Heckled Albright

Entering Ohio State University's St. John Arena last Wednesday with tickets scraped up by the other campus politicos from Oberlin College, we expected to start anti-war chants towards the end of the "International Town Meeting," when we wouldn't miss much by being kicked out. We went because we found the war-mongering of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense William Cohen and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger offensive, and we didn't want the CNN-staged worldwide event to project a militarist consensus for a U.S. attack on Iraq that didn't exist.CNN anchor Judy Woodruff kicked off the spectacle, and Albright soon dipped into her introductory shtick. As she warmed up to the need for bomb dropping, a group of students above and behind her busted out with a chant of "1, 2, 3, 4, We Don't Want Your [varying 'Racist,' 'Fascist,' 'Fucking,' 'Dirty' War!" Our ten-person pocket of dissent joined in, and I figured we'd just get kicked out early and miss some newspeak.The shouting drowned out Albright and brought home the power of protest. And the security meanies didn't come. We chanted, shouted, ribbed, razzed and heckled -- generally improving the proceedings, we felt, and they didn't even intimidate us. Secretary of Defense Cohen showed a picture of an Iraqi mother and child killed by Iraqi nerve gas: "Madonna and child Saddam Hussein-style" he quipped. But according to the findings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the deliberate destruction of Iraq's infrastructure by the United States in 1991, along with the further exacerbation of food scarcity and a medical crisis by UN sanctions since 1990, have resulted in the deaths of more than 560,000 children. Cries rang back to Cohen of "How many children have we killed?!" His assertion that "there is a bully in the [Middle East], armed and he's dangerous," elicited loud shouts of "It's US!" from around the stadium. Whatever heckling lacked in concerted strength, it made up for with its speedy reaction time. Cohen would talk more, and we'd fill the gaps before applause with shouts of "Wrong again!"Further into the festivities, Albright was rebuffed by more anti-war chants. They came after she sidestepped an inquiry by John Strange of Shaker Heights regarding the difference between Saddam Hussein and U.S.-supported dictators like Indonesia's Suharto, responsible for the deaths of over 200,000 in the annexed territory of East Timor alone.Still, no security guards came for us. It seemed that the strong anti-war feelings hadn't been anticipated by the event's organizers -- a surprise democratic opening (i.e., "losing control") for which CNN was immediately harshly criticized by the White House and pundits nationwide. The pocket that started the chanting was more vocal than we were -- toward the end they simply started chanting "Bullshit!" -- and some of them got picked off by security. At which time we launched "Free Speech!"A definite "silent majority" was also in effect. Our neighbors glared at us and some commented loudly amongst themselves: "Uh, no one can understand them anyway; I don't know what they think they're getting accomplished. I wish they'd just shut up." Security men dragging a protester out were loudly cheered, and shouts of "Shut up!" aimed at dissidents were sometimes greeted with approving roars.Most of the intra-crowd dispute came from the false association that being anti-war meant being pro-Saddam. And Albright propagated such misinformation with replies like, "I am really surprised that people feel that it is necessary to defend the rights of Saddam Hussein."Angela Migally, an Egyptian-American student, said the shouting was not about disrespecting the rest of the audience or the Clinton officials or even drowning out what they had to say. Instead, it was about getting a viewpoint out that otherwise would have been ignored, and refusing to allow a picture of American consensus that didn't exist to be broadcast worldwide."Even though everyone said it was rude and we weren't going to get anything," Migally stated, the disobedience resulted in a man who fought his way to the microphone being able to ask the three top foreign policy officials, "How can you sleep at night?" The man also made a statement about the fabricated nature of the "town hall" meeting, in which the officials came not to listen but to tell, and he criticized CNN for selecting who could ask questions."He was asked to go down there be cause all the [protesters] were going crazy," said Migally. "If it wasn't for us making noise and bringing attention, he would have never been able to ask a question."Toward the event's close, the besieged Albright yelled, "We are the greatest country in the world!" In the end, the three officials praised a participatory democracy they would rather not have experienced and will assuredly work harder to protect themselves from in the future. Their line seemed to be insincere rhetoric. But for the first time in a long time, I felt we had succeeded in exposing it for what it was.

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