For a Last Hurrah, Protesters Give Bush the Boot

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches a shoe-throwing protest, this time in front of the White House. Video by Akira Hakuta/
By Dana Milbank
Thursday, December 18, 2008

For the antiwar crowd, the shoe is now on the other foot.

The activists were really cut off at the knees when the nation voted in a president who promises to bring an expeditious end to the war in Iraq. And in a month, the other shoe will drop: George W. Bush will be gone -- and with him will go the raison d'être of those who have protested, picketed and heckled him these past eight years.

And so they assembled yesterday on Pennsylvania Avenue, outside the White House gate, to take a few final shots. Literally. They assembled a pile of clogs, boots, flip-flops, slippers and pumps, and, in celebration of the journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush in a news conference Sunday in Iraq, they tossed the footwear at a man wearing a papier-mâché Bush mask and a prison uniform.

"Here's my goodbye kiss, George!" shouted Medea Benjamin, coordinator of the Code Pink activist group, as she hurled a shoe, missing her target.

"For your greed! For your politics!" shouted fellow antiwar activist David Swanson, aiming a pair of clogs at the Bush figure.

"See if you can dodge this, you draft dodger!" contributed veteran Jim Goodnow, launching a pair of boots toward the Bush character's head.

The Bush figure dodged, weaved and taunted: "I can take it! I can take you all on!" But then somebody hit him in the crotch with a sandal, and he fell to his knees.

The street performers were putting their best foot forward, and the activists were celebratory. But walk a mile in their shoes and you'll probably find that Jan. 20, while bringing in an administration much more to their liking, will also leave them with a certain emptiness. Who will they throw their shoes at now?

The protest organizer vowed to pursue her quarry, Ahab-like, into retirement. "While we are delighted there's a new administration coming in, we want George Bush to be held accountable for his acts," Benjamin told the journalists and tourists watching her demonstration. "It's not enough to throw a shoe at him. He needs to be hauled before a court of international justice and be charged with war crimes, just like Dick Cheney." And that's not exactly a shoo-in.

The president -- the real one, not the papier-mâché version -- declined to participate in the footwear festival. While the shoes flew, his helicopter could be seen taking off from the South Lawn to take him to Pennsylvania to give a speech defending the Iraq war. Making things difficult for the demonstrators, the White House dispatched a noisy tractor to clean the sidewalk where they assembled. But the sound effects from the street cleaner and Marine One only added to the carnival atmosphere. An al-Jazeera correspondent, broadcasting in Arabic, did a stand-up while dodging shoes tossed at him by his producer.

The owner of the size 10s directed at Bush, Muntadar al-Zaidi of Cairo-based al-Baghdadia TV, eclipsed even Cindy Sheehan in the esteem of the demonstrators. "We are here to say that the reporter al-Zaidi who threw the shoe at George Bush represents the sentiment of millions of people in this country, certainly in Iraq and around the world," declared the size-5 Benjamin, holding an umbrella that carried the message "Free the Reporter" with drawings of shoes. "His symbolic act of throwing his shoe got the whole world to revisit the idea of the 'success' in Iraq."

"I served for 13 months in Iraq," said antiwar veteran Geoffrey Milliard, and if Bush had visited his unit, "he'd have gotten more than a shoe thrown at him."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company