President Obama recently welcomed into the White House one of the most problematic leaders on the planet.
On August 10, the CBS Early Show came to Kansas City, Missouri.
Using Liberty Memorial Park, the Early Show was featuring the country western band Big & Rich, which is famous for “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” and for leading audiences in the Pledge of Allegiance.
When the local peace community heard that the Early Show was coming to the park, activists hoped to get their message to a national audience.
“I received an e-mail about the event and a flier from the Early Show inviting people to attend,” says Ira Harritt, Kansas City area program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “I rsvp’d, saying some people from the AFSC would be there.”
Harritt recruited people to come and carry some AFSC “Cost of War” banners. These are seven feet long and three feet high, and they all give different answers to the question: “One Day of the Iraq War Equals.” (Such as $720 million, or 84 elementary schools, etc.)
“We started assembling the banners in the park,” Harritt says, “and immediately, a CBS staff person said, ‘You can’t be here. You can’t have those here.’ ”
Harritt and the other activists challenged her, saying, “This is a public park. We have a right to be here,” he recalls. And the anti-war activists had a lawyer with them who defended their right to be there.
They reached a compromise. The CBS employee, along with security, allowed them to stay in the park so long as they did not get into camera view.
“I promise you the TV cameras will not span this area,” the CBS employee said.
That’s not exactly what the protesters had hoped for.
“I was very disappointed,” says Harritt. “CBS was censoring what messages Kansas Cityans were bringing to the Early Show.”
Harritt says other signs were allowed to be seen on camera.
“One was supporting the Navy,” he says. “One said, ‘Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.’ There were signs for things for sale, and commercial signs.”
Harritt finds that inconsistent and troubling.
“Given that the Iraq War is the most important issue on people’s minds,” he says, “that they wouldn’t allow this opinion to be on the public airwaves means that they want to make sure that the messages don’t conflict with the large multinationals that are profiting from this war.”
CBS wouldn’t even allow Harritt to circulate an anti-war petition where he wanted to in the park, he says. The petition was to defund the war and refund human needs.
“I had been circulating through the crowd of about 1,000 people collecting signatures,” he says, “when this same CBS staffer came by and said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I wasn’t even in camera view. But she reported me to a security officer. He told me I had to leave. A person was signing the petition at that moment. When he finished, the security officer threatened to arrest me if I didn’t move. So I moved.”
Corva Murphy wasn’t so lucky. She got handcuffed.
The 60-year-old activist is a member of Peace Works, an anti-nuclear-weapons group.
She and her husband, Everett, often join the AFSC members at peace rallies. And so they came to Liberty Memorial at 5:00 a.m. on August 10.
“We had our anti-war signs,” she says. “My husband’s is bright yellow with red letters. It says: 'Out of Iraq Now.’ Mine says: ‘If you like this war, you’re going to love the draft,’ and the words ‘war’ and ‘draft’ are in red letters.”
Corva and Everett Murphy’s son served in Iraq in 2005 as a Navy corpsman.
“He was in Mosul,” she says. “He’s OK, but if this war keeps going, he’ll have to go back.”
Corva Murphy says that’s not the sole reason they are protesting. “We do it for all our sons and daughters, and all the innocent Iraqi people,” she says. “That’s why we’re out there every chance we get.”
At Liberty Memorial, Corva and Everett Murphy decided to stand near where Harry Smith was going to be broadcasting.
She says other people were holding signs, including ones that said, “I Love Big and Rich,” and “Hey Dad, We Made It!”
But it was only their sign that was verboten.
“After a few minutes, somebody from security came and said, ‘You can’t be here.’
Then someone from CBS said: ‘You have to put your signs down. CBS doesn’t want any political signs.’ ”
Corva and Everett Murphy insisted that this was a public park, but they were told it wasn’t.
“My husband said, ‘Yes it is. Our tax dollars pay for this.’ ”
But a police officer responded:
“You’ll really have to go. I’ll escort you. Your friends are down below,” referring to the AFSC demonstrators.
“He escorted us to where the Cost of War banners were,” Corva says. “Then, my husband and I moved about ten feet back to where the steps started up to the main event. We stood there for about five minutes. And then security came again. They told us we’d have to move back and stand in the line with our friends. We couldn’t stand where we were.”
Corva had, by this time, had enough.
“I said, ‘Look, I’m standing here. I’m not moving. This is my right as a citizen.’
“They said, ‘We’ll have to call the police.’
“I said, ‘You just call the police then. I’m not moving.’
“Two police officers arrived.
“One said, ‘If you don’t leave now, I’ll have to arrest you.’
“And I said, ‘You’ll have to arrest me then because I’m not moving back.’
“He said, ‘OK, I’m going to put the cuffs on you.’
“And I said, ‘OK.’
She was not prepared for the cuffing, however.
“Was that ever a shock! They pull your arms behind you real hard, and put those cuffs on you immediately. Your arms are kind of jerked behind.”
Though Murphy was handcuffed, she was not arrested.
She says she even asked the police officer to arrest her. “This will do our cause a lot of good if you do,” she says she told him.
But she says he responded: “I’m not going to arrest you because I’m off duty and that would mean a lot of work for me.”
After a while, the police officer took the cuffs off of her, but “he was always keeping his eyes on me,” she says.
He was nice, though. “He even came by with a nice cold bottle of water for me,” she says.
CBS said in a statement, “We had a huge, enthusiastic crowd that was
very well behaved and appeared to be having a good time. We are unaware of any incidents.”
Mary Vincent, who is on the local AFSC program committee and is a founding member of the Kansas City Iraq Task Force, says there is no doubt that CBS was clearing the field of anti-war signs.
“There was a woman with a CBS badge on who kept going back to the CBS
trailer. And she told us, ‘If those things get on the air, I’m going to lose my job.’ ”