State of emergency

Crowds gathered on both coasts decry State of the Union ‘lies’

By Justin Chapman and Joe Piasecki, Pasadena Weekly, 2/2/2006

WASHINGTON, DC – As lawmakers gathered for a joint session of Congress to hear President Bush’s fifth State of the Union address Tuesday, about 500 people led by the activist group World Can’t Wait tried to "drown out Bush’s lies" outside the heavily fortified US Capitol Building.

Facing a nearly $400 billion deficit, a critical election year, growing criticism over his domestic spying program and increasing dissatisfaction with the War on Terror, Bush’s speech was met with not just skepticism but also cynicism by many – and not just protesters – who heard him speak.

At a restaurant less than a quarter-mile from the Capitol, diners were unimpressed.

"We’ve heard this speech five times now," said Nate Johnson, a Washington resident. "It was funny to watch what the Democrats and Republicans applaud for. Even that is politically motivated."

Some felt the issue of Iran was out of place in the speech, in which Bush pleaded for renewed support for the war in Iraq and called on Congress to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act.

"There are nuclear threats all over the world," said artist and self-described revolutionary Hawah, who teaches in DC-area schools. "Why not bring up Syria or North Korea or China? His motive seems ambiguous."

Perhaps that ambiguity explains why the president’s overall ratings now hover around 40 percent – the lowest approval ratings ever for a sitting wartime president.

In cities around the country, including Los Angeles, protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the administration.

Josh Collins, an English teacher from Glendale, said he brought some of his students to the World Can’t Wait-sponsored protest at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, outside the CNN Building in Hollywood.

"We’re reading Orwell’s ‘1984,’ and I brought some of the students here as opposed to [them] just hearing the doublespeak and Newspeak and all the crap of this regime," said Collins.

In fact, the LA demonstration attracted a generally much younger crowd than previous demonstrations.

"A lot of young people are very much aware of how serious the situation is and don’t believe it’s possible to wait until the Bush term expires because every day there’s a new action contrary to the interests of the people of the United States. Bush is not serving the common good," said longtime anti-war activist Blase Bonpane.

"The more I learn, the more to the left I become. It’s the war, it’s the torture – the policies all over the world. It’s how many innocent people are dying for nothing. We should get out of Iraq right now, and it’s amazing how many people feel the same way," said Anne Goldin, 24, of West Hollywood.

World Can’t Wait organizer Adam Grimes, a 29-year-old TV actor who’s appeared in such shows as "CSI Miami" and "The OC," said, "There’s nothing I believe in more than eliminating these guys from office."

Jim Lafferty of the National Lawyers Guild, who hosts a program on KPFK 90.7-FM, said the PATRIOT Act and government eavesdropping have nothing to do with making us safer. "It has to do with making the ruling elite safer from us and what we’re doing tonight," he said.

Mari Riddle of Pasadena turned her 50th birthday party last week at the Avenue 50 Studio art gallery in Highland Park into a fundraiser for World Can’t Wait’s print-ad campaign, which last month placed ads demanding "Bush Step Down" in The New York Times.

"We’re different from most of the other rallies, which chip away at Bush with a single cause of some sort. We’re saying we have to repudiate his entire agenda and force him out with all of it," Riddle said.

Back in Washington, peace activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested and removed from the House gallery just before Bush’s address. She was wearing a shirt with an anti-war slogan, which she kept covered up until she sat down. After an ineffective warning, she was charged with demonstrating in the Capitol building, a misdemeanor.

Sheehan, who has considered a run for Democratic US Sen. Diane Feinstein’s seat in California, wants Bush not only impeached but also tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"During Bush’s speech, every time he says ‘terrorist,’ replace it with ‘me and my insane policies’ and it fits right in," she told the Weekly Tuesday in Washington.

Today, the Bush War Crimes Commission, initiated by Not in Our Name, is expected to announce "indictments" against the Bush administration at the National Press Club in Washington. Harry Belafonte and Michael Ratner will deliver the opening remarks.

Carl Kozlowski contributed to this report.