The U.S. Supreme Court did not allow cameras in the courtroom, but they were definitely allowed outside. So as the lawyers wrangled inside, protesters staged made-for-TV-protests outside.
For the first time in at least a week, this morning's mob outside the Supreme Court roughly resembled the mob vote on Election Day -- it was equally divided. Irate Bush supporters lately have tended to dominate protests and monopolize camera time in Florida. But today they were matched -- possibly outnumbered -- by Gore supporters in Washington, DC. On this one-year anniversary of the Seattle World Trade Organization Protests, this equal-opportunity mayhem proved that no single ideology has a monopoly on outlandish expression.
The left-right divide was evident because the DC police wisely chose to separate the protesting camps -- Republicans to the north side of the street, Democrats to the south, with the various other causes, of which there were many (Abortion, women's rights . . . Falun Gong), milling around aimlessly at points in between.
This arrangement also made it easy to assess the warring factions. Once again, they were a close reflection of the voters. The Gore side was primarily stationed with members of organized labor, minorities, women and students. The Bush side was strikingly white, male and (judging from the accents) Southern. Both sides shared a sense of outrage and a fondness for camera-ready props. Grinch-stealing-the-election metaphors were in unfortunate abundance. Several folks toted "Voter Harris-ment" signs. A man dressed as Darth Vader roamed the crowd with a sign that read, "Keep Counting Until the Dark Side Wins." Another protestor carried a festive, Christmas tree-shaped placard festooned with ornaments and a portrait of the Texas governor, beneath whom was scrawled this holiday sentiment: "G.W. Bush The Dimmest Bulb on the Tree." (This was probably not an argument simultaneously being used by Gore lawyer Laurence Tribe inside the Court.)
Other protesters weren't nearly as impressive. A young hippy, who looked as though she'd strayed from a Phish concert, skipped and twirled among perplexed Bush supporters, chanting, "Bush is a thief and a drunk!" "No revotes for retards!" hollered an unshaven man in sweatpants, whose outrage was overpowered only by the smell of whiskey.
Early on, the air was filled with what the uninitiated might assume to be confetti. But of course it was "chad." Republicans, though outnumbered, stationed themselves along the media barracks to ensure that Bush-Cheney signs dominated the live broadcasts. Democrats, who had better chants, shouted them down with bullhorns. Newspaper feature writers flocked to a clever young man with a "Paid RNC Operative" sign, just as they bolted to a large African-American Gore supporter, who declared "Time for a rebel invasion!" and launched himself across to the Bush side, trailing media types like a pied piper. While tempers flared on both sides, violence was limited mainly to accidental whacks in the head by overzealous folks with flags and placards. (I suffered multi-whacks.)
But try as they might, the police couldn't prevent all confrontations. Every so often, a militant liberal would wade into the camouflage, crosses and fetus corpse photos that dominated the Bush side, only to be instantly engulfed by outraged conservatives. Likewise, angry Republicans would occasionally stray to the Gore side to respond to the crowd's "Recount!" chant by screaming, "We already did!" When such confrontations took place, the crowd would surround the participants like students at a schoolyard fight. Then an odd ritual would occur, which I witnessed again and again. Once, I caught it on tape:
"Count every vote!"
"We already did!"
"Hey, get back over to your own side!"
"Back off, pal!"
"It's a free country and I can stand . . . Hey, you're touching me!"
"No I'm not!"
"What's your name? I'm getting a cop! Who are you with?"
"I'm with myself!"
"Who paid for you to be here?"
"I did -- who paid for you, huh?"
"I'm with myself!"
"Well, I'm with myself, too!"
At this point, police would step in to escort the dissident to more ideologically friendly terrain. Dignity was in short supply on both sides until the Reverend Jesse Jackson appeared, flanked by Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women, and select other liberal luminaries. Jackson and his followers waited patiently for police to clear the road, then marched quietly to the steps of the Supreme Court and knelt in a moment of prayer. Smelling blood, Bush protesters momentarily abandoned their camera-friendly positions and raced to either side of the road to hurl invectives at the group, which, to their credit, ignored them. Once leaders had purged a few village-idiot types who'd infiltrated the march, Jackson turned and delivered a few words of encouragement. "Remain calm and orderly," he said to the crowd, with uncharacteristic reserve. "Every vote matters, every vote counts."
Then he turned and slowly led his followers around the block. A buzz went through the crowd and suddenly Bush supporters began to disperse en masse. It wasn't Jackson's speech they were reacting to. Television commentators had begun filing out of the Court; they were racing to reassume their positions.