Sitting in America
A number of years ago, then President George Bush the younger came to speak at a technical college in Nashua, NH. My husband and I had been bird dogging candidates pretty steadily, and would not miss this opportunity to at least visibly show our displeasure with the president and his policies. We were stunned to see barricades, sometimes cement, sometimes large pieces of construction equipment blocking the entrance ramps to the highway we had managed to get onto far enough away. When we arrived in Nashua, we parked in the lot of a coffee shop for a break. We were told we had to either plan on staying inside the shop for the duration of Bush’s visit or get out now. All doors to all businesses in that area of the city had to remain closed during this visit. We got out and parked closer to the tech, then joined other protestors. I had a bouquet of blue balloons on which I had stenciled doves and a sign which said Peace Is Possible.
There were about fifty of us there on the side of the six lane street opposite the tech. There were a few supporters. There were also numerous business people who had decided that since their businesses were effectively closed, they too would stand outside to observe what was going on. The local police asked everyone to move a block further away, which we all did. Then they asked us to move another block away, which we did. When they asked us to move a third time, three elderly and seasoned protestors, including State Rep, Betty Hall, refused to move and sat on small cane chairs they had brought. They were carried away by the police and arrested. I asked Betty as she was being hauled away if she was alright and if there was anyone she needed me to contact. She said she and the others were all set. Betty’s son, a poet and publisher, would come bail her out.
There were a few greenhorns there, young people, and this was obviously one of their first protests. They asked with genuine concern why those three had been arrested. I said, “For sitting in America.” I was shaking with anger.
We saw Bush arrive in his enormous armed motorcade, dozens of armored black SUV’s with tinted windows, police escort and several ambulances. Some of them had to have seen us. My balloons started to pop. I asked one of the local cops why they were being so “tough” with the crowd. He told me that there were snipers with guns trained on him and his police. They did what they were told.
Most of the protestors left but several of us hung around to watch Bush leave. It was the same deal with the same motorcade only this time, there were armed men hanging out open windows of the vehicles, their weapons aimed at us. I felt I was in Franco’s Spain. I would go on to write a poem about this, which I would read at Jazzmouth in Portsmouth, NH, accompanied by David Amram and Larry Simon’s Jazz Ensemble. It got good applause, and a write-up in the local paper as the only political poem in the event. It has since been published by Trilingual Press in The Liberation Anthology.
I am reminded of all of this by the recent incidents of pepper spraying of seated protestors.. I am wondering how the act of sitting has become a threat to national security serious enough to warrant riot police and the use of weapons. I find myself again shaking with rage, again feeling we are headed toward Franco’s Spain.