White House Confidential


A blogger called the Answer Guy tells the amusing story of what happened when he and some friends decided to post some Howard Dean signs near the White House. The inevitable moment of repression soon arrives:

…a Secret Service goon, with backup, came out and informed us that what we were doing was against DC law, that no one was allowed to poster "without a permit, and they don't give permits for this." I was fairly sure he was talking out of his ass.

After consulting relevant regulations, I was able to determine that he was, in fact, talking out of his ass. Non-commercial flyers are allowed to remain up for 60 days, provided they are not vulgar, have a posting date on them (these did), and that there are not more than three of them on one side of the street in a single block—which there were not.

Now, I'm no expert on those particular regulations, so I can't say for sure that the Secret Service agent was full of it. But I find it easy to believe that he was, based on my one experience with a march in front of the White House.

It was 1998. Clinton had just made one of his periodic air raids on Iraq. I was living in D.C. at the time, and I walked to Pennsylvania Avenue intending to join whatever protest might be in progress. I was repelled, though, by the asinine chants and by the foul-breathed Trotskyist who kept trying to recruit me for his cult, and I soon retreated to observer status.

So I wasn't actually marching when the cops suddenly started to rope off the sidewalk in front of the White House, informing the demonstrators that they'd have to do their chanting in the street. (That particular block allows no traffic, so there were no cars to complicate matters.)

I asked an officer why they were doing this. "We're not trying to interfere with your freedom of speech," he replied. "But there's people who live here in Washington who have to get to work, and they need to use that sidewalk."

I didn't feel like getting into an argument with a cop, so I didn't point out that pedestrian commuters could hardly use a sidewalk that had been roped off—and that by forcing the marchers into the street, his crew had choked off what was previously a perfectly adequate walkway. What he was saying made absolutely no sense, and it was hard to interpret it as anything but petty harassment of the protesters.

But I'd learned a valuable lesson—or, at least, a valuable prejudice. As far as I'm concerned, those cops in front of the White House will tell you ANYTHING. Answer Guy, I feel your pain.