Lying Media Bastards: RNC Archive

September 11, 2004

Jake at the RNC: Day Six

September 2

Today was The Day, the day that the Republicans nominate George W. as their candidate for president, and the man himself would be in town. Surely this would be the height of intensity, and of security.

Several protests scheduled today: some sort of symbolic "dethroning" of the president this afternoon at Union Square (possibly a militant thing?), and a last-minute protest near Madison Square Garden around 7pm, to protest the president directly, organized by ANSWER, I think.

I arrived at Union Square a bit after 2 o'clock, and was surprised to see a protest in progress that I had not heard about, the "Vigil for the Fallen." It was a coming together of many pro-military-yet-anti-Iraq war organizations to remember and mourn the American soldiers who had been killed in the war. Several readings of the names of the dead were scheduled throughout the day.

The vigil was framed by some black banners attached to a fence which listed the names and dates of death of hundreds of soldiers from the Iraq war. It was very reminiscent of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC. I'm sure the similarity was intentional.

But the soldiers were represented in other ways too. Dozens of pairs of combat boots were laid out on the ground in neat formation, each pair connected to a name tag for a soldier killed.

Other families laid out rows of small, white, wooden crosses to represent the fallen. And others left photographs of the dead, framed in images of the flag.

Most powerfully, one man stood near the rows of boots holding a sign with a photograph of a US Marine on it. The sign read: "Bush Lied, My Son Died!"

That soldier was Jesus A. Suarez del Solar, from San Diego, California. That drove it home harder than anything else I could have seen. Names and crosses and boots are saddening, but seeing this breaks your heart. A young man's death is plenty sad, but here is a man who will have to live the rest of his days with a hole in his life where his son used to be.

Around this time, I caught a glimpse of a blimp in the sky. I looked up at it, a white and green Fuji Film blimp. But wait, there was something else written there. Is that the NYPD logo beneath the Fuji logo?

Yes, I guess it did. Apparently, New York police used the blimp to spy on the protesters during the convention. Thanks, Fuji Film!

And alongside the soldier vigil was an odd, somewhat coffin-shaped cart, carrying a tombstone. The tombstone read "UNKNOWN CIVILIANS KILLED IN WAR". The cart was decorated with origami cranes and the flags of many nations. I was glad to see that they were honoring both the soldiers, and those who were innocent victims.

Then, in an irritating display of capitalism, some dude was nearby dressed up as an alien, selling stupid non-sequitor t-shirts for, I think. Actually, somebody was making bank off of these protests—everywhere you went, people were selling anti-Bush shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia, but I didn’t mind them so much. This guy bugged me. But even worse was the team of faux protesters who carried signs and chalked the sidewalks for the cause of Captain Morgan brand rum. I actually found them offensive. I thought about telling them off, but figured that it could only result in “dude, it’s just a job. I’m just trying to make some money.”

Not too far from the soldier protest was the more rambunctious one I'd originally set out to see. A group called "Greene Dragon" had dressed up in colonial era garb (tricorner hats, etc.) and talked about today as "the Battle of NewYorktown." They had a dummy of George W. Bush sitting in a mock throne, wearing a Burger King crown. The "patriots" then began reading off a list of charges, ways that "King George the Second" had betrayed the country. And at the very end, the actors tied a rope around the dummy, yanked it off the throne, and stuffed it into a trash can.

Then, the Greene Dragon group unfurled an enormous banner. It was a "Declaration of Corporate Independence." It looked much like the US Declaration of Independence, but this one was about freedom from the power of corporations, not from some royal ruler across the sea. The actors passed around make-shift "quils"-- felt-tip markers with long feathers attached-- encouraging members of the crowd to sign their names to this declaration. Pretty good political theater (although it did lose some of its power later when I overheard the group's primary speaker tell a friend "really, I'd rather be at Burning Man right now." Sigh).

I should also mention that throughout the convention, there were many protesters outside of the scheduled rallies, subway stations, and busy shopping districts, who were calling for an end to repression by the Chinese government against Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong. I'm not too familiar with Falun Gong, but as I understand it, it's sort of a combination of exercise, meditation and religion. Falun Gong has been ruled illegal by the Chinese government, I think because the government fears that if Falun Gong practitioners joined together and took action, that they could present a formidable threat to the government's power. Anyhow, many American Falun Gong members were out in force during the convention, to raise awareness about the plight of their brothers and sisters in China.

Around this time, I got an email from Indira, who said that she had seen members of the Black Panthers protesting over by Madison Square Garden:

"Here are a couple of pictures I took of the New Black Panther Party today.

"Really, the only thing they did was show up unexpectedly, a small group of thirty at the most. They would walk from one block to the next in a single-file line, dressed all in black and follow the cadence of their apparent leader. They yelled out 'Black Power' several times and a couple of them held up signs made up of plain white poster board and black marker, except for the one which carried the image of George W. Bush, citing him as the world's #1 terrorist. There seemed to be no apparent cause - outside of their dislike of President Bush - for their protest. I believe their #1 goal was to be seen, to be visible amid so many other protests. But their numbers were so small and their following so limited, from any distance they appeared to be just another group of yelling New Yorker. They did, however, provide a great photo opportunity for reporters, camera men and women and any other passer-bys who happened to be near them at that time.

"I was actually pulled aside by an older resident of the city who asked me what they (Black Panthers) were marching for. I told her I didn't know, and she spent the next 10 minutes telling me how people in New York were 'like animals' and how she can spot people who aren't from New York from a distance... I believe she said something about their behavior being better than the natives."

Around this time, I was becoming very conscious of the fact that my plane for L.A. was leaving the next morning. I wanted to check out all the evening protests, but I still needed to pack, sleep, and squeeze in dinner with the nice folks who'd let me crash at their place. So I decided to head down to the Madison Square Garden protest.

