I hope you guys will indulge me as I report my experiences at the march today. I want to write it down so I won’t forget. Please forgive me if I ramble incoherently – I hope any others who attended will add their own probably much more articulate comments too!
Wow, what a day. We marched the 20 blocks from Union Square (14th Street) up to Madison Square Garden (34th Street), and most people returned via Broadway back down to 14th. And the entire 40 block loop – roughly two miles – was jam packed, a seemingly unending throng of protesters that continued for at least 3.5 hours. So don’t believe the media’s “tens of thousands” headlines bull. We numbered at least 200,000 … and that’s likely a serious underestimation.
Our messages were heard, that’s for sure. Many different chants, from the standard “Hey hey, ho ho, George Bush has got to go!” to the briefer but straightforward “Go home!” and “Shame!” as we passed the Garden, to the accurate “Fox Sucks!” as we came across a huge-ass billboard for the “fair and balanced” network, to the amusing “Jon Stewart kicks ass!” as we passed a billboard for him. But my favorite chant was “This is what Democracy Looks Like!”
'Cause it’s true.
There was plenty of humor to while the hours as we marched. The signs and buttons and t-shirts were tremendously varied and hilarious, such as “Somewhere in Texas, a Village is Missing its Idiot” and “George Bush: Like a Rock! Only dumber.” There were two people dressed up as a shrubbery and a giant pink … uh … well, I’ll just say that they were supposed to be stand-ins for George Bush and Dick Cheney. Similarly, we all had to laugh when we saw the guy wearing a hat that said “Dickhead” while being festooned with dozens of protruding, um, accoutrements.
But the heart of the event was a deadly serious message. And for me, the most powerful statement was made by the hundreds of marchers carrying large black coffins draped in American flags, representing the dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. I also saw pictures of some of the Iraqi civillians killed and wounded in the war gracing several signs. Then there were the bell-ringers signifying the losses on September 11, a reminder against the exploitative use of New York by the RNC.
Police were everywhere, as were helicopters – although I’m sure a few of those were from the news stations. The beat cops were relaxed and in a good mood, for the most part. Which reminds me of a funny incident … Well, first here’s a smidge of background:
Our police officers have been without a contract for nearly two years, and our (billionaire Republican) Mayor Bloomberg has refused to raise their salaries to a suitable degree. Y’know, 'cause apparently the cops … the ones who are so often lauded by Bloomberg and our oh-so-grateful administration for their heroism during 9/11 … apparently don’t deserve more than 5% over three years. Anyway, the police have threatened a “blue flu” quasi strike during the RNC, where they call in sick instead of an official (and illegal) strike.
All this is leading up to a funny moment of bonding between the protesters and police as we passed them and chanted, “Go on strike! Go on strike! Cops deserve better pay!” Several cops grinned and agreed with us (at least with the better pay part, heh!).
All in all, everyone was peaceful, companionable – and freakin’ HOT. (I got a little heat exhaustion, myself, with a touch of sunburn. Serves me right for not wearing a hat. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I did think ahead a little bit – I brought a small cooler filled with ice, juice, water and a frozen bag of vegetables to use as a makeshift icepack.) The streets were lined with many stores selling cold drinks, and best of all, one restaurant worker with a garden hose who was spritzing water on individuals who requested it. He was my hero! (As was the guy about ten blocks further down the route who had a little electric fan that he aimed at us as we walked past.) People leaning out of their windows above us helped out by letting us know when things up ahead were stalled, and sharing their estimations of how far up the crowds could be seen. And people think New Yorkers aren’t friendly! Well, okay, if they’re Republicans this week, they’re probably right.
The closer we got to Madison Square Garden, the grimmer and more evident were the police and national guardsmen. (The guardsmen were in full camouflage, yet; sure, makes sense, since NYC has SO many trees for them to blend in with!) And here’s the kicker: one guardsman I saw on a sidestreet carried a goddamned machine gun. A machine gun! What the hell? Call me a sentimentalist, but what happened to good ol’ fashioned tear gas? I started to take a picture, so shocked and aghast was I, but I was immediately, forcefully warned not to by the cops. (Oh, I did anyway. Luckily my camera had no flash, so they couldn’t tell I’d taken it. Can’t wait to get the photos developed!)
Similarly absurd, once my sister and I left the march at 35th Street we weren’t allowed to carry our signs. According to the cop my sister and I spoke with, the justification for this bizarre decision was that the demonstration was only allowed to be on 7th Ave and Broadway; carrying the signs (you know, as in FREE SPEECH?) would lead to “chaos.” A dumbass rule that stunk of our wonderful mayor yet again. Of course, as we told the policeman, we didn’t blame him for the stupidity. He seemed a bit embarrassed.
I do think there were more than a few agent provocateurs in our midst. Some asshats started a fire on a display, which I refuse to believe was one of our people. You’ll probably see that highlighted on the news as evidence of our rowdiness. Then there were the two suspicious young guys walking through the crowd who, apropos of nothing, suddenly shouted, “Break down the gates! Break down the gates!” (which referred to the barriers blocking us from Madison Square Garden and the group of conventioners watching us from behind the line of cops). Since there had been no confrontation or even much anger at this point, I’m guessing that these were troublemakers hoping to start a Very Bad Scene to make us look bad. Didn’t work, and I saw them laugh and run away. Nice try, creeps.
So the doom-and-gloom pundits who warned of violence to scare folks from coming must have been disappointed. This was an incredibly positive event, attended by thousands and thousands of Americans determined to raise our voices against the administration we fear and loathe.
That’s pretty much all I have. Thanks for letting me express my thoughts and memories of the march – which was my first ever protest, BTW!
I’ll end with a quote from the most pertinent sign I saw in the crowd:
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” – Thomas Jefferson