Thirty-five of us, give or take a few. Standing in front of the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco, on an overcast evening in June. Holding signs, protesting the woman who was scheduled to speak inside the theater that night: Hillary Clinton.
Not a large crowd of protesters, but it didn’t matter. The area in front of the Orpheum is not spacious, and we had a perfect position: every single person waiting in line had to pass by within ten feet of every one of us. They couldn’t help but see that we were there.
The ticket holders made a long line, a large group. Most of them looked like progressives. If that’s a “classist” statement, so be it. Not many under the age of twenty. Gays, “intellectuals”, people dressed casual-chic for a night with their current political lodestar. “I’m Ready for Hillary”signs, stickers, and buttons. Stray comments of “Grow up!”, “Where did you go to school?”, etc., but on the whole they were quiet. Likely they didn’t expect us to be there, so they didn’t come prepared with snippy remarks.
This one was different than most of the protests I’d attended in the past; different largely because of the intimacy of confrontation. Other times we’d been on roadsides waiting for Obama’s motorcade, or counter-protesting with Obama supporters, facing-off across Market Street as he fundraised with the Bay Area elite. This was like gathering around a crowd waiting in line to see a movie.
It wasn’t a slogan-chanting kind of protest, although there was a black man in a wheelchair, using a bullhorn to warn the ticket holders of the economic and financial collapse to come. And one protester was soliciting “spare change for Hillary! Please give to a poor, broke woman.” This protest was a visual one, with homemade signs and determined people.
I was satisfied with my sign–it was the (in)famous photo of Ambassador Stevens being dragged through a Libyan street. The caption was, “You ignored their cries for help–you left them there to die. Remember Benghazi!” With a bloody red handprint on the back of the sign.
What felt right to me was to just stand there, saying nothing, holding the sign ten feet away from their faces. While making full eye contact, especially with those who really looked at the sign.
Some couldn’t look at it long, some ignored it altogether, but some took the time to read it and see the image of his body. Some of those looked thoughtful, some looked blank, a few may have shown a trace of being troubled by what they saw. Those were the ones I looked at the longest. And they saw me.
One woman read the sign and said to her companion–intentionally loud enough for me to hear–”I don’t believe that!” All it called forth from me was a muttered, “That’s because you only listen to the mainstream media, lady. You know nothing.” Not out loud, though, because for me, that evening wasn’t about arguing–it was about mute testimony. The Benghazi facts speak for themselves–the photo of Ambassador Stevens’ body says enough.
I just held it up for them to see.