In fact, from the moment that more than 500,000 people stepped off at Seventh Avenue and West 15th Street on Sunday afternoon through the arrest of the last sixteen anarcho-kids at 30th Street and Eighth Avenue shortly after midnight on Friday, September 3, the anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-corporate, and anti-capitalist demonstrators who came together for more than four days to express their displeasure with the direction the world is heading cemented a bond that had been forming since before the infamous 1999 demonstrations in Seattle. In and about lower Manhattan all day and night last week, tens of thousands roamed with purpose, entirely sincere, and willing to prove it.
Take Father Simon Harak, Jesuit priest and anti-militarism coordinator with the War Resisters League. As 4 p.m. approached on August 31, designated a day of direct action by many groups involved in the weeks events, members of the War Resisters League, the School of the Americas Watch, the Latin American Solidarity Movement, and others lined-up two-by-two in front of Ground Zero, prepared to take an unpermitted march as close to Madison Square Garden as the police would let them. Many intended to participate in a die-in to protest U.S. military policy, at Madison Square Garden if possible, but, more likely, when the police officers decided the march had proceeded long enough. And Harak was ready to make a physical stand against war profiteering as well.
There used to be a war, and some people profited off of them, said Harak, moments before the march was to begin. Now, especially under the Bush administration, these same people are making war for profit. What theyve done in effect is commandeered our military to take over an entire nation. The economic cost is huge, and the human cost astounding. By staging a die-in, what we want to do is bring the idea of the human cost as close to the convention as possible.
Harak is a co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness and has been a priest for 24 years. Currently he serves the St. Vincent Parish in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on the weekends and works with peace activists during the week, he said.
Unfortunately, the march from Ground Zero to Madison Square Garden didnt go quite as expected. Shortly after a police commander, who remains unidentified, announced to the assembled demonstrators that, as long as they stayed on the sidewalk, walked two-by-two, crossed with the lights, and didnt block pedestrian or automobile traffic, there would be no problem, the group began crossing Church Street and headed up Fulton, toward a line of police who had closed off Fulton to traffic.
But, just as the sidewalk on Fulton began filling up, officers moved to the front and halted the marchs progress, forcing several people who were expecting to step onto the sidewalk before the Church Street light changed to be momentarily stranded in the street, thereby blocking traffic and giving the NYPD causes belie. What proceeded from there was incredible as several men and women were lined up on their knees and handcuffed. About 200 people on Fulton were surrounded by orange netting. Reporters were told not to move or they were fair game, and the police proceeded to arrest the whole crew before the march had even had a chance to start.
The arrests didnt halt the protest from going forward, though, as about 220 people opted to march along the sidewalk up Church Street, toward the Garden via Washington Square Park. They were a quiet, solemn crew, who nevertheless managed to snake their way to Broadway and 28th Street, where 54 members of the group left the line to perform a die-in after dozens of police on bikes, cars, and vans halted the procession.
Eric LeCompte, SOAWatch events and outreach coordinator, estimated the Ground Zero crowd at 2,000 and said the decision to break away and march despite the arrests and heavy police presence was heartening.
I really feel that the action turned out well, LeCompte said as police attempted to close off the intersection where the 54 dead marchers lay. It was terrible the way this started, with the police illegally arresting more than 200 people. But we intended, and did, let the Bush administration know what its foreign policy is doing to the world.
Other events throughout the week followed a similar path, with police promptly moving to shut down entire blocks as protest sprang up, and demonstrators cropping up elsewhere.
Sunday, August 30, is a perfect case in point. Loosely affiliated groups participated in an event known as Mousebloc, a series of confrontations aimed at RNC delegates and their hangers-on attending dinner and performances near Times Square, the heart of the citys theater district. Police, as if foreshadowing how they would handle the A31 day of direct action, moved in quickly and shut down streets, intersections, and corners each time a group of protesters moved to block an entrance, occupy a corner, or confront the Republican revelers.
Mounted police rode at a small crowd of about 100 gathered on the island in the Square, which caused a small splinter group of a dozen or so to run off in the direction of the Marriott Hotel. Officers on foot pursued them, blockaded the hotel entrance, and closed down the sidewalk to everyone, even credentialed reporters.
Around the corner a group calling themselves Queer Fist held a kiss-in, in which couples walked slowly along the sidewalk, stopping to kiss soulfully often enough that more than thirty police officers corralled the participants at the corner of 47th and Seventh and arrested them en masse, utilizing the now-familiar orange netting and metal barricades.
Small demonstrations kept popping up at and around Times Square throughout the evening. Police obliged, shutting down sections of the street, rounding up demonstrators and, at times, very few times mind you, getting rough.
One of those instances involved a group called Food Kitchen, which brings food to demonstrations across the country. Several members were wondering outside the Palace Theater, where an angry confrontation between demonstrators and presumed RNC attendees leaving the musical Aida broke out, carrying trays of food when several officers moved in, grabbed one, identified by three other members as Mark Randall, knocked his tray of food to the ground and pulled him toward a waiting paddy wagon. As of press time, Alt Press has been unable to discern the whereabouts of Randall.
By the time that Tuesday rolled around, Mousebloc seemed a dry run for the protesters and police as lower Manhattan between the Garden and Union Square Park become the scene of untold protests. Marches broke out, seemingly at random. Protesters played cat-and-mouse with the police, allowing them to pursue a group only so long as it took to find a block which hadnt been shut down and then promptly stop, at times lying in the street until the officers had closed the area off from cars, pedestrians, and media alike. The official arrest count for the evening is more than 1,100, a number that includes many legal observers from both the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union, reporters, and folks going about their daily business. Both the NLG and the ACLU are considering filing a class action civil lawsuit against the city and its police force for illegal and pre-emptive arrests that took place that night and throughout the week.
Other, calmer activities took place all week, including a tent city called Bushville in the blasted wasteland of Bedford-Stuyvesant, an American Friends Service Committee memorial for the fallen (military and civilian) in Iraq, a Fox Shut-Up-a-thon, a march on the mass media, rallies throughout the day at Union Square (rallies that often resembled activist bazaars), the last of which culminated in a huge, un-permitted march to the Garden during Bushs acceptance speech, a labor rally attended by tens of thousands, and many similar, largely un-remarked upon events.
All of which begs the question why? Why were sustained demonstrations against the sitting leader of this nation largely ignored by the mainstream, and most so-called alternative, media? If the government of another nation, say Iran, or even a democratic nation such as Mexico, faced half the numbers and half the actions that this one did, our daily press and cable news channels would be all over the scene. Theyd pick leaders out of the crowd, ask them how horrible their government is, release them and pontificate for days on the few sentences anyone paid attention to.
Not here, