Why can’t we cover up this boob?
BY CAMILLE DODERO
This past Tuesday morning, US Attorney General John Ashcroft popped into Boston’s Faneuil Hall to deliver a speech about a little piece of legislation called the USA Patriot Act. What Ashcroft — or ASHHOLE, ASSKKKROFT, PROTO FACIST, or THE MAN MORE EVIL THAN STEINBRENNER, as the placards anticipating his arrival preferred to call him — had to say about the USA Patriot Act was as foully predictable as flatulence after a bowl of baked beans. But the horde hanging outside couldn’t be sure of that until Ashcroft was safely whisked away around 10 a.m., en route to a similar engagement in New York City. Indeed, Ashcroft’s national "public relations" spree to promote his invasive law doesn’t include the public at all — and that flagrantly intentional oversight was simply more fuel for the ire raging outside the historic building.
"Let the people in!" the hundreds (final estimates hovered around 1000) standing on the cobblestones chanted. "Let the people in!" they continued, followed by "What’s the big secret?" and "Closed meetings for closed minds!" And they sang "Hey, John Ashcroft!" to the tune of "Frère Jacques":
Hey, John Ashcroft! Hey, John Ashcroft!
Why are you, why are you
Spying on our country?
We don’t think it’s funny.
Shame on you. Shame on you!
They’d assembled as early as 7:30 a.m., with signs like BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING and JOHN ASHCORRUPT. They gathered steadily, a few disapprovingly eyeing the Howard Dean supporters. This protest shouldn’t be politicized, said a woman with a red jacket who admitted to removing her Dean buttons before coming. "I wouldn’t want Dean’s attorney general to have these kinds of powers either," she declared to a circle of nodding heads.
But then more signs came, taking the focus off the blue Dean posters. There was the ACLU standard TAKE AWAY ONE FREEDOM, AND SOON THEY'RE ALL GONE. There was the clever WHY CAN'T WE COVER UP THIS BOOB? next to a picture of the censorious attorney general. There was the not-so-nice ASHCROFT JESUS HATES YOU. And the obvious WELCOME TO THE CRADLE OF LIBERTY with the word CRADLE scratched out and replaced with the word GRAVE.
As in bad fiction, the symbolism surrounding John Ashcroft’s visit was grossly conspicuous: the red stripe of the Freedom Trail nudging the police barricades; the fact that Ashcroft’s appearance fell two days before the two-year anniversary of a national tragedy that some say the Bush administration has turned into a civil-rights-usurping boon; the Samuel Adams statue in front of a Faneuil Hall entrance that was blocked off before 9:15 a.m. And as Michael Avery, president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, pointed out during the ACLU-sponsored press conference held beside Quincy Market, "This building is the cradle of liberty, and John Ashcroft is inside giving a funeral oration to the US Constitution!"
Possibly because the ironies were so bald, the protest seemed more substantial than the usual street performance art the right so easily discredits. Yes, the usual suspects hollered and hooted well past 10 a.m.: a rainbow-Afro-wig-wearing dude with a plastic ass affixed over an American flag; drum beaters, cowbell whackers, and whistleblowers; the black-clad anarchist types with bandit-style kerchiefs cloaking their mouths. And there was even a minor scuffle between a 16-year-old female protester and a policeman. (It ended within seconds.)
But for the most part, the demonstration was different. There were children. There were elderly women. There were even pressed suits and ties. And the cops — some of them, anyway — agreed with the protesters. "Poll the cops and half of them are probably against the Patriot Act," said a pale-skinned officer who identified himself as Jim Lima to a female protester who’d been repeatedly escorted behind police barricades. "Our job is to maintain the peace. Even though you might not realize it, many of us are on your side."