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Homefront: Some protesters were the low-salt variety

Wednesday, February 06, 2002

On the other side of the street -- a place both literal and figurative yesterday -- the Brillo-haired Minotaur who calls herself Etta Cetera met the arrival of a president with her pretzel logic.

"Pretzels for the suits!" shouted Cetera, a street anarchist who came here from Baltimore and refuses to give a real name or go away. She threw a fistful of Rold Golds onto the sidewalk.

 
 
HOMEFRONT

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette brings you "Homefront," a feature by staff writer Dennis B. Roddy that will appear Sundays and Wednesdays. "Homefront" will examine the continuing ways people have been affected by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

   
 

She led a revised version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Closing lines: "Georgie, Georgie have a pretzel. We hope you choke on it."

In the space of 10 minutes, the gang on the windward side of Fifth Avenue, opposite the Masonic Temple, where the president of the United States was about to discuss the war on terror, condemned an array of evils:

1. U.S. bombings in Afghanistan.

2. Global capitalism.

3. The corporate media.

4. Jane Duffield's fur coat.

"Forty dead animals -- one fur coat!" they shouted. "Fur is dead!" another chimed in.

Neither Duffield, the spokeswoman for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, nor her coat expressed an opinion. Both went inside to hear the president's speech.

Not every protester yesterday was loud. Not everyone beat on an old gasoline can -- a can that was beaten only after a Secret Service agent had taken a peek inside. Not everyone had both the hair and politics of Bakunin.

Meet Erica Nagy and Adam Claessens, she a student from Cranberry, he a student from Allentown, and both protesting the Bush administration's new hard line on the use of hemp in foods.

"It's not about legalizing anything that can get you high," cautioned the scrubbed and well-turned-out Nagy. What Nagy, Claessens and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy want is to be able to enjoy granola, cookies, nacho chips and assorted other vegetarian delicacies without running afoul of a new Drug Enforcement Administration policy that forbids the use of anything with detectable amounts of THC, the letters that give pot its wallop.

"We have to distinguish between hemp and marijuana," said Claessens.

They also wanted to distinguish between their group and Cetera's.

"We really didn't want to be this close to them, but the police said we have to be here," Nagy said.

Truth to tell, even some of the veteran protesters seemed less than captivated by the giant pretzel cutout, the frequent gearshifts in rhetoric, the clanging and banging of companions who angrily told reporters they were on a media strike and promptly agreed to a TV interview.

"I almost didn't come when I heard they were going to do this pretzel thing," said one.

"It's not like the '60s," said Marshall Goodwin, whose bona fides in the realms of dissent were established when police removed him from atop a sphinx 10 years ago as activists tried to stop the wrecking ball at the late Syria Mosque.

Nothing like the '60s.

Inside the Masonic Temple, an establishment no longer owned by Masons, Bush enjoyed a warm reception and declared that Pitt and its biomedical combine were the new Distant Early Warning line -- harkening back to the days of the Cold War system that was there to alert Americans to the arrival of Soviet bombers.

The protesters beating buckets and shilling pretzels were far from the minds even of Democrats.

"It's just ignorance," said Janell Clopper, a 19-year-old pharmacy student from Chambersburg. "I don't understand why people are opposed to fighting this war."

Clopper was still enjoying the afterglow of a presidential encounter. Bush signed a card for her, and she and Suneal Chandran, an 18-year-old Republican from Carnegie Mellon, joined in a bipartisan effort to decode a signature that looked for all the world like a watch spring that had come undone.

"I think that's supposed to be the W," Clopper said.

Outside, the crowd shivered its way across Fifth Avenue. Etta and the gang hammered their buckets and traded barbs with the less-enlightened. Bush never caught a glimpse of the first protest on the new DEW line.

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