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Monday, Oct 11, 2004, 11:52 am

Got Debate? Coke or C2?

By A.L. Loy
There are certain surreal moments that stick in your mind. Imagine David Rovics playing folk songs while David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate, dances next to Sunfrog, member of the editorial collective of The Fifth Estate, the old school anarchist magazine.

But that???s what the day was like October 8 at the presidential debates in St. Louis. What? You didn???t hear about it? That???s not a surprise since the mainstream press account of it was zilch. Maybe they were all too busy sharing sour punch in the gym (wait, I meant the press center) or perhaps they didn???t get the conflict that they wanted. I know. They must have been checking each and every word that came out Bush or Kerry???s mouth for accuracy. Talk about failing to see the forest through the trees.

Three hundred people left Grace United Methodist Church around 4:30 P.M. and marched along the outskirts of the Washington University campus. Police and Secret Service locked down the campus at 9 A.M. that morning, allowing only students and faculty onto the grounds. Anyone found without proper ID was arrested. Many of the school???s departments canceled classes for the day.

Orange netting fenced off some areas while gates leading out of the campus were chained and zip tied shut. [Breakfast Club moment??????Sir, that is a fire hazard.??? The cops were not amused.]

Despite being unable to see the potential disaster of the shut gates should a dorm student???s first attempt at freebasing go horribly wrong, the police allowed protesters to take to the street mostly unmolested.

Because of the national security threat posed by puppets and drum circles, marchers got to take the long route and see some of St Louis??? grand old homes. Despite the distance, the mood was upbeat and lively.

Contingents of the Green and Libertarian parties joined their presidential candidates along the march. Marchers came from many persuasions of the progressive left (and some might argue the right). Anti-authoritarians walked with Libertarians, Greens, pissed-off voters, and many more. Both David Cobb (Green Party) and Michael Badnarik, (Libertarian Party) joined in since it seems someone misplaced their invites to the debate.

Perhaps Cobb thought the Commission on Presidential Debates just wanted to save the paper (hence the trees). Badnarik might have chalked it up to bureaucratic inefficiency.

Nah. They knew the process is rigged. Since the CPD took over the debates in the mid-eighties (after the League of Women Voters found party requirements stifling open discourse), only one third party candidate, Ross Perot, has been invited.

The march ended at the ???public viewing area??? for the debate. In reality the only viewing that you got was either: one, a row of riot cops and spanking clean armored police van; two, scores of Bush supporters some with giant foam flip-flops; and if that wasn???t enough you could hear the din of mini neo-conservative children chanting ???four more years.???

Wait ???til the sugar buzz wears off. They???re going to be pissed.

Since the road was uphill, the only way to even see the debate site was to get close to the blockade at the edge of the fence near an athletic field. Sorry, not going to stick my head over the hill so those guys on the roof can get a clean shot.

Both Cobb and Badnarik agreed they would both demand admission to the debate and planned to enter with or without permission. Sighting the safety of other protesters, Badnarik and Cobb doubled back on the parade route to the main university entrance on Skinker Ave.

Speaking to the crowd on the possibility of breaking the law Cobb said, ???the real crime is the corporate hijacking of our democracy. The corporations sponsoring these restricted, scripted and staged events, and their two-party accomplices, don't want the American people to know about the choices they have in this election.???

???I have the freedom of speech and they have no authority to barricade that,??? Badnarik said just outside the main campus entrance.

Both candidates were arrested after crossing police lines. The pair spent a short time in a police van and a few more hours at the police station. They were ticketed with trespass and ???refusing a reasonable order from a police man??? and released without bail.

Reports put the number of arrests at 10. Besides Cobb and Badnarik, eight people were arrested inside without proper ID. The arrests must have over loaded the St. Louis system; because Badnarik???s people were unable to find out which police station he was in for a few hours.

A.L. Loy is assistant publisher at In These Times.

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