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"Impeach Bush" t-shirt wearers forced to leave National Archives Constitution Display in DC
By Lisa Moscatiello
Not pictured among these high quality photos (video coming soon) by Bev Stanton and Michelle Bailey from yesterday's DC impeachment march with John Nirenberg is the ejection of several "Impeach Bush and Cheney" t-shirt wearers from the National Archives' U.S. Constitution display.
After being chased off the grounds of the National Arboretum (USDA property) and Washington Union Station (main rail terminal for DC) by uniformed guards (our crime - standing around, holding signs and carrying props - not even picketing, chanting - just standing there) we were prepared for trouble at the National Archives, so we agreed to stop doing whatever they might tell us to stop doing, e.g., stop marching, stop carrying signs, etc. - until the only thing left for us to do would be simply to go into the Archives and view the Constitution just like all the other tourists.
As we arrived in front of the Archives, a uniformed guard approached us and told us we couldn't stand there (pictured in attachment). We were allowed to march up and down the sidewalk and hold a brief rally across the street from the building. At the end of the rally I announced that some of us wanted to go look at the Constitution, and so we started collecting signs from people, since we already knew we couldn't bring in the signs.
We entered the Archives in groups of two and three, with some people lagging behind others, interspersed among the other tourists. While standing in front of the Declaration of Independence, marcher Sue Serpa pointed to one of the signatures and said "that is one of my ancestors." Shortly after that, I walked out, and as I passed the entrance to the exhibit I saw Mary Ellen Marino, who was wearing an "Arrest Bush" t-shirt with the impeachment clause of the Constitution on the back, being stopped by a guard at the entrance of the exhibit.
I collected a written statement from Sue about what happened after I left the building:
"I went into the National Archives wearing my 'Impeach Cheney, then Bush' badge on my orange 'Impeach Bush and Cheney (Change History)' t-shirt. I had no problems getting through security or entering the exhibit hall.
"It was when I got to the Constitution that a security woman said to me, "Miss, you need to go see that man over there.' I asked why. She said it was because of my t-shirt. I asked, 'Why my t-shirt?' She simply responded that I couldn't wear it in the building. At this point the big, burly security guard that she wanted me to go to, approached me."
"I said, 'What happened to the First Amendment?' The security woman told me to lower my voice. I raised my voice. Susan from Code Pink came over and offered me a jacket to cover my shirt, and I stayed."
Suzanne Haviland reported that a guard told her, "The reason I'm stopping you is that you are wearing something that criticizes the President. I'm a federal employee, and I'm not allowed to criticize the President."
I have lived in DC all my life, and have seen everything from choirs of LaRouche supporters singing on the street while aggressively handing out literature, to banners protesting the School of the Americas and demonstrations against the Shah of Iran. I have never heard of people being forced to leave a public street for having a spontaneous protest. It never would have occurred to me that we would face such problems. My biggest worry about the march was that people would just say, "So what?" No wonder there is a perception that there is no support for impeachment when this very well behaved little rally (it was like a Unitarian Church picnic) was stamped out at every turn.
Sometimes when I hear about somebody having their right to free speech or assembly violated, I think that there must have been some extenuating circumstances. Maybe they were loud, and preventing people in offices from doing their work, or blocking a sidewalk or picking fights and arguing with them. But in this case, because we removed all other factors that could have been pointed to as a potential threat to safety, and had even walked through metal detectors and left all our signs inside, and were not even clustered together but were rather 'picked off' signly by the guards, I have to believe what the guard told Suzanne. Our crime was "criticizing the President." If the guards had been Chinese and not English-speakers, there would have been nothing to distinguish us from the other tourists but the opinions expressed on our shirts, including language from the very Constitution we were prevented from viewing.