But I did it anyway.
It is expressly forbidden to display political signs in Olympic venues, or on Olympic grounds, or anywhere in China for that matter. But I would not be deterred. (Damn it I blinked!) USA vs. China -Women's Basketball, I was there and I unfurled this sign. "USA Out of Iraq, and into the Medal Round." How did I sneak the sign in you may ask?
First I had to beg some volunteers to give me a large piece of paper or poster board. I noticed they had large scale maps that were blank on the back. But, they too, were forbidden. "Just give me the map, I'll give you a free handball ticket." The girls at the volunteer kiosk wouldn't let go of the map. So I did what I thought was best, I said, "I'm taking the map!" and I ran away. Then I found a nearby mall (which was formerly a mosque, sorry Islam) and I frantically went looking for something to write with. On the top floor there was a children's store with lots of tiny little markers, the clock was ticking and the night's events were about to begin. My Canadian friend Cassie (her shirt says 50% Chinese, 50% Italian, All Canadian), who was coming to the games with me joined me at the children's store, and we drew up the map as fast as possible, with dozens of Chinese onlookers wondering what the hell are they doing?
Having the protest sign on the back of a map was the perfect distraction to get it past the Chinese sensors. I just folded it up with the "USA out of Iraq" part hidden and slid right on in. Layer after layer of security let me and my giant map go through without questioning.
We had the map at the swimming event, but its true destination was the USA basketball game. I raced across town after swimming and once again made it into another venue with no one looking inside my map. My seats were nowhere near the court, but I broke out the sign and got a lot of laughs and applause and a lot of photographs. There was one Australian who kept yelling "Security! Security! We have a breach! Free speech over here, security!"
Naturally I decided I wanted to get closer to the court, so I knew I would have to sneak down. This is China, and it's not like a sporting event in Seattle, or at all like Athens, where you can just act confident and walk past one or two ushers and grab a really good seat. Sure there are empty seats everywhere (well done China/Cosport!) but in China, they are checking tickets, even the old beer in each hand doesn't work. Look how many guards are at each entrance; 8 volunteers per gate, and no other spectators to distract.
Finally I managed to get by a giggling girl and a distracted young man. The next person yelled, "Ticket, ticket." I pointed like back at the other ushers and then back at the stands as if to say, "yeah they checked me, I'm right down here.
FIFTH ROW! The sign was unfurled yet again, the game was just finishing up, and USA had just crushed the Chinese by over 50 points. As the players were about to exit I made my way to the guardrail above where all the press cameras were. This is also where the athletes exit the stadium. I let the sign out over the guardrail, and it took nearly 10 minutes for Chinese security to see it. In the meantime cameras from CCTV, CBC, and other organizations all took pictures of the sign. NBC refused as I kept yelling at them, "C'mon NBC, take a picture, it's an election year."
The best part was that as the American athletes were exiting a few of them looked up to see my sign and they loved it. Cappie Pondexter (#4), pointed at it, smiled and mouthed what I think was "hell yeah!"
Tina Thompson (#11) saw it, gave me a point, a smile, a head nod, and a fist pump. That was pretty nice, gave me a very satisfying ripple of shivers up and down my spine.
That's when the authorities found me. I saw two officials from a distance pointing at me, they approached quickly, I handed my camera off to a nice Chinese man who fricking LOVED my sign.
"It is forbidden, no photo," the olympic representative said, but it was too late. I didn't want to give up my sign so, I folded it up and headed back to my seat.
"It is forbidden," they kept yelling at me, but I just walked away like I had done nothing wrong.
I put the folded map back in my bag.
"No, no, you can not have that sign" he repeated, he was holding his hand out, asking for my sign.
I pulled it out. "But I need the map," I said. "I need the map, I don't understand Beijing's subway, I need the map." This really confused them, the guy harassing me spoke little English, and I just kept speaking very quickly trying to confuse him further.
He grabbed my map-sign and said "Wait here." Damn it, he was walking off with my map and heading in the direction of what I assumed was his superiors.
What was going to happen now. Was I in trouble, would I get thrown out? Deported, detained, who knows, this is China after all.
He returned with my sign. "It is forbidden," he repeated, "please put away, if you take it out again, I will take it away."
He handed the sign back to me, I put it back in my bag.
I said "Thank you," and he shook my hand.
"Enjoy the game," he said, and I did.