's last campaign stop just before last November's midterm elections was my alma mater, Southern Methodist University. I left right after work to join my friends in protest. No one, save the well-dressed SMU alums, trustees, administrators, etc., on their way to the rah-rah session, was there. When I asked an officer where the protest was, I was immediately escorted across campus, past the Laura Bush promenade (it was a birthday gift from Dubya), to a remote parking lot way across campus, as though I presented some immediate threat. The Dallas police officers told me I had to stay in the "free-speech area." There I found about 300 people corralled into this dark parking lot, chanting with their signs in the rain -- the turnout really surprised me, given that SMU is generally a "conservative" school populated by apathetic rich kids.

Bush never saw us.

-- Shanna Caughey

I found this article to be especially pertinent. This morning, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003, on my way to work in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, I noticed a veritable platoon of Fort Worth police officers on a street corner near my building. I thought there must have been a bad accident, but didn't see anything like that on the streets. At our building, the street parking was closed right next to the building, which is a 15-minute parking zone for customers of the bank in the lobby of the office building.

At 8:22 we received this e-mail:
"The Fort Worth Police Dept. will be closing all streets at 9 a.m. and again at 1 p.m. today around the Radisson. There is no alarm -- no problems; please avoid these areas during these times today only."

At 9:44 we received this e-mail:
"We have just been notified by the Fort Worth Police Department that Vice President Dick Cheney will be the guest speaker at the Radisson. Due to security measures required by the Secret Service, delays will be encountered during the time V.P. Cheney is here."

The e-mail went on to explain just what streets downtown would be closed. For at least an hour today anyone parked in the parking garage would not have been able to leave from the parking garage. I jokingly forwarded the e-mail to some friends saying we could still have time for a protest! I wonder what the response would have been had I walked out of the office with a protest sign, say, against the war in Iraq, or questioning the lies the American people have been told by this administration. I talked to a friend at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who works on the business desk, around the time the V.P. was talking, and the paper's city desk was about to send out some reporters when they noticed police officers had cordoned off the Radisson. It seems much of the paper's staff wasn't even sure of what was happening -- a surefire way to not have protesters visible to the U.S. president or vice president is to not let anybody know where they are!

I saw Bill Clinton when he spoke in Sundance Square in Fort Worth and it was a great occasion for the city. Security was all over the place, and we had to go through metal detectors, but there were protesters at Sundance Square that day, right beside supporters.

Thanks, Dick Cheney, for visiting our wonderful town. I hope your cronies enjoyed your talk. Too bad nobody else even knew you were here.

-- Paul Wagner

There is a very real danger in allowing the Bush administration to stifle dissent by utilizing free-speech corrals. However, it's not just the feds who are engaging in this nonsense. I was marching with a group of Howard Dean supporters, including Dean himself, just before the Democratic debate at Pace University in New York a few weeks ago. Our intent was to walk the candidate to the door of the auditorium at Pace and give him a rousing send-off before the debate began. There were about 30 of us walking, holding "Dean for President" signs and chanting the oh-so-inflammatory "We want Dean."

We were met on the steps leading up to the auditorium by a contingent of NYPD cops decked out in full riot gear. The captain in charge saw us approaching and snarled, "You can't be up here, there's an area set aside for protest on the next block."

If the local police see marching with the leading democratic presidential candidate as a "protest activity," then we as a nation are in deep, deep trouble.

-- Mark Rutkowski

The Secret Service would be hard pressed to convince me that they are not behind the "protest zones" outlined in your article.

The reason: My wife was physically manhandled by a Secret Service agent just before he instructed the Berkeley, Mo., police on the scene to arrest her.

Yes, there WAS a Secret Service agent on site and he WAS coordinating the local police. The Secret Service will tell you differently, but my wife, numerous other protesters, the Berkeley police, and I know better.

Why was she arrested? Because she sat down at an April 2003 protest event.

She had been carrying my 5-year-old daughter, whose leg was in a cast, and she was tired from carrying her while politely moving back and forth with other protesters, between a protest zone and the gates of the Boeing complex the president was visiting. So she sat down and waited for the other protesters to decide whether or not to stay in the protest zone.

When she did, the Secret Service agent pounced on her, forcing her up from the ground. The Berkeley police then ripped my daughter from my wife's arms, and proceeded to arrest my wife for child endangerment, resisting arrest, and various other made-up charges. I was called around an hour later, informed that my daughter was in the care of the Berkeley Police, and instructed to come and pick her up. My wife was then held in the local jail for the entire day for simply attending a protest.

Fortunately, the ACLU came to our rescue. The charges at first were reduced from child endangerment, resisting arrest, etc., to littering.

They couldn't convict her on the made-up charges (half of which didn't even exist as city ordinances in Berkeley) so they decided to make up another charge and accuse her of littering. We of course refused to play along and told them to take us to trial. The charges were finally dropped, as they did not have a leg to stand on.

The ACLU suspected all along that the government would drop the charges, because this was the first time a minor had been involved in a "free-speech zone" arrest. Their logic was, the president's handlers would not like decent, law-abiding American citizens to see photos in the papers of a child being ripped from her mother's arms just so Bush would not be inconvenienced by having to see people who disagree with him.

Hopefully, this will cause people to wonder just exactly what is going on with this country's political system.

Until this "president," people have never had to think twice about bringing a child to a political rally, whether to support or protest a candidate. Now, people have to worry about being arrested for stating their opinion.

These protest zones are a ridiculous and unacceptable abuse of power on the part of an incredibly arrogant administration.

I commend Salon for having the courage to take on a subject so many other news organizations refuse to investigate.

I have never publicly spoken of this until now, as the case was pending.

-- Name Withheld

When Bush came to southern Oregon last year, all of us protesting were pushed into a small area behind a fence far away from the convention building where he gave his speech, while his supporters were allowed through the gate onto the convention grounds.

I was completely chilled by this treatment, and I truly sensed that America had changed. It was no longer the freedom-loving place I had always taken for granted. The local police who were keeping their eyes on us seemed to feel bad about what they were having to do and repeatedly said they had no choice. Later I was told that the Secret Service had ordered police to shoot and kill a couple of pigeons that were roosting in the rafters above where Bush was to speak. That made me very sad and said a lot about who we are dealing with here.

-- Annette Mesco

By Salon Staff

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