Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fun at Chicago's Field Museum

It was a scene straight out of Ross Thomas, or even V I Warshawski: black limos pulling up in front of a marble facade, security guards and city cops surrounding the people as they got out, whisking them inside. Across the street, a handful of people without influence, harassed by the cops for trying to hand out leaflets.

At the end of the novel, justice somehow triumphs. At the end of the morning in Chicago, money won.

What was the story? Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Boeing Company. An ACLU lawsuit charges that Jeppesen has sold direct flight services to the CIA that enabled the delivery of captives in U.S. custody to secret overseas locations where "friendly governments" as well as CIA operatives carried out their torture. Boeing refuses to provide information on the subject; and the judge hearing the case accepted the CIA's claim that any pursuit of the matter in court would breach necessary government secrecy; this ruling is currently under appeal.

Boeing shareholders were meeting at the Field Museum on April 28; I was part of a small band who went to inform the shareholders that their company is directly involved in torture.

Police and museum security forces came to our ten-strong group of protesters and told us we were confined to a tiny space about a quarter mile east of the museum entrance, that if we wanted to hand out material or talk to anyone, that was our “first amendment” space. As protesters, we could not be on sidewalks or streets because we were a hazard to public safety. Nor could we be on the museum grounds because they were private property, not covered by the first amendment.

I left the protest and went to sit on a curb looking at the shareholders as they arrived. I took pictures with my cellphone, but I confess they weren’t clear enough to shame anyone. It started to rain; people stopped arriving; I began texting a friend.

Suddenly two cops and a museum security man appeared and demanded to know what I was doing.

Me: “I’m sitting here sending a friend a text message.”

Cop 1: “And then what do you plan to do?”

Me: “I don’t know. Perhaps telephone my husband. Is any of this illegal?”

Cops1 & 2 take off. Another cop drives up.

Cop 3: What are you doing here?

Me: I’m a citizen out for a walk. I don’t know why I should be accosted for that.

Cop 3: Accost? No one accosted you. They were just making conversation.

Museum security man: Come on, let me take you to see (and he named two people I didn’t know.)”

Me: I don’t know them.

MSM: You were just talking to them.

Me: I’m a Chicago writer. I enjoy events involving my city—I get lots of good ideas for stories that way. And I think it’s wonderful that the museum pays such personal attention to every citizen who happens to be nearby.

3rd cop: What are you doing here?

(A 4th cop, on a bike, arrives and plants herself between me and the parking lot.)

Me; I’m a citizen. I didn’t know there’d be so much interest in a citizen taking a walk in the morning.

MSM: Let me walk you over to the protest. Come on.

Me: I’m gathering material for my work. Let me have your name—I’ll be glad to include you in my blog posting.

MSM leaves. Cop 3 tells me to keep my feet out of the parking lot—my butt on the curb is okay. A young woman arrives with fliers about Jeppesen and its torture. She can stand next to me holding them, but Cop 3 tells her she cannot hand them out unless she is standing in the “first amendment area.” I call the ACLU to find out what the law is regarding handing out fliers and leave a message.

End of my part of the story. Later, I learn that some nuns with the 8th Day Center for Justice were at the shareholders meeting because their religious order owns some shares in Boeing. They introduced a human rights resolution, discussing Boeing’s involvement in torture, and at least forced shareholders and management to listen to what their company is doing.

These Sisters are heroic, but they didn’t change the outcome for our country’s engagement in torture. Ross Thomas would have found a way for them to force Boeing to scuttle their connection to the CIA. It would have involved a wonderful quadruple cross such as only he could carry off. Even V I might have managed a small victory. Me, I have spent the last 24 hours feeling utterly helpless.

And I wonder, too, about these things:

1, Why are Chinese risking their lives to protest their government’s behavior in Tibet, and why were there only ten of us protesting Jeppesen’s torture flights?

2. Does the First Amendment exist any more, when protest at the museum and at political conventions, and anywhere else, is walled off remote from public view? (Remember last summer when the police arrested Quakers at Taste of Chicago for advocating peace “too close” to an army recruitment booth?)

3. Why am I paying taxes for cops who protect corporations and harass citizens?

4. Who knew that the Field Museum's high ticket prices included paying for my own private security escort?

5. What is it about money that makes the museum’s security staff so obsequious to members of a corporation?

Sara Paretsky


Libby said...

Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Sara. I had no idea about Boeing. Just goes to show how invasive the government's activities can be. They sneak into nooks and crannies everywhere... and yes...as long as we have access to American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, fast food, and credit cards (Although that might be changing in today's times), we remain apathetic.

That includes me, btw. I wish I had your courage.

Dana King said...

Thank you, Sara. I wondered how those folks got "rendered" overseas; now I know.

I, too, also wonder about how the First Amendment (the big one, that's why it's first) got consigned to areas where no one will have to look at (or be able to look at) anyone exercising the right.

Tom said...

A couple weeks ago, over on 'Making Light,' it was postulated that the first Artificial Intelligences have been created - out of paper, not silicon.

They are insane homicidal corporations, not insane homicidal computers, and they defend themselves at all costs.

Sara, what you saw was their version of foreign policy and domestic policy.

Sara Paretsky said...

Libby, I'm not at all courageous, just trying to force myself sometimes to stand up and always doing so with shaking knees.

Dana, the ACLU tells me that these "protest pits" are a hotly contested subject--they're going to write to the city & park district explaining what our rights are.

Tom, yes, these corps are pretty darned scary.

Thanks to all for checking in.

savvymegs said...

I vaguely remember reading an article a while ago about a US firm called Bayard Foreign Marketing that seemed to own a jet that was suspected of being involved in rendition. I don't know what came of it. I'm wondering if it has any connection to all of this.

What happened with the cops is a pretty telling example of our country at the moment. Scary.

scott davidson said...

I went to a contemporary art fair in Shanghai recently, which was a real eye-opener. Chinese contemporary art has come leaps and bounds from the watery Zen landscapes to huge canvases of strange-looking beings. The prices being asked and paid were huge too.
Oriental, if not Chinese, my print of Jean-Léon Gérôme's painting, http://en.wahooart.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8BWS6R, bought some time ago from wahooart.com, is as lovely as ever.