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 is. 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 insanereagan.com, 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.]]>