Man, getting down there was like a bad dream. Cops everywhere. Streets shut down for blocks and blocks. Siren after siren as various police vehicles sped by. Huge crowds of people trying to get through this new labyrinth of a city to get where they needed to go. And did I mention there were tons of cops? Un-fucking-believable.

I popped by the rally. It was small, but it was growing (well, small compared to what I'd already seen that week. Is a solid New York City block packed full of people really "small"?).

It was around 7pm, and Bush was scheduled to speak around 10pm. More people were going to come as the night went on; crowd was just going to get bigger and bigger. There was tension in the air, too. The protesters were angry. And on the way over, for the first time, I'd actually seen some Republicans walking around on the streets. I'd heard a few taunt some protesters by chanting "four more years!" Several times I had a feeling that there was a real chance that things could explode.

I went downtown to Union Square to check out the protests there. Nothing too organized, some folks lighting candles for a vigil. A bunch of stacked "coffins" wrapped in American flags.

Code Pink protesters chanting "the nation is outraged!"

And a TV crew filming "Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog", the famous puppet who heckles people on the Conan O'Brian TV show.

And that was it. Mushu chicken in midtown, a last night of sleep near Times Square, and then a flight back to Los Angeles.


More photos here and here.

Posted by Jake at 01:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Day Five

...wherein Jake waxes fearful on the NYPD, unions get mad and media giants are shouted at

September 1

As it turned out, the A31 actions were insane. Word has it that 1000 people were arrested today. But despite the radicalism, New Yorkers still seem to be on the side of the activists. Pretty much everyone in this city just wants the Republicans to get the hell out.

I keep talking about the huge police presence and how disturbing it is. I should reflect on that here.

When I think of the term “police state,” I think of streets full of soldiers, of checkpoints and machine guns, snarling dogs and innocent people dragged away screaming, while a scared populace looks away. New York City was not like that during the convention, and yet the phrase perfectly describes the situation. I mean, with two cops on every street corner, fleets of police vehicles in the streets, police barricades blocking off streets and sidewalks here and there, cops on bikes, cops on motorcycles, cops on horses, cops in helicopters... what else could you call that? The police owned this city, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was nervous about being harassed or arrested for doing things I knew to be legal.

On a darker note, Kill Radio's "agitkid" reported this during the convention:

many cops knew it was bullshit arresting bike riders. but the other arrests that followed tuesday were 99% illegal. and this was expected. they just targeted people who were peacefully gathering and arresting them. we have seen video of some major police brutality cases, one where a woman was thrown to the grown and her head hit the cement so hard that she was taken away on a stretcher in an ambulance...she couldn't move. we don't know what happened to her.

undercover motorcycle cops were ramming into people with scooters. as is always the case, the police initiated 99% of the violence and had agent provacateurs on the streets to initiate confrontation with the police.

penn station was a virtual police state. nearly everyone in there was a cop. i'm not exagerating when i say there were hundreds. you couldn't see a 'normal' person without carefully looking for them. we were joking that the worst nightmare in the world would be to wake up one morning and everyone around you was a cop...this was close.

Now, activists often protest too much about their treatment by police (I opted not to reprint the part of agitkid’s report where he talked about how the cops did not provide vegan or wheat-free meals to the detainees). Yes, the rights of these folks were violated. But really, isn’t this treatment fairly commonplace for folks who are poor, or dark-skinned, or don’t speak English well? The fact that (frequently white) activists are outraged when their brothers and sisters are arrested at a protest, yet don’t speak so loudly when it happens every day to non-activists... let’s just say that this behavior has consequences.

There were only two major protests planned for today, and neither started till fairly late. As I hadn't gotten to bed till around 5am the night before, this was fine with me.

Around 3pm the big Labor march was supposed to begin, with a major rally near Madison Square Garden. Tom, I mean, "the Nightwatchman", was scheduled to play at the rally. The night before, Tom had told me that you needed "credentials" to attend the rally, as some effort by the unions "to keep the anarchists out." This sounded both unlikely, and kinda fucked up to me. Okay, so you want to have a rally of union members, great. But why would you want to keep out people who weren't members, but wanted to support you in your cause? Why would you try to keep them out? Because of the unlikely fear that anarchists would come to your rally, and on the even unlikelier occasion that those anarchists would fuck it up? Stupid.

I ended up being too busy to find out about the credentials business, so I walked down to the rally credential-less. As it turned out, either the credentials thing was a rumor, or security was really bad. I walked right in.

The rally was in the exact same spot as the Still We Rise march just days before, a few blocks from Madison Square Garden. The labor rally had a much larger stage, and like 4 Jumbotron videoscreens placed throughout the rally space so that people could see and hear the speakers and performers (I wondered how much money the unions had spent on those screens, and what other uses that money could’ve been put to). When I arrived, a 60s soul-ish band was playing onstage. Apparently it was a group of union members who formed the band, which they had dubbed "The Bushwhackers."

I walk backwards through the march, from the stage to the tail end. Thousands of people were there representing dozens of union organizations: steelworkers and teamsters and laborers and hotel workers and restaurant workers and garment workers and musicians and teachers and mail carriers and nurses and painters, and that was just the clearly labeled marchers I saw. I also saw some guys in kilts with bagpipes, but I couldn't figure out who they were, exactly.

And my favorite unionists

My people, my people.

