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Standing up to the Bushes at GWU

June 2, 2006 | Page 8

MY FRIEND Chris O'Connell and I just protested against George and Barbara Bush at the 2006 commencement ceremony at George Washington University.

George and Barbara Bush spoke, along with the president of Viacom. The admiral of the Coast Guard was there, too. A general read us a prayer, and a member of the board of directors told us about the importance of political "ethics." It felt like the Twilight Zone.

I wasn't even planning on attending this ceremony until Chris gave me a call the night before, around midnight, with his idea for the protest. Because I had no plans to walk in the ceremony, nor a cap and gown, I was just going to hand out a leaflet I wrote.

But I met Chris right as he was being seated, and I snuck in and sat next to him. I was wearing slacks and my "I have a dream" shirt--with a picture of Bush and Cheney behind bars on it.

Originally, four of Chris's friends were going to protest with us, but when the moment came, they all stayed seated. So it was Chris and myself standing up when the Bushes (first his wife, then the former president) were introduced.

We stood up and turned our backs to him. We were nervous, but we backed each other up. Looking in front of us, we saw an army of elite, wealthy and conservative college graduates with their families behind them.

Immediately, people began to complain that we were blocking their view, and several students started shouting at us to sit down. At first, we tried to look at them and say "sorry," but pretty quickly we figured out that dialogue would be useless. Instead, we just looked back to the end of the crowd and avoided eye contact with those immediately in front of us.

I looked back to see the horror on the face of the president of the college Republicans, with whom I had had the burden of enduring a "guerrilla warfare and insurgencies" seminar with. But he wasn't going to say anything to us, because this was our turn!

A cop told us to sit down or leave, and I told him he'd have to drag us out. He backed off, and we stayed standing.

Decisively, a few people around us joined in telling the police to let us stand. I think the discussions that our leaflet helped us get into with the other graduates earlier on were crucial to getting us this support. Even one student who was politically conservative supported us when the cop arrived.

We made the point that we weren't trying to disrupt anything, but that it was the university who politicized the event by inviting the Bushes there, and we were simply obeying our conscience by turning our backs. So I stood, alongside Chris, with my back turned to President Bush.

A few people, including a teacher, came up to us afterwards and thanked us for standing up, saying they were disappointed that we were the only ones. One other student, who had tried independently to do the same thing, but was shouted down by conservative students, also came up to us and said thanks.

It was an awesome protest, organized on the fly. If we had planned it earlier, we could have gotten a spy to stuff all the programs with our leaflet, but for the time and resources we had, I think we did alright.
Christian Wright, Washington, D.C.

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