…wherein Jake attends the huge anti-Bush march, and bears some witness to militant Times Square action
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.
Jake vs. the RNC: Day Three]]>