This crowd seemed to be a bit older and whiter than some of the previous marches I'd seen, but in a way, these folks were much more determined. Sure, at some of the rallies, folks were taking a stand on what was right and wrong. But for this march, right and wrong coincided with their own livelihoods. It would take a great fool or liar to say that the Bush administration was a friend to working people. Another four years of Bush in the White House and who knows how many of these folks will still be able to put food on the table. Labor was out there with a purpose:

Speakers stepped up to the mic, various union vice presidents and shop stewards and whatnot. Actually, the second speaker was Tony Soprano from The Sopranos. He said that he hated having to "run around New York like a rat in a maze" to "protect those guys", pointing back towards the Republicans' convention center. Apart from that, he didn't say much, and the following speakers weren't interesting me much either. Some of them were talking about how we need to keep jobs in America because Americans were so much smarter and harder-working and such; I do agree that we need enough good jobs to support all Americans, but I didn't like the "Americans are better than everyone else" rhetoric. I was pleased when one of the speakers announced that they would be unionizing millions more American workers in the months to come.

I did like this piece of chalk graffiti:

I decided to leave around then. Because I was bored. Didn’t care to hear the vice president of regional 38373 thank the shop steward from local 472 before saying that Bush and the Republicans were bad for America or whatever.

Without thinking, my exit route was taking me right past the Madison Square Garden entrance. It wasn't as crazy as I would expect, mainly because there is a major subway station beneath the Garden. Sure, there were concrete and steel barriers, hundreds of cops, and mobile barriers in the form of giant dump trucks filled with sand, but no 14-foot high fences or barbed wire.

The streets directly surrounding the Garden are totally locked down with fences and cops and barricades. And, I couldn't help but notice, directly across the street from the Garden was an enormous billboard for the Fox News Channel).

And a mere block away, a giant video screen broadcasting Fox News.

The streets around the Garden were closed to cars for maybe 6 blocks in every direction. The sidewalks were lined with wooden police barricades along that whole route. There were at least two cops on every street corner. And every side street had 3-6 police vehicles waiting in the wings: motorcycles, golf carts, squad cars, shiny black SUVs, vans, buses. Crazy.

I stopped off at home base, and then decided to take a peek at the March on the Media. I wasn't expecting it to be spectacular, but it wasn't too far from where I was staying. It was going to be a three-stage protest, stopping at the headquarters of major media outlets CNN, Fox News, CBS/Viacom (I'm not entirely sure why CBS was on the menu, maybe because it's on the same street as the other two). I guess it was a little surprising that the media buildings didn't look any different than any of the other buildings. Just another skyscraper office. Maybe that's a good thing to remember.

CBS/Viacom Building

CNN/Time-Warner Building

CNN Studio and News Ticker

CNN Ticker and the smug host(s) Tucker Carlson

Fox News/News Corp. Building

News Corp.

Okay, this one threw me. I’m looking at the digital camera’s viewscreen, trying to take a picture of a Fox News logo and a bit of their news ticker, when suddenly something about “munchkins” rolls by. I snap it, then wonder if I’m losing my mind. Did they really just say something about “munchkins”? Is someone inside the building fucking with me? Does Fox News know that protesters are on the way and they’re somehow trying to mock us with their news crawl? No, there was apparently some tee-hee story in the news about actors playing munchkins in a performance of Wizard of Oz who were striking for more money.

So I tried again with my Fox photo to find a bit of news crawl that was more indicative of Fox News.

Much better

Surprisingly large turnout, maybe 2000-3000 people for a protest that didn't get publicized that well. And let me tell you, people are pretty pissed off at the media. The main sentiment seemed to be that the media was complicit in the abuses in the war on terrorism, and in the deadly, unnecessary Iraq war, either because they were incompetent or because they were actively supporting the Bush administration.

After a bit of protesting outside CBS, the folks marched to a spot across the street from CNN, that was set up for speakers to say a few words. I didn't catch the names of all the speakers, but Jello Biafra's name stood out. He gave a speech which gave many examples of the media missing the important stories or acting as cheerleaders for the war, and wrapped up with his battle cry, "don't hate the media, become the media!" He should’ve stopped about 2 minutes before he did. If you have people give speeches at your protest, they all should be really short.

Of course, the street was swarming with cops again. There were times when 5 out of every 6 cars that would drive by would be police vehicles. And both cops and security guards had taken up positions in front of CNN and Fox News, as though the protesters were going to storm the buildings or something. They didn't.

I was across the street from the protesters most of the time, listening to the speakers yet staying out of the crowd. After a bit, police came and told us that we couldn't stand there and listen, that they had to "clear the sidewalk." So some of us started walking towards the Fox News building, but the police then told us that we couldn't walk that way. So we turned around and walked in the other direction, and cops told us that we had to turn and get off of that street altogether. I turned the corner and walked until cops stopped ordering us around, but at that distance, I couldn't hear the speakers anymore, so I decided to head home.


For more photos, click here

Posted by Jake at 01:06 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Day Four

...wherein Jake misses most of A31, attends a rock and roll concert, and stays up quite late

August 31

August 31 was dubbed A31, the Day of Action. Anti-RNC activists had called for this day to be filled with surprise acts of civil disobedience, so this looked to be one of the craziest days of the convention.

Ironically, it was one of the most laid back days for me. First of all, most of the folks planning these actions were keeping their plans secret (why would you want to give police a chance to shut you down before you start?), which made it nearly impossible for me to observe the protests to write about. Secondly, I had to spend the second half of the day setting up for, and tabling at, the Axis of Justice concert, and I couldn't let my quasi-journalism get in the way of that. Therefore most of my day was free.

I was only aware of two planned actions: the War Resisters' League "die-in", and the Fox News "shut-up-a-thon". The former was going to be an anti-war march ending near Madison Square Garden, at which point the protesters would lay down on the ground as though dead, and refuse to move. They publicized this well in advance, so it was destined to end in arrests. I didn't quite understand the logic of that decision.

The "shut-up-a-thon" was a dig at Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. If you've paid much attention to the behind-the-scenes stories about the man, you've learned that he often yells at the guests he doesn't like, demanding that they "shut up." So hundreds of activists went down to Fox News headquarters in New York, and shouted "shut up" at the building. Not particularly illegal, but I don't think they had a permit. Funny stuff.

