We are two artists living in Montana. Some weeks ago, a friend asked us to come up with a creative way to participate in an anti-Bush rally being held in downtown Missoula. The event, billed simply as “Dump Bush Missoula,” was to be a kind of artsy affair, with a flamboyant emcee who modeled himself after an evangelical preacher, a gospel choir whose members reflected the homogeneity of Missoula’s 99 percent Caucasian population, and a podium flanked with super-sized papier-mâché caricatured heads of George Dubya and Dick Cheney.
We spent a day or two brainstorming, rejecting several performative ideas that seemed too overtly aimed and/or politically obvious. Eventually, we arrived at an idea with some promise. We would cover ourselves in leafy tree branches, thereby transforming ourselves into “Bushes,” and spread at our feet pieces of useless garbage wrapped in elegant gold and silver paper. The concept, naturally, was to give to the public a gift from the “Bushes” that seemed attractive on the outside but when unwrapped, would reveal itself to be repellant. We spent a whole evening wrapping our garbage, everything from burnt matches to dried silicone chunks, bent screws, expired coupons, dead batteries, empty spray paint cans, balls of used tape, shredded shoe laces, crushed coke cans, dried out rubber bands, et cetera. All of these items nicely wrapped in metallic paper looked like they belonged in a treasure chest. To round out the presentation, we made a satirical CD recording where we did our best impressions of George Bush declaring how difficult it is to defend a breakfast table when sausage is being attacked on its own soil. “It’s hard work! The only thing consistent about my opponent is that it ends up in my belly! America doesn’t order sausage and send it back! America eats sausage and feels good, feels satisfied!”
The rally was held on October 3. The day was hotter than usual for October, and the heat was uncomfortable for us since we both wore pairs of old brown neoprene waders to emulate the look of a tree trunk. We strapped the branches to ourselves using a clear duct tape and attached some grayish Styrofoam chunks to our feet to resemble rocks. The costumes looked good.
We arrived at the park at 2:00 p.m. sharp and found a nice spot in the center of the already bustling action. Food vendors were preparing for post-rally gorging, and people wearing “Dubya” masks and suits were working the crowd. Nearby was a booth where anyone could have the slogan “Practice abstinence: No Bush, No Dick” silk-screened on their t-shirt for free, and local news crews and reporters were taking footage and doing interviews with the event’s organizers.
We spread our gifts on the ground, pressed play on the boom box, and began shouting to the surrounding crowd: “Come get your free present from the Bushes! Every present different! Every present hand selected for you by the Bushes.”
At this point, things started to really go screwball. While the adults, for whom our presents were intended, gave us quizzical looks, their children mobbed the present pile like ants to a dropped blow-pop. Immediately it struck us that we could be in trouble, as the young innocents began opening up the presents to find toxic and dangerous items—burnt out light bulbs, old spray paint cans, and a piece of dried silicone that looked unnervingly similar to a used tampon. Several parents looked on with expressions ranging from discomfort at best to, at worst, disgust. One stubborn boy opened present after present thinking eventually he’d find a good one. Finally we just asked him to leave. A little blonde girl—no older than five—held on to the broken pen she’d gotten while placing the burnt matches into the tiny palm of her little sister. At this point a couple of the parents approached us to ask, “What . . . exactly, are you trying to do here? Could you explain it to me?” We responded simply that we were giving out useless presents, but we hadn’t expected so many children to be amongst the protesters.
Though for a little while it felt as though our good message had been outweighed by the children opening up the bad presents, later we felt that the real element of danger was a good addition to a protest that seemed a bit too devoid of any real desperation in the well-dressed, well-fed, well-entertained group that had gathered. It might more accurately reflect the weakness of the Democratic Party, many of whose members are just as concerned with their own financial well being and safety as the Republicans who they vehemently criticize.
In the end, though, there were a few who thought our idea was a good one. We were interviewed by no fewer than three newspapers and television reporters, and at least a half dozen people asked if they could have their picture taken with us, the “Bushes.”
A few weeks later, at another Democratic fundraising event, we discussed the whole experience with one of the Dump Bush rally organizers, who lent some valuable perspective. “Believe it or not, those kids will remember receiving those shitty gifts for a long time. It will be burned on their young brains much more so than any papier-mâché puppet will, and they’ll just go on thinking about the experience—and what it could mean—for a long time.”