The level of security here in Washington DC seems more like a campaign to frighten the American people than like security against terrorism. Tourists have to get passes to get into the Capitol itself. To get into the gallery, they need a pass signed by their Senator or Representative. They can't get into the Senate or House Office Buildings without going through a metal detector and putting their purses and bags through X-rays. And cops are everywhere.
A couple of weeks ago during the “No War, No Warming” demonstration, even though we had a permit for a rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol, police, some carrying automatic rifles, closed off all the front entrances to the Capitol, so that to get to the West Lawn, we had to climb over waist-high walls.
All this excessive security recalled my first trip to the capital of Montana, Helena, last year. I went with a labor group for a rally on an initiative to raise the minimum wage, and I was sitting alone on the steps of the Capitol, beside the stage, listening to the speakers, and a man in working clothes and his dog sat down on the steps beside me. I was playing with the dog when the governor of the State of Montana was introduced. The man beside me turned out to be the governor, daring to wander around the state Capitol without even an entourage.
The Senate and House Office Buildings are anything but user-friendly. The long, long hallways don't have a single bench or chair or anywhere at all to sit down, and the hallways are snarled in a labyrinthine puzzle that all but guarantees a person will get lost and wander in exhausting circles trying to find their Senator or Representative.
I blogged yesterday about distributing Naomi Wolf's new book, “The End of America,” to all the Senators. It did occur to me after I posted it that maybe the Capitol Police read Code Pink blogs. Distributing anything to Senators is illegal, but I've been carrying heavy bags full of books into the Senate office buildings over and over all week, going through the X-ray every time without being stopped, until this morning. This was my last day, I'm leaving Monday for Montana, and I had 14 books left to distribute.
But I didn't make it through the first X-ray at the Russell Building this morning. The Capitol Police guarding the entrance stopped me, wanting to know what was in my bag. They found a bunch of copies of just one book, very suspicious. I said they're for a select list of Senators, from the publisher, and showed them the names on my list, organized by building. They said it's against the law to distribute anything to Senators.
I left and walked over to the Dirksen Office Building, and almost made it through security there. My books got through the X-ray unmolested, but as I was walking away a warning came over the police radio about a suspicious woman, who may be from CODEPINK, trying to distribute material to Senators. A friendly woman cop named Tyra came after me. She was carrying her radio and I could hear nonstop chatter about me and CODEPINK. Exciting! A 65-year-old grandmother wearing pink is on the loose on Capitol Hill, with books! I showed Tyra the books, told her this was the last group and I'd already distributed the books to all the rest of the Senate, and they were grateful to receive them. It's a $14 book! People recognize a valuable gift when they see it. I told her the whole story (explained in an earlier blog) about how I came to be distributing these books. I invited her to accompany me to the office of the first Senator on my list, and she walked along beside me as we looked for the office.
She reported on the police radio that she had me; they could stop looking. After a few minutes she got a call and walked away from me, not leaving me but taking a call she didn't want me to hear. I waited, there being no chance at all of getting away. She came back to me and said she wouldn't accompany me further, warned me that it's against the law to distribute anything to Senators, and if they received a complaint, they would take action. I noted they hadn't yet received any complaints, and I'd almost finished the task. I don't know why they let me proceed with something they'd just told me, repeatedly, was against the law. Maybe they realized they might get complaints from Senators who wanted their copy of the book!
I was thoroughly decked out in pink, since I'm one of the few Pinkers who can still wander Capital Hill hallways, and we want to show the colors. On the other hand, I really wanted to finish the task of getting this book to all the Senators, and this is my last day. I was afraid, after all the police radio chatter about me, that I might be stopped again by any cop who saw me, had heard the chatter, and missed the denouement. So I ducked into a restroom, took off my CODEPINK T-shirt. I was wearing a “Arrest Cheney First” black long sleeved T-shirt underneath. I turned my CODEPINK black hoody inside out, and tried to carry my CODEPINK bookbag so the logo didn't show. Couldn't do anything about my long pink skirt. And the “Arrest Cheney First” T-shirt also attracted a lot of attention. Several suit-clad men in the hallways and in Senate offices laughed and complimented me on it.
No one else stopped me. I finished distributing Naomi Wolf's “The End of America” to the whole Senate and celebrated with a tiramisu at Union Station.