I got up in the morning and decided to head over to Bryant Park. It's a nice shady area in the middle of the city, with trees, grass, and, surprisingly, wireless internet connections. I sat down at a small outdoor table to try to catch up on my update backlog. I was barely there 5 minutes when a Billionaires for Bush troop showed up. They pushed a bunch of the tables together to, covered it with a tablecloth, and held an elite tea party in the park, filled with satirical snobbish talk about the poor and their beloved tax cuts and such. Although I did find this particular protest a bit tacky. As do most public parks in large cities, Bryant Park had quite a number of homeless folks whiling away the time there. And sure the Billionaires mean it satirically, but I thought that insulting the poor in plain view of truly poor folks was a bad call.

Shortly after, I headed over to Union Square. I'd been invited to lunch by one of those activist acquaintances we make over the internet but don't usually ever meet (she turned out to be taller than I'd expected). I wandered around the Square (which was supposed to be the site of mass civil disobedience in a few hours). It was lined with cops, of course. Some group was giving a press conference, but the volume on their microphones was so low that I couldn't make out what they were talking about. A man on stage held up a handwritten sign which said something like "Stop protecting union bosses! Rank and file workers need to speak and vote too." Maybe that was the theme, or maybe he’d just snuck onstage and no one had noticed.

Nearby, artists from the Beehive Design Collective were displaying an enormous black and white mural they'd created on a large cloth, depicting all sorts of issues regarding free trade, globalization, corporate power, and genetically-modified foods. One of the artists was giving a guided tour of the mural, showing a small audience the various images and explaining their significance.

My favorite was a single man in a dapper suit some yards away, simply holding a sign that said "Satanists for Bush." A somewhat perturbed conservative tried to question the "Satanist" about why he would try to associate the devil and the president, but the "Satanist" was a verbal genius, and talked absurdist circles around the guy. "Well, our group has literal intentions, based upon their figurativeness. Literally figurative, I guess you'd say, but in a figurative way," and so on. Until he reached his abrupt conclusion, "well under Bush, we think that we'll see lots of fire and flesh-ripping, and we're thankful for that."

After a late lunch, I was ready to head over to the Knitting Factory, the site of our concert. After running a frantic errand for a friend (you can't free arrested protesters if your cellphone battery dies!), I caught a super-crowded subway train to the venue, multiple bags of Axis-related stuff hanging off my person.

The venue was a hell of a lot smaller than I'd expected. There is a Knitting Factory venue in Los Angeles too, but it's much larger (and trendier, I imagine). I met up with Indira, one of our long-time Axis volunteers, and we hung an Axis banner and set up an info table in the bar area. We were joined by Educating for Justice, Music for America, and Not In Our Name.

Quite a show. I didn't know half the bands, honestly. Outernational, the Naked Trucker, the Nightwatchman (Tom), Steve Earle, Boots Riley, Serj, Saul Williams, a handful of odd political film shorts, and Spearhead. The show lasted quite a while; I don't think headliners Spearhead even took the stage till at least 12:30am, and then there was a big ol' jam session after that, with an extended rendition of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand up", featuring rap breakdowns by Boots and Michael Franti, and some great horn solos from the Outernational guys.

I get word that lots of people were arrested today. I put a notice about that on our table, along with info on how people can donate to the arrested activists’ legal fund. I also give a note with the info to Tom to read onstage. He forgets to.

It seemed like a good show, but I was stuck in the bar for most of it, so I can't say for sure.

Lots of folks seemed interested in Axis. Let's just say that activists can be a... chatty bunch. I ended up talking at length with folks from Amnesty International, International Concerned Family and Friends for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, a handful of filmmakers, some folks from a Canadian TV station, and some guy who talked and talked about the way that hallucinogens are going to save mankind and the world (serves me right for admitting I’d heard of Terrence McKenna).

And after the show, Tom insisted that we hard-working Axis folks join him and some of the performers at a Chinatown restaurant called Wo-Hop. It’s 3:30am, good time for some fried rice, I guess. Indira and I took a taxi over, and not knowing the actual address of the place, the driver took us all the way to the street’s beginning so we could try to find the place by name. I’m pretty sure he did this simply to take our money.

Wo-Hop is a 24-hour basement-level Chinese restaurant that apparently has a bit of a following (I saw two guys wearing Wo-Hop t-shirts the very next day). Indira and I joined our posse, which had lined up tables stretching the entire length of the place. About half the performers from the show were there, as were their girlfriends, as was old-skool punk icon Jello Biafra. I wasn’t starstruck, but Biafra did play a significant role in my political education in high school. Biafra, Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Abbie Hoffman, Lenny Bruce, Frank Zappa and William Burroughs were pretty heady stuff for 16-year old Jake. I’ll just say that it was bizarre to see his croaking-trumpet drawl come out of a human being, even more so when the human being is sitting down the table from you, badly ordering moo goo gai pan.

I noticed something which I now realize is fairly common in social gatherings among musicians. Most of the musicians are male. They don’t bother introducing their girlfriends to anyone, and the girlfriends are uncomfortable and don’t talk much. This turns the event into heroic men talking and laughing while most of the women sit huddled quietly, waiting to go home. I don't like it.

We ate and left. We stood outside, saying long goodbyes (well, not me. I’m antisocial and rude). Several Chinese men from a nearby shop were chatting and laughing, until two got angry at each other and tried to kick the shit out of each other. One of the women from our party came up to me, “Hey, I’m Veronica, but you can call me V. I liked your ‘Day Zero’.” [on the Axis website I posted a pre-convention report explaining who I was and what I’d be doing. Before the first day of the protests, so I called it Day Zero. Apparently she liked the concept] I thanked her, mumbled something about something, and she was off. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and hopped in someone’s car. I’m still not sure who she was (and hell, was her name Veronica or Victoria?). Ah, compliments from mysterious women at 4 in the morning.

