…wherein Jake waxes fearful on the NYPD, unions get mad and media giants are shouted at
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.
So I tried again with my Fox photo to find a bit of news crawl that was more indicative of Fox News.
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
Jake vs. the RNC: Day Six]]>