Monday, August 30, 2004

Feeding My Inner Protester - part 2

After a night that included a vodka bar in SoHo, a pub in the meat packing district and karaoke in midtown, my hungover and generally disoriented body rallied, as it were, Sunday morning to make it to the United for Peace and Justice anti-war march up 7th Ave. Marchers were urged to gather at 10am for a noon march. From my experience the previous day, I knew there was no real reason to get there at the early end of that range so I arrived in the general vicinity of the march at around 11:25 am. The literature had given a 4 by 4 block area in which to gather and gather people did armed with homemade signs and buttons and stickers galore. Upon exiting the subway, I just sort of followed the throngs. Without any centralization, without any visible leadership, people gathered on 7th Ave. just sort of trusting that this was indeed the march that had been promised.

I ended up on 7th between 15th & 16th and the march would go up 7th to Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican Convention, at 34th St. For all the bitching about not being allowed to gather in Central Park, I think it's actually pretty impressive that the city allowed the march to take place as close to the actual convention site as it did.

The crowd was a wide mixture of factions of the left, ranging from the Communist Party to the anti-war stalwarts to the more mainstream Democrats such as myself for whom this was the first act of anti-war activism. The crowd was enormous, 7th Ave. was full from sidewalk to sidewalk, people standing shoulder to shoulder. Looking both in front and behind me, I could see only people, an amazing site.

The march was to begin at 12 and by 12:30, when we hadn't begun to move, there were grumblings about what exactly was happening. I called my house to see if any news channel was covering the march to see if the front had begun to move but it was nowhere to be found on television, much to my father's glee, I'm sure. A few times, we'd move like 2 steps up and every time we did, the crowd let out a roar, like William Wallace charging in battle, only to be stopped in our tracks the very next moment. I must say that despite the size of the crowd and the close quarters, I never felt unsafe. However, I was startled the first time I heard the roar of the crowd travel like a giant wave up 7th Ave. At first it was a distant rumble and it just sort of rolled closer and closer until it was on top of me and I was yelling with the crowd adding to it propelling it forward up 7th Ave. One of the more memorable images of the day was the Fuji blimp hanging just overhead, ridiculously low for New York. I originally assumed it was being used by a news outlet for footage from above, but as it got closer, the prominent NYPD on the belly of the blimp became more visible.

By 12:45pm, we were moving at a slow walk, and all the while people chanted or sang, waving signs, both homemade and pre-fab. My favorite of the former was one that urged "Make Love Not War" under the image of a Democratic Party red white and blue donkey mounting a Republican Party red white and blue elephant. Another good one was a take on the Mastercard ad campaign condemning Bush for spending $775 billion in Iraq when that money could have been used for new diplomacy efforts ($775 million), securing our ports ($7.5 billion), securing nuclear material ($30.5 billion) and restoring our sense of security (priceless.) And then there was a huge banner that simply stated: "Mission Accompli..."

Once we got moving, it took us probably a solid hour and a half to travel the 17 blocks to Madison Square Garden. Once we got there, people really let out their anger. There were boos, there was hissing, there were cries of "shame!" and "go back to Texas!" My favorite was "a pox on your house" which was spoken in a sort of parody of the real protesters by someone who, like me, was half there as participant and half as curious observer. This whole protesting thing is new to me and while I don't yet feel at one with the whole protest movement, I was surprised that I didn't feel more out of place. I was not overwhelmingly confronted with the paradox exhibited by many on the far left who despise Bush's policies but who refuse to vote for John Kerry in protest of the corrupt 2-party system. I was surrounded by Kerry/Edwards shirts, stickers and signs, which was really nice to see. This was a mainstream march, again, a unified front of all factions of the left who are fed up with the war and decidedly fed up with this president. My experience was nothing but positive -- I saw no violence, no confrontation with police, no nothing. I heard only later that there were arrests and that a papier mache dragon caught fire. And while many planned to head up to Central Park after the march, the march route dutifully diverted southward after we passed MSG in an attempt to dissuade people from turning back toward the north to the park. Some did end up there, of course, but by all accounts it was peaceful and without incident. Here's hoping that the protests in New York remain peaceful and don't mar the image of the left in the eyes of the nation, something that, if it happens, only plays into Karl Rove's hands in the end.


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