Indira and I shared a cab back to midtown by a driver who seemed determined to scrape the side of his car along something—anything—at high speed. By really ridiculous coincidence, it turned out that Indira was actually staying directly across the street from where I was. I should have been blown away by such an unlikely occurrence. I wasn’t. Too jaded or overloaded or something.

Made sure to hit my head on the bunk above before collapsing into bed.


Click here for even more photos.

Posted by Jake at 12:54 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Day Three

...wherein Jake looks for fellow bloggers, attends Still We Rise, and does not receive a phone call

August 30

I started this day off looking for The Tank. A number of the popular lefty bloggers had apparently set up shop there for the course of the RNC. I was a bit trepidacious. What was this place? A bar? A café? A private residence? The address for the place was close to where I was staying, so I decided I should at least check it out. And maybe I could make use of the space too, lacking much internet connectivity at my friend's apartment.

Turns out The Tank is some kind of small performance art space. A woman greeted me warmly at the door and asked how she could help me. I wasn't sure. It looked like a cross between a barren coffeehouse and a barren campaign headquarters. There was a card table for some sort of liberal democrat group to my left, and a counter with donuts and coffee to my right, and something I couldn't see yet around the corner to my left.

When talking to strangers, I generally work on the assumption that they have no idea what I'm talking about, and try to be as broad and simplistic as I can, until I get signs that my words aren't coming out like gibberish. I'm not sure why I do this, I guess part of a "better safe than sorry/assume the worst, hope for the best" sort of thing. So instead of saying "I'm a blogger and I was hoping I could join up with some of the other bloggers you've got here," I said something like "I heard that there are some people here reporting on the convention over the internet," in a tentative manner.

"Oh yeah, we've got a few," she said airly, waving around the corner. I peeked around, and there was a small area with some folding tables and plastic chairs. I think I recognized Kos from a photograph, sitting on a couch. No one else seemed to be around. I mentally shrugged and figured I'd seen all I needed to of The Tank.

In retrospect, I do regret coming to the convention as Axis of Justice reporter instead of Jake the blogger. As it was, I had to write somewhat dry and detached reports once a day for my paying job, and try to get those done, edited and uploaded with some... let's say "limitations", operating out of a friend's crowded apartment. If I'd come independently, I could've written comfortable, fun material in an environment suited for that, befriended some big name bloggers, and maybe been on Janeane Garafalo's radio show, which apparently broadcast from The Tank during the course of the convention.

Oh well. At least this way I didn't have to pay for my own airfare.

This day two marches were scheduled. One of them had a permit and the other didn't, and I got confused which was which. One of the two protests was the "March for Our Lives," organized largely by the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign. It's an organization run and organized by poor and homeless Americans who argue that poverty itself is a violation of human rights. And, since the United States has a responsibility to its people to guarantee those rights, the government should do something about these problems. The March was scheduled to meet at the United Nations building.

I went instead to the "Still We Rise" march, another protest focusing on issues important to the poor: poverty, housing, homelessness, education, immigration, health care, and AIDS. And, although it was not explicitly said very often, they were also fighting the underlying racism that often causes or magnifies those problems.

The sad part of this march was that it originally had the support of rap mogul Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network organization. But at the last minute, HSAN pulled out, citing concerns about "security" and timing of "the MTV Video Music Awards in Miami". I believe when I first heard about this, my response was "Russell Simmons is a punk-ass bitch."

Took the subway down to Union Square, which ended up being the starting point for like half of the rallies for the entire convention. Being a Californian, subways are odd to me. Sure, I used them a lot when I lived in Philly, and LA has its own limited subway, but we Californians are so used to long, spread out cities and having to drive fair distances to get anywhere. During this visit to NYC, the main subway dynamic was this: the subway stations were stiflingly, oppressively hot, yet the subway cars themselves were air-conditioned. Every time you waited for a train, you had to wonder if you were going to last until the train arrived, with its life-giving refrigeration, or if you were you going to pass out and die before it got there.

My first view of the protest, before the march began, was a performance by Billionaires for Bush. They are an activist group who's members dress up in fancy clothes and pretend to be a members of a super-wealthy protest group, who want everything that the left does not: more tax cuts for the rich, huge cuts to social programs, and more war (for more profiteering). At this protest, the Billionaires were arguing that US businesses needed to cut more American jobs and send them overseas, so that the rich could make even larger profits.

Last election the organization was called Billionaires for Bush or Gore, which highlighted the corporate-friendly nature of our two-party system, but this new incarnation lacks that critique. I like what they do, but I think they would be a lot funnier if they surrounded themselves with actors pretending to be servants of all kinds. In fact, I think that their shtick almost doesn't work without servants. I mean, what billionaire is going to hold up their own sign? What billionaire is going to hang their own banner?

I also think that the billionaires should have fake journalists on leashes, while the journalists scamper around like monkeys.


I snapped a picture of these guys, who I saw working in small groups throughout the convention:

I looked it up. TARU is Technical Assistance Response Unit. They "provide investigative technical equipment and tactical support to all bureaus within the department." Which seemed to mean "spy on, take pictures of, and film activists". I didn’t like em.

I was glad that many young people seemed to have played major parts in organizing their own contingents for this march, and that the organizers had made an effort to get rid of some old, overused activist chants. Let's face it, the "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!" and "Hey Hey! Ho Ho! Blah blah blah has got to go!" style chants really blow. At least some activists realize that the popular cadences and styles of hip-hop and punk have more appeal to the crowds.

