|Personal Notes from A31, 2004|
1) Midtown - Lunchtime
It's easy to spot Republican Convention Delegates in NYC. Really easy. They are coifed and perfectly attired in a way that the most fashionable native New Yorker doesn't stand a chance. I mean, it's not 1980 anymore here in New York and to buy clothes like that around here would cost a fortune!
Luckily, Wal-Mart and Target have solved that problem for middle America.
Delegates on the streets huddle together knowing they are in a city that has clearly not laid out the welcome mat for them and at every turn they're reminded of this. Why else would their hotels be ringed by armed guards and their busses shuttled under police escort to and from Madison Square Garden? But they will remain myopic in their views, refusing still to open their eyes to the fact that world is not black and white but gray and yellow and blue and a trillion shades in-between. Educate them, for it's the most humane thing to be done.
Perhaps it's the big hair? Maybe the 80's Dallas fashion statement of women wearing pressed red pants suits or men in crewcuts and polyester? It's hard to say exactly what it is, but any native can look at a crowd and say, "office worker, bridge and tunnel set, German tourist, Republican" as they watch people go by.
Convention delegates might better blend in if they'd put on a pair of jeans that weren't ironed, muss their hair up a bit and use less Brylcream or cologne. Oh yeah, ladies... the costume jewelry... PLEASE give it up!
Those who chose New York for the site of the 2004 Convention were doing so specifically to use the backdrop of 9/11, but the unanticipated result was a submission into Sodom for America's must pure and protected citizens.
It is interesting to note that of the official events planned by the RNC for their delegates, not a single one took visitors to the Vietnam Memorial at Water Street, perhaps the most moving monument to that war. Bits and pieces of letters from, and to, soldiers fighting in Vietnam are etched into a glass wall and watercourse. The water flowing through the memorial is not the only flowing water, for each time I go, my tears flow.
Delegates don't have any planned visits to the Immigrant Museum on Orchard Street either or any of the other museums or art exhibits that detail real American life or culture and Broadway productions that were "off taste" were removed from the official list of cut-rate tickets.
Instead, there are high powered corporate parties for such party hacks as Sue Kelly (NY19), feted by industrialists and bankers and insurance PACS. Private dinners at Tavern On the Green, and, beyond all comprehension, an auction of Johnny Cash items at Southeby's. A popular spokesman for the working class, the Man in Black would surely be appalled if he were alive today.
So, I wander around mid-town and Times Square and work my way up to the NY Visitors Bureau office at 1810 8th Avenue and get one of the prized "peaceful protestor" buttons the city minted by the thousands last week. I asked how many were given out and the lady smiled and said, "a few" and then asked if I'd like to take more off her hands. I affixed it to my daypack but then felt immediately stupid for doing so. Sure, I'm a 'peaceful political activist', but do I really need a discount to the Museum of Sex?
Police were massed around Times Square, each doorway guarded, and dozens of cops sat around on side streets waiting for something to happen. But the action was away from Times Square, taking place instead at Herald Square and later in the day on 8th Avenue and in other parts of the city.
2) War Resistors League March
Pictures from the event are here:
At around 3PM Tuesday afternoon I went downtown to the intersection of Church and Fulton Streets where the War Resistors League (WRL) was planning to gather before walking uptown to Madison Square Garden for a "die-in" to dramatize - in a non-violet way - their opposition to the use of violence as government policy. (learn more here: http://www.warresisters.org/)
A crowd informally gathered with large numbers of media, tourists, convention delegates, legal observers from both the National Lawyers Guild and the NYACLU, and a slowly increasing number of NYC policemen.
The media interviewed members of the WRL before the march, while legal observers passed out cards on what to do if arrested. Tourists snapped photos of the site, convention delegates grumbled that anti-war demonstrators were "for al-quaeda", and a NYC fireman walked past yelling, "my buddies graves are here, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" obviously unaware that I had lost a friend on the 107th floor of the WTC on September 11, 2001 and like him, grieved that loss.
He had also just passed a demonstration by families of those both killed and those who survived the WTC attacks and who came to show their support for the WRL action as well as to condemn the Republicans for using 9/11 as the backdrop for their convention.
As the WRL crowd swelled to about 400 people negotiations with the police began in earnest to allow a march that was not "permitted" by the city. Yet, no permit is required to walk on a city street so long as you do not block more than half the sidewalk. With negotiations completed, and at just after 4PM the police led the marchers across Church Street and onto the north sidewalk of Fulton Street which was devoid of passersby.
[note: For the Torries among you who will read this and say, "if you want to march you need a permit and lawbreakers should be dealt with harshly", I refer you to John 8:7 to wit; "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone." Think twice the next time you roll through a stop sign, drive above the posted limit, or forget to claim some of that cash income on your tax forms this year or the other million and one ways you "bend" the laws for your convenience. If you are purely without sin please feel free to criticize and then donate yourself to the Smithsonian for you are surely a rare, prized, item.]
The march proceeded for about 500 feet up the street where a detachment of police blocked their way and also, at the same time, stopped the back half of the march by blocking their crossing of Church Street. By this time, around 200 people had been walked into this police trap.
A police officer in a white shirt with more gold and color on his shirt than I've ever seen, ran to the front of the march, pushing through the phalanx of cops that stopped it, and started yelling at the lead marchers that they were blocking the sidewalk and that they would be arrested if they did not immediately comply with his order to clear the walk. This was captured on video by dozens of reporters and film crews.
The marchers tried to thin their lines but were prevented from doing so by being "penned" in at the front and the back and were prevented from leaving the sidewalk by the line of police that escorted them up Fulton Street. In effect, after negotiating with the police, and gaining a police escort they were, in fact, snared and trapped by the very same police.
