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White House arrests ensure maximum coverage


White House arrests ensure maximum coverage
By Michael Gawenda
Washington
September 28, 2005

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Mother of all protests: Cindy Sheehan is arrested during a sit-in at the White House after refusing to obey police orders to leave.
Photo: Reuters
THREE days of anti-war protests in Washington have ended the way organisers planned, with the arrest outside the White House of Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war movement's symbolic leader.

Ms Sheehan, whose soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq last year and who spent most of August camped outside President George Bush's ranch in Texas, smiled and cried "The world is watching" as she was carried to a police van.

She and more than 350 other anti-war demonstrators had sat down on the footpath outside the White House. They was asked to leave by police before being arrested and carried to the line of police vehicles.

Ms Sheehan and other arrested protesters were taken to a suburban police station where they were fingerprinted and charged with demonstrating without a permit.

It took police more than five hours to clear the demonstrators from the area and several hours more to process them at the station for an offence that carries a $US50 ($A66) penalty.

About 2000 people, far fewer than the more than 100,000 who marched on Saturday, were on hand to chant support for Ms Sheehan and the other people who were arrested with her.

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AdvertisementThe "arrest me" protest had been planned and discussed with Washington area police, and emails of the "event" were sent to media organisations, including The Age, outlining what would happen and when.

The script was followed perfectly, with the protesters arriving at one of the White House gates with a list of the more than 1900 American soldiers who have died in Iraq and demanding to see Mr Bush so they could hand him the list. When it was clear that Mr Bush would not emerge, the protesters sat down and the laborious process of arresting them began.

There were chants of "Bush, why won't you see them?" and a few bars of Give Peace a Chance from what seemed like veterans of the anti-Vietnam War protests, but the whole stage-managed show, including a group of bare-breasted women chanting "Breasts not bombs", was good-natured and peaceful.

Cindy Sheehan's arrest made all the television news bulletins, which was the main point of all this activity, and even White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the protesters were "well-intentioned".

"The President has been well aware of all the protest activity in Washington these past days," he said. "They're well-intentioned, but the President strongly believes that withdrawing would make us less safe and make the world more dangerous."

While the three days of protest in Washington drew large crowds, they were overshadowed by hurricane Rita's aftermath and the growing debate about how the rebuilding of New Orleans and parts of Mississippi — and, after Rita, parts of Texas — would be financed.

Mr Bush was not at the White House during the weekend protests.

He was travelling from one Texas town to another, meeting emergency workers and army brass and providing photo opportunities for the media as he tried to compensate for his tardy response to hurricane Katrina.

And while Cindy Sheehan was being arrested, Mr Bush spoke about the damage Katrina and Rita had caused America's oil refineries and his "pain" over high petrol prices.

He urged Americans to conserve energy, even suggesting that they take public transport where possible, a risky political move given the American obsession with cars and a counter-intuitive one for a former Texas oilman.

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