Here're some photos:

An unnamed group of anarchist drummers and dancers in pink and black, who would sporadically pepper their performance with the chant "No Kerry, No Bush, Give Us a Choice, Give Us a Choice!"

Yes, this is the anarchist threat that the police and NY Daily News warned us about. And you can't blame them. If one of those flags or drumsticks had gotten out of control, someone could have been poked in the eye.

After marching some blocks, we were stopped and held by cops. I was never close enough to the front to know what happened, but it seemed like we were there for a real long time. Just as I started to worry about mass arrests and whatnot, the march began to move again. Here was what had been holding us up:

I ran into my friend Garrick, who some of you may remember as the fellow who was posting reports from Palestine to the LMB site a year or two ago. He now works for the LA Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness, focusing on Section 8 programs for affordable housing, I think. We chatted a bit about the protests and the mood in the streets. We laughingly decided that if there was one message that the protesters wanted to get out to the Republicans, it was "We hate you! We fucking hate you!" And while we meant that as a joke, there's some truth to it. People are fucking angry at being screwed over, patronized, condescended and lied to by the conservatives in power. It seems that there is simply no point to trying to talk to or work with these elites, because they have no interest in your or in compromise. All you can do with these people is fight them.

All this time I was waiting for a phone call. My bosses had been given three hours of airtime on KROCK radio, where they would be playing political music and talking politics. Michael Moore would be joining them, and they said they'd call me for a live report from the protests.

That never ended up happening. I was a little irritated about that.

The march led to a rally very close to Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention itself.

A number of speakers talked about the march's issues, but I noticed that the crowd steadily dwindled in size as time went on. I think this is a sign that political activists like to do something rather than listen to someone talk at them.

Saw a couple of familiar right-wing crazy signs.

Saw two very similar signs at an anti-war protest in LA back in the spring:

It really is odd. These nuts come around to many public events, including protests, and seem to focus on the message that you should stop all attempts to better the world, or have a good time, or anything. Just worship Jesus and go to heaven and shut up.

My highlight of the rally was the surprise appearance of the mighty Chuck D. He talked about how so many people want props for doing the right thing. "You never deserve props for doing the right thing. That's just what you're supposed to be doing!" So no one at the protest should feel like they should be congratulated. And he also referred to the old Public Enemy song, "Don't Believe the Hype," saying "this time around, if you don't watch the hype, the hype's gonna kick your ass."

I stayed at the protest a lot longer than I'd intended, waiting for that phone call. When their radio show ended, I walked back home (at least the show had a decent playlist).

Grabbed some quick dinner at a restaurant at Port Authority bus terminal that night, and saw six soldiers in military fatigues. With machine guns. M-16s, I think. Nothing says safety like firepower.

And ended the night by seeing the new movie "Hero." Couldn't help but notice the irony: the movie's about a man trying to take down an empire, yet the trailers before the movie included biopics about plutocrat Howard Hughes and conqueror Alexander the Great.


For more photos, click here.

Posted by Jake at 12:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Day Two

...wherein Jake attends the huge anti-Bush march, and bears some witness to militant Times Square action

August 29

Today was the day of the Big March. If you've followed the history of these convention protests at all, you'll know about the controversy. The organizers, United for Peace and Justice, tried to get a permit for a march through the city, ending with a rally at Central Park. The city OK'd the march, but refused the rally permit, because the predicted 250,000 protesters could "ruin the lawn." Good to know that our free speech rights are worth less than grass. Well, I'm just being snide; I know damn well that grass had nothing to do with the decision. It was your standard "maybe if we make enough trouble, the protesters will just go away" tactic.

UPFJ then compromised with the city, and made their new rally spot the West Side Highway. A fucking highway. Miles from the convention, miles from any sort of audience, miles from fucking shade. Seriously, if the march had ended up taking this path, it would've been heat stroke mania.

At the last minute, UFPJ realized their rally location was stupid, and tried to get Central Park again. And failed. So the scary thing was the possibility that thousands of pissed off protesters would go to Central Park without the permit, and then get arrested in droves.

So we lucked out that UFPJ found a third alternative at another, smaller park, and we didn't end up packing the jail cells of New York City by the end of the day.

I arrived at part of the huge gathering point for the protests, taking in the sights. One of the first things I saw was a cardboard box sitting on top of a newspaper kiosk, filled with sealed, videocassettes simply marked "Urgent Programming for RNC." Someone had scrawled "a perfect circle" on the box with a ballpoint pen. I remembered hearing a rumor someplace that the band A Perfect Circle was going to release an album of political or anti-war songs on Election Day. Maybe this was related? [Fast forward to the future: yes, it was. I took a copy and watched it later that day. The tape had a cartoon video the a APC song called "Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums." Pretty good imagery about television turning people into sheep, and Bush as a murderous dictator. You can see it here. Props to APC.]

Jesus, this march was huge. How many people were there? I dunno, but the reports say something between 100,000 and 400,000. All people who hate the president, his harmful agenda, and his terrible war. Young and old, men and women, Democrats and Greens and Socialists and Commies and anarchists. I was in good company:

It was very hot. I kept finding myself drifting towards the right side of the road, because that side had shade. I wondered if everyone was going to follow my example and have a lopsided march traveling down the street.

Then I got a call on my cellphone. It was Scott Goodstein of Punk Voter. He said that he was in town for the protests, and we should try to meet up. After a few moments, we realized that although totally improbable, he was actually eating at a restaurant about 20 feet to my left. So meeting up was pretty easy. He gave me a sackful of Punk Voter stuff, more than I could ever use.

Lots of creative signs, costumes, puppets and theater. Dozens of protesters solemnly carried mock coffins draped in American flags.

A small group performed the "RNC Freakshow", a fake circus sideshow featuring activists dressed as monsters, wearing the masks of prominent White House officials. Some high school-age kids walked in a group all wearing t-shirts that read "Republicans for Voldemort".

