The 5:32 AM Train to Washington, D.C.

“The actual outlook [for the survival of Civilization] is very dark!”

— George Orwell

Baltimore, MD — The commuter train belonging to the MARC Line, pulled out of Penn Station, on Aug. 7, 2007, at exactly 5:32 AM. I was lucky to get a seat. It was overbooked and headed for Washington, D.C. about an hour away. The first thing I noticed on the train was how quiet it was. No one was talking. There was no chattering–just–silence. The passengers were mostly sleeping. Some had on their head phones to pass the time. It was also black as pitch outside and the train was eerily dark inside. It could have been a funeral train carrying home a coffin to be buried! Maybe, in a way, it was. America has changed a lot, since 9/11, and mostly for the worse. Every passenger on the train needed to show some ID before being allowed to purchase a ticket. This meant that “Big Brother” knew I was on that 5:32 AM MARC train!

Later, at about 6:40 AM, I’m sure “Big Brother’s” cameras spotted me catching a Metrorail at Union Station, and then taking it to the Metro Center station. From there, I changed to an Orange Line train and got off at the L’enfant Plaza station, near the National Mall. The Smithsonian station would have been a better choice for me, since I was going to the Department of Energy (DOE), a huge complex on Independence Avenue, to videotape a demonstration by Peace and Justice activists. (Incidentally, the DOE’s main building is named after James V. Forrestal, who was President Harry S. Truman’s Secretary of Defense. He supposedly committed suicide by jumping out of a window, in 1949, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. But, not everybody buys that story.)

As soon as I landed at the DOE, about 40 activists were preparing to put on a Street Theater skit satirizing the DOE’s involvement in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They were on a sidewalk adjacent to the Forrestal building. I pulled my camcorder out of my shoulder bag to set it up for the shoot. A uniform police officer, however, came rushing up to me, and, as though I were the infamous shoe bomber, he got right in my face and snapped: “If you turn that camcorder on, I will confiscate it and put YOU in handcuffs!” Well…strike another blow against the First Amendment! And…another example: on July 31, 2007, at the White House, a uniformed functionary there refused to accept more than 300 Petitions from the “Cities for Peace” organization because he claimed “protocol” wouldn’t allow it. When it was pointed out to him that the people have a guaranteed First Amendment Right “to Petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” he still refused. [1]

The erosion of our Constitutional Rights has a history. It didn’t start with these security guards, the Bush-Cheney Gang or even with this Congress of mostly jellyfish. In the 90s, I covered a hearing of a U.S. Senate Committee, on Capitol Hill. It was chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). (Yea, that Arlen Specter! He’s the wise guy who came up with that “magic bullet theory” in order to explain away the fact that there were more than one shooter of President John F. Kennedy, at Dealey Plaza, on Nov. 22, 1963.) The Senate Committee was considering legislation to authorize “secret trials, based on secret evidence” for immigrants suspected of terrorist activity. The “Star Chamber” gambit was pushed by Specter in the Senate and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who was then a member of the House. It became law in 1996.

One of the Committee’s witnesses warned that the legislative scheme was a “slippery slope” which the country would soon regret. He was right. You could argue that the horrific situation at Gitmo was sourced by Specter and Schumer’s “Star Chamber” ploy. Since its enactment, the draconian USA Patriot Act has been put on the books, along with the Military Commissions Act, which permits the Bush-Cheney Gang to target an individual as an “enemy combatant.” The ancient Writ of Habeas Corpus has been gutted, too. Most recently, Congress decimated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and gave the White House a green light to spy on Americans, with little or no judicial oversight. Meanwhile, President George W. Bush has in his desk drawer an Executive Order, which will allow him to declare “Martial Law,” wherever he sees fit to do so. [2] Some pundits think that he will invoke the measure, after he, at Dick Cheney’s urging, nukes Iran! If you’re not concerned about all of this, then maybe you should cut back on your medicine and stop watching the TV, a device suspected of amusing our society “to death.” [3]

After the DOE demonstration, the activists paraded across to the north side of the Mall–to the national headquarters of the Bechtel Corporation. It’s a company whose moniker is synonymous with the Military Industrial Complex and “war profiteering.” Even though it was still early in the morning, the heat and humidity were already stifling. Josh Cohen was the drummer for this protest gig. He kept a lively beat for the activists in their 30 minute-or-so walk to their second demo of the day. Liz McAlister of Jonah House, a Catholic-based faith and nonviolence resistance community, and one of the leaders of the protest action, was drenched in sweat from marching inside a giant Octopus prop. It was the centerpiece of the protesters’ very creative Street Theater performance. [4]

On the way over to Bechtel, we passed the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. My thoughts raced back to a memorial service which was held there on June 22, 2006, for Philip Merrill Levine, aka “Phil Merrill.” He was a media mogul, Iraqi War Hawk, and a raving Neocon. Levine had served on the Pentagon Defense Policy Board with Richard Perle, the Darth Vader of the Neocons. Like Forrestal, Levine committed suicide. Supposedly, he shot himself to death, while out on his boat on the Chesapeake Bay. What was odd about the service was how a smirking Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Paul Wolfowitz’s protégé, showed up, along with his ex-boss, V.P. Dick Cheney. Scooter went in the front door, while Cheney took a back entrance. Naturally, Perle was there. I noticed him after the service, standing on the sidewalk, kibitzing with his cronies, while feeding his face with cookies. Like Cheney, and the Neocons William Kristol and John Bolton, Perle wants the U.S. to attack Iran.

Washington, D.C. is a town filled with unrepentant War Hawks. Many are enjoying the good life, while U.S. troop and Iraqi civilians are dying daily in an unjust war, and our revered Constitutional Rights are regularly being flushed down the toilet. [5] I think it’s important to understand these War Hawks and their respective roles as ideologues and/or government officials, and how they cleverly used 9/11 as a pretext to drive the country into the Iraqi conflict. [6] The War-Mad Perle, Libby, and Cheney mourned the Neocon Merrill, but none of them has ever been known to attend a funeral service for any U.S. soldier who has been killed in Iraq.

Getting back to the demonstrators. After crossing K Street, the prime domain of the wheeler-dealer lobbyists on Capitol Hill, the activists camped out in front of Bechtel’s headquarters and did their spoof. The local cops soon showed up, but, wisely, decided not to interfere. [7] When I was on Capitol Hill, on Aug. 2, 2007, to attend a press conference called by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), I couldn’t help but notice a sea of Capitol Hill police officers. (8) A few were carrying huge weapons that looked like they belonged in a George Lucas’ Star Wars flick. The truth is that Washington, D.C. is now an armed camp. I suppose it is so, in order to protect the Bush-Cheney Gang, the Congress and federal offices from any possible terrorist attack. But, there is this larger, deeper and more relevant question: WHO IS GOING TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE from the Bush-Cheney Gang’s and Congress’ warmongering policies, impeachable offenses, mostly cowardly conduct and damnable contempt for the U.S. Constitution?

Finally, after covering the demos in D.C., I headed back to Baltimore on the 10:30 AM MARC train. You don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask “Big Brother!” He’s has all the train records!




[3]. “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman.