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Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Siege At The White Tower

Frodo and Sam, while, walking the One Ring to Mount Doom, were confronted at the Black Gate to Mordor by a brutal race of orcs, whose singular goal was prevent the Eye of Sauron from seeing anything undesirable.

OK, that's a tad melodramatic.

What really happened was that a ragtag gang of a dozen or so dedicated Washington residents - Answer Guy included - braved the bitter winds of a cold January night and decided it would be fun to hang Howard Dean signs in the general vicinity of the White House.

My group's job was 15th Street, from McPherson Square to Pershing Park. Which takes one by the Hotel Sofitel, the American Bar Association, the Treasury Building, and a whole group of bank buildings.

One of us was carrying one of those cell phones with a digitial camera, so we got a picture of one of our signs on a lamppost with the "Pennsylvania Avenue NW" sign on it, though it was the 1500 and not the more famous 1600 block sign.

On the way down the street after the sign of our triumph of forced irony, a Secret Service goon, with backup, came out and informed us that what we were doing was against DC law, that no one was allowed to poster "without a permit, and they don't give permits for this." I was fairly sure he was talking out of his ass.

After consulting relevant regulations (follow link), I was able to determine that he was, in fact, talking out of his ass. Non-commercial flyers are allowed to remain up for 60 days, provided they are not vulgar, have a posting date on them (these did,) and that there are not more than three of them on one side of the street in a single block - which there were not.

Maybe the posters are now seen as threats to national security or something.

There was no mention of any kind of jurisdiction thing by our friend the public servant, that he apparently believed that the hanging of a poster was a criminal act no matter where in the city it was. Noting that there were all sorts of signs with all sorts of things on them not only now but at all times, we were told that "District police don't usually enforce this law but I'm going to enforce it now."

So one us decides to break out the phone and call the coordinator of the Merry Postering Brigade, to let him know that things have hit a snag. "I'm not going to debate this with your ACLU friends," he said as we stood there saying nothing. He thought we were calling the ACLU. Apparently the guy thought we were the type to have the ACLU on speed dial.

We walked away, southward, towards Pershing Park, and no one pursued.

At least they waited we were out of sight to rip them down. Which apparently was what happened over on 17th Street, even after a Park Police official on the scene expressed his opinion that whatever they were doing in terms of sign hanging was acceptable provided it was not on White House grounds (which none of our posters were.) A particularly belligerent Secret Service official apparently took the initiative towards ripping down posters on both sides of 17th Street - the side that abutted the Old Executive Office Building and the side that did not.

Fortunately, there being no hot-heads in our operation (it's tough to be hotheaded when the weather is so cold), we all took a good-humored approach to the power-tripping, intimidation tactics employed by the Secret Service, whose duties apparently involve protecting Dear Leader from any information that suggests discontent amongst the population. The final act of the the evening, after hanging our signs on H and 16th Streets north of the White House, was to pose for pictures holding the offensive signs at the northern end of Lafayette Park.

How much do you want to bet that they'd have been just fine with people putting up Bush-Cheney signs?

I just wish I'd brought a copy of the relevant law. Although I regret more my lack of foresight in not bringing a hat or gloves (since I didn't think I was going postering this evening) so that I could barely feel my hands - or my ears - when I got home.

If we're going to be living in a banana republic, at least the winters shouldn't be so harsh.


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