The Missile Dick Chicks dressed up as odd Red White & Blue cowgirls with rockets jutting out of their crotches.

A group in black and orange quasi-military uniforms carried an assortment of drums, and hammered out some nice beats while one member sang.

I left about one-third of the way through the march, deciding to get to the march's finish line before the marchers so I could get some good pictures. Halfway there, I started kicking myself because I realized that I'd miss the protest as it passed the site of the Convention, Madison Square Garden. It was possible that the march could have some real conflict there, if people were feeling combative. It would've been only symbolic though, because the Garden was empty: the convention wouldn't start till the next day.

The closer I got to Union Square, the greater the police presence, the more streets were closed off, the more barriers were set up. When I finally arrived at the park, I saw the protest pen.

It wasn't as bad as the protest pen at the Democratic convention last month, the one with 14-foot high fences and barbed wire. This one was a series of metal barricade fences maybe three feet high to corral all the incoming protesters. I don't like the idea of being fenced in when around arrest-happy cops. "I am not going in there," I vowed, and watched from a bit of a distance, and circling the park as the protesters entered.

Then I realized that it wasn't as bad as I'd thought. Sure here were barricade fences on along one side of the park, but the rest of the park was fence-free. So I went ahead and entered. The first thing I did was look for a good place to photograph the incoming crowd. The best place was inside a children's playground area, enclosed by a fence. Ironically, after freaking out about being caged earlier, I entered this new cage without much of a thought, until a little boy outside tried shutting the gate on me. I gently opened it back up, nudged the kid out of the way, and exited.

Very cool environment at the park. There was no rally planned, so it was almost like a big punk & hippy picnic. Very chill. Watched a puppet show about Republicans, saw many folks trying to sell various anti-Republican buttons and shirts, walked away as some guy started spitting some bad political poetry. Cops were all over the place, so I kept on my guard, but overall it was pretty nice.

I’m told that around 2000 folks went to Central Park anyway in an act of defiance that no one seemed to notice. But we should all thank Mayor Bloomberg for Making Grass Safe for Democracy (my suggested re-election campaign slogan).

But protest was not done for the day. I'd read several "calls to action" for activists to bring the protest to the Republicans themselves. Some clever person discovered that many Republican delegates were planning to attend various Broadway plays and musicals that night. One group of activists called for "Chaos on Broadway", while another called for a "Mouse Bloc" (the Republican symbol is the elephant, and mice scare elephants...). Shit was gonna go down.

Except that when I walked through the theater district, I saw an insanely huge police presence. 16 cops just in front of the theater playing "The Lion King" musical. Dozens of cop cars. No kidding, probably about 400 cops in a six block area. If any action was going to happen, it seemed destined to end quickly, with lots of arrests. So I went home.

I went out again later and found some of the Mouse Bloc folks, but the turnout was pretty weak. Once I returned to the apartment again, havoc was wreaked...

To my great surprise and happiness, I was wrong. True, many of the activists were arrested, but they managed to do what they'd set out to do: let the Republican delegates know that they are not welcome in this city. More specifically, some had tracked down some delegates outside the theaters and confronted them. My favorite was a group that had found some delegates outside a fancy restaurant and chanted "right-wing scum, your time has come!" Warms my heart to think of it. The powerful folks in this country are so sheltered, so shielded from the consequences of their actions and policies, how could they possibly know their effects, or how that makes people feel? Time to let em know.

At one point, I looked out a window and saw several punks walking quickly along the street. Cops began to follow and yelled for them to stop. Then everyone was sprinting. I don't know how that turned out.

I was pretty anxious all this time. I knew I could get out of the apartment, but with all the cops and barricades, if I left the block, I wasn't sure the cops would let me back in. I was also worried that my friend could have been arrested and be in police custody at that very moment. I kept checking the NYC IndyMedia site for updates. I braved the outdoors once to grab some quick dinner, and took a picture of a big ol' police arrest.

But I had a personal happy ending at least: my friend was not in jail. She just had to keep going to law offices and courts on behalf of the arrestees.


Gothamist is posting links to dozens of caches of photos for each day of the protests. Click here to see today’s gaggle.

Posted by Jake at 12:30 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Day One

...wherein Jake takes the redeye to New York City and groggily attends a pro-choice march

August 27

It began with two tiny dogs.

One of them was at the curb as we pulled up to the Burbank airport. It was the size of a large ball of yarn. Well, a large ball of yarn with bangs. Adorable as fuck.

The second tiny dog was on the plane, its tiny Chihuahua head poking out of a woman's carryon. "Do we need to get him any water or anything?" asked the stewardess. The tiny dog panted, but his owner said no.

I have to recommend the Burbank airport (AKA "Bob Hope Airport") to all Angelenos, unless you live in or near west LA. Burbank was empty and laid-back, the dead opposite of the nightmare that is LAX.

Took the tiny plane up to San Francisco late Friday afternoon. Saw one of the most fascinating sunsets I've ever seen out the windows: red, yellow and brown. No meal, just a cookie snack, which caused another bizarre moment. The stewardesses began to hand out the mint chocolate chip cookies to the passengers from front to back of the plane. As the passengers received their snacks, opened the packages, and bit into them one by one, a mint smell began to inch its way towards me. You ever have a smell roll in like a slow-moving fog bank?

Had a two hour layover in San Fran. I was quite pleased walking around the airport, people-watching, browsing the shops, chewing on bagels. Jesus, if I’m having a grand old time at an airport, I really need to get out more.

Long flight from SF to NYC, I'll arrive at the crack of dawn. I was unable to find a comfortable sleeping position, so the flight was an unpleasant combo of naps, startled wakings, and grumpily watching "Garfield the Movie." You ever watch a movie and actually feel insulted? Yeah.

I stayed with a friend of mine near Times Square. Before I'd left, she'd said that once I got in, I could nap a bit before any protests got started. No such luck. Took a bus into Manhattan, and had to leave for a protest within two hours. Sigh.

August 28

Before we left, I heard about the Critical Mass protest the night before. CM is a monthly event that takes place in many cities, where people just hop on bikes and take over a lane or two of traffic. Sometimes there is an underlying political motive-usually to make a point about cyclists' rights, or about the damage caused by car culture-and sometimes there isn't. At this pre-RNC Critical Mass, somewhere between 5000-8000 protesters on bicycles took to the streets, and police arrested around 250 of them for "disorderly conduct." About 1000 New Yorkers cheered them on as they began their ride.

Then it was off to the "March for Women's Lives", a protest against the Bush administration's anti-abortion and often anti-female policies. It started around 11 this morning at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. Somehow, this was a protest I had not heard about in advance. My friend was doing legal support for much of the convention, and this protest was no exception.

The Brooklyn park was starting to fill up with people even as we arrived. The sunshine was nice, the heat and humidity less so. My first glimpse of the protest was the Radical Cheerleaders, a group of activists who dress up like cheerleaders and do humorous dance routines and chants about political issues. They performed cheers mocking pro-lifers, and just about every member of the Bush administration.

Walking farther along, we saw the stage where the opening rally would take place. Thousands were already in attendance, many with mass produced signs reading "I [heart] Pro-Choice NY." But there was plenty of message variety, possibly the funniest being the ones which argued that Bush should be "aborted before the second term."

I should take this time to mention that protest signs which make jokes about George Bush and pubic hair are not very funny.

We saw the mass of cops, out to protect the city from the dangerous pro-choice activists, as well as a contingent of undercover cops. I guess I don't know for sure that they were undercover, but at least four different people pointed them out to me. I mean, several beefy guys in crewcuts and baseball jerseys, at a pro-choice rally, not paying attention to the speeches, not holding signs, and only talking to each other. Did seem a tad suspicious. But this became a sort of theme throughout the convention: what's reasonable and what's paranoid?

The numbers grew.

Several speakers took the stage, most of them protest organizers and city politicians. Then they made ready to march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Earlier in the day, we'd heard a rumor that some anti-abortion protesters were planning to fuck with the rally somehow, on the other side of the bridge, and that some of the pro-choicers had vowed to fight back if attacked. That's primarily why my legal support friend was there, to watch out for trouble. I followed the observers, who bypassed the bridge altogether to be ready. Actually, this was a much more difficult task than anticipated, due to rather arbitrary police blockades. But in the end, it put me in a great position to watch the procession.

The police only allowed the protests a thin strip of road to march upon, so the protesters crossed the bridge in a thin, steady stream lasting roughly 45 years. Or two hours. I forget.

I saw representatives from all sorts of groups, some well-known, some mysterious: Planned Parenthood, Med Students for Choice, Refuse & Resist, National Organization for Women, Secular and Religious Jews for Choice, Queer Fist, Move On, Asian Americans for Choice, and countless others.

The sign that best summed up the issue for me was the one that read "Keep Your Religion Out of My Health Care."

As it turned out, there was no conflict. In a rather pathetic display, the anti-choice folks could only muster up maybe 40 people to counter the thousands of pro-choice activists at the rally, and they didn't attack anybody.

The march ended in a rally that I didn't feel like watching. I was dead tired. While sitting on a bench watching the marchers go by, I think I'd fallen into brief, grumbly sleep about five times.

To be honest, I can't remember what happened the rest of the day. I think it primarily consisted of me going back to Home Base and passing out, while my friend continued to try to get people out of prison.

Posted by Jake at 12:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Jake at the RNC: Intro

Huge, huge, superbig protests were planned for the late August/early September 2004 Republican National Convention. They were to take place in Manhattan, weeks later than usual, presumably to better invoke the tragedy of 9/11.

I was reluctant to go for two main reasons.

First, I was scared.

It was common knowledge that a police presence liked we'd never seen was going to descend upon New York City. At large-scale protests, cops have a tendency to mass arrest, tear gas, pepper spray, shoot (with rubber bullets), and beat protesters without that much regard for their guilt or innocence of any particular crimes. And the idea of being arrested, gassed, sprayed, shot or beaten by cops scared me.

Second, I didn't see the point.

For an activist/protester sorta guy, I really go to very few protests. In the 60s found that marches and rallies could have a real impact on the political spectrum. At the time, such things were provocative, and could lead to conflict and change. It's my feeling that modern activists are simply repeating the same old tactic without stopping to see if it's actually effective. These days, marches and rallies do not provoke and do not lead to change. These days, your rally will get 10 seconds on the local nightly news, if you're lucky, and not do much to "raise awareness" or anything of the kind.

And if rallies and marches don't accomplish anything, why would I want to go to one?

I think that activists simply need to dump the rallies and marches and sit down and think: what do we want to happen, and what can we do to make that happen?

I didn't see how the RNC protests were going to do anything. They were unlikely to change Republican policy, and were not going to get the party to alter its choice of nominee.

But I had a nagging feeling that if I didn't go, that I would regret it. That in the future, I'd curse myself for my past cowardice, that I'd missed out on something big, that I'd miss my chance to stand near a stadium-full of evil motherfuckers scream out my contempt.

So, I went.

I've got daily reports here. They're often long, and have many image files that your computer will have to load, so it could take some time. Also, at the end of most of the reports, I have links to another webpage filled with dozens of links to further webpages with photographs of the protests (most of which are better than mine).

Enjoy, or don't.

Thanks to Tom & Serj, Kittie, Cari, Vanessa, Lili, Indira, Candice and Adam

Posted by Jake at 12:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

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