Issue 262 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published April 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review

Voices from the US

It's the government, stupid

The Michael Moore book signing tour hits San Diego

Mike strikes back

Dear Friends,
I'm in San Diego, and I have just escaped being arrested by the police. This book tour keeps getting more surreal, but the last hour has been unlike anything I have yet seen. I have come to San Diego to speak at an event organised for my book Stupid White Men. The event is being held at a middle school in an auditorium that seats about 800 people.

In the past six days I have spoken to 15 separate mobs of people. I don't know what other word to use because quite simply, wherever I go, there is this unbelievable pandemonium. Every day, every night, hundreds--or thousands--jam themselves into halls, arenas, churches and auditoriums to listen to me talk about my book, and whatever else is struggling to make its way through my brain. Forget about standing room only--these venues look more like breathing room only. A clever fire marshal could have made a small fortune tailing me across this state. As I look out at the crowds of humans doing their best to impersonate sardines, I worry not that some deranged person may shout, 'Fire!' but rather that someone may belt out, 'There's an extra six inches over here by the radiator!'

I have visited the most out of the way places in California and, no matter where I go or how right wing the Congressman is that represents their district, all sorts of people are desperate to get inside to be with the thousands of others who want to be part of 'United We Stand Against the Thief in Chief'. In every town, at every stop, huge throngs of Americans who are sick and tired of the silence that has been demanded of them lest they be thought of as 'unpatriotic' should they dare to question the actions of George W Bush and company. That's what this tour is all about. It's time to come out and start acting like Americans again.

And then there was San Diego.

Over 1,000 people are packed inside the 800-seat auditorium. Outside another 1,000 people are on the lawn trying to get in. The traffic on the street is tied up, and the stream of San Diegoans keeps filling up the sidewalk. I tell the organisers that I am going to spend half an hour outside here speaking to the people who cannot get in. They are, after all, like me--slackers who are habitually late. The crowd outdoors is wired and jazzed that they are being honoured for being tardy.

Then I go inside, give my usual talk, and begin to sign books. There's a 90 year old lady whose granddaughter has driven her down from Orange County. There's a union organiser from the anti-union San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper who announces that his grandfather was a sit-down striker with my uncle back in 1937 in Flint. Some punk poet kid tries to finish me off for good by offering me two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Hundreds line up to have their books, their Awful Truth DVDs and, in one case, an Iron Maiden jean jacket signed. I am told that we are getting close to the time when we will have to leave the school, as it has only been rented until 11pm. That is not good. Hundreds are still in line.

Somewhere around 11.30pm I hear a commotion at the back of the auditorium. I see people start to scatter. The San Diego police are coming down the aisle, their large flashlights out (the auditorium lights are still on, so we all understand the implied 'other' use of these instruments). The police are telling everyone to 'vacate these premises immediately or you will all be arrested!' I cannot believe what I am hearing: 'You will not receive another warning. Leave now--or face arrest!'

The cops approach the stage where I am signing the books. People are visibly frightened--and about half the book line bolts toward the doors. I stand up and speak to the officers. 'I am the author of this book,' I tell them politely. 'These people are only here to get a book, and all I am doing is signing them. We will be done shortly.'

'I don't care who you are,' they reply. 'We have received a call from the school district and we have been told to remove you. You were supposed to be out of here at 11pm.' We had apparently violated our curfew.

'C'mon guys, you can't be serious,' I said. 'Are you saying that you are going to arrest me for signing people's books, and arrest the people who are here because they want to read this book?' 'I don't care what you are doing--this is your last warning. I am ready to arrest you and everyone else.'

I have never been arrested, strange as that may seem. I could not believe that, of all I have done, all I have stood for over the years, that it has come down to this--and I was about to be hauled away for autographing books!

'OK,' I said. 'We'll leave.' I then mumbled something about the last time I checked this was still the United States of America--even if we were just five miles away from where it ends. They escorted me and the few remaining souls out of the building. The brave lady who was the owner of the independent bookstore who was there selling my book leaned over and whispered to me, 'I am willing to go to jail for this if you want me to.' Ya gotta hand it to the independent bookstores--they've been through hell lately, so much so that they are now ready to be led away in handcuffs!

I walked outside and about 40 people ask me if I would still sign their books in the dark of the parking lot. A girl gets out her pocket flashlight. A guy runs over and turns on his headlights.

I finish the last book and hop in my sister's car. She remembers to give me a plaque that had been presented to me in absentia (while I was outside talking to the people who couldn't get in). It was from the city councilwoman from the area of San Diego we were in. It read 'Official Proclamation: City of San Diego Declares March 9 2002 "Michael Moore Day".'

'Maybe we should have shown this to the cops,' she says. We drive to her house, where I catch four hours sleep before I get up and head for Denver.

Yours, Michael Moore (author, film-maker, non-evildoer).

Stupid White Men is reviewed on page 32

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