This same white-shirted policeman then turned to the crowd of bystandars and media telling us we were all subject to arrest if we did not cross the street to the sidewalk on the other side. The marchers, however, were forbidden to leave.
Just then, another detachment of police arrived bearing plastic handcuffs and the now famous orange fencing to permanently pen in the marchers and the arrest process began. The two or three parked police vans proved inadequate for the task so the cops rolled in a city bus, then two additional police "school busses" to carry the two hundred arrestees to the 57th street pier for processing.
This report in CNN today:
"Near Ground Zero, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said about 200 people were arrested Tuesday when they disobeyed an order by police to stay on the sidewalk.
"The group got bitter" and obstructed traffic after walking into the road, Kelly said."
Is an absolute lie. I was there. I know what happened. And, this not what happened and anyone who was there can tell you this report if a fabrication. Unless, the police meant to say, The group got bitter and obstructed traffic after being led into the road by police..."
The police were busy videotaping demonstrators and the general public that gathered as well, and the street afterwards was left littered by the empty boxes and garbage the police left behind. It was a mess. Arrests began at about 4:20 in the afternoon at at 6:30 that evening they were still going on.
While a sizeable crowd watched the events a tourist couple came by and asked what was going on and why people were being arrested. I explained the story - as I'd seen it - with the thought in my mind that they might be convention delegates and so kept politics out of the description: a flat, reporters response and further conversation proved my hunch to be correct. After listening, the guy shook his head and mumbled, "that's way too much" and walked off with his female partner.
I also got a casual interview with a man from "Iraq Vets Against the War" [www.ivaw.net] that I'll write more about in another post. He'd been active in the Marines for 9 years and fought the war in Iraq. After seeing what we were doing there and how our military was used, he decided that the war was wrong, especially since the reasons we went turned out to be forged. When he went to reenlist late last year he was told that he would be sent back to Iraq and so, left the Marines. He was at the WRL march with three others, all vets of the latest Iraq war and now opposed to it.
While police were arresting the front half of the march, the rear half continued uptown without harassment. Upon arriving at 28th street however, they found their way blocked and so laid down in the street offering themselves voluntarily for arrest in a courageous act of civil disobedience.
Just as the arrests were ending I heard loud cheering from the PATH stop behind me... going down to investigate I found the "Reverend Billy" with a hundred or so friends chanting for peace and freedom and waving American flags. The Reverend silently led his flock up the stairs and onto the street where he handed out copies of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution while his "Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir" performed, to a hand clapping crowd, with the sun setting behind Ground Zero as the backdrop. This was their 30th consecutive Tuesday evening demonstration for peace and justice. Peaceallulia! Peaceallulia! Peaceallulia!
3) Union Square Park
At about 7 PM I found my way to Union Square Park taking advantage of the labyrinthine subway system to enjoy some air conditioning and a chance to sit and take notes, and walked into an impromptu festival of song, dance and protest.
Hundred of people were in the park, many left over from civil disobedience actions earlier in the day and many just coming in. Famed rocker David Peel set up with some friends on the steps and entertained the crowd with a live version of his classic, "Up Against the Wall". People danced around the park in conga lines, artists wrote and drew anti-war and freedom messages on the walks with chalk and park employees stood around, most with smiles enjoying the scene.
At one point police allegedly rushed in to save the ass of a provocateur who tried to encourage the crowd into illegal acts. Violence and vandalism was not on the minds of those gathered and they resented anyone suggesting that as a viable course of action. Later on, two other men tried to convince the crowd to abandon the park and march illegally to Madison Square Garden but they were ignored and told to "get lost" - which they did in a hasty retreat. Said David Peel to one of them, "walk? give me cab fare!"
It's a cruel joke tour bus operators play on convention delegates by driving them past Union Square and earlier in the day police arrested demonstrators for "getting too close" to a double-decker tour bus packed full of wide-eyed, blond haired, perfectly attired (I haven't seen ironed jeans in years!) delegates. Whenever one went by, the park erupted with single fingered salutes, chants and jeers.
When I left shortly before 10PM, police helicopters were still flying overhead and hundreds of people were still enjoying the park and a night of political dissent in Fortress New York.
Some pictures from this are here:
4) NYC Police:
There's been much talk about the NYC police and their response to demonstrations over the past week. My experience, from being on both sides of the line this week, is that demonstrators have respect for the job you're doing and the restraint you've shown.
I do not envy the job the rank and file police have this week. Caught between their desire to get back to the job of normal police work and the political whims of whoever is pushing their buttons, the rank and file have remained, for the most part, bored.
It's the guys in the white shirts who, in picture after picture and video after video, are the ones with the veins on their necks popping out, eyes bulging, faces red, grunting with the effort of dragging peaceful protestors off sidewalks or facing them down with two-handed clubs.
The guys in blue, on the other hand, seem largely to be going through the motions and want to be doing something else: like getting a fair contract.
Here's a note to you guys: regardless of what some hothead youngsters yell at you, it's not meant personally. Trust me. You do represent "the state" however, and that is their target - not you as Tom's as Debbie's and as the guys next door. Again, I know it's hard but do not take it personally.
Sorry you're in the way, forgive the hotheads for their indelicacies and know that WE KNOW you're stuck in this bind and truly appreciate your restraint with these yahoos. A Blue Flu on Thursday would not go unnoticed nor be unexpected.
You don't have to be a Pacifist to be against this war.
Jeff Green does this
Sunday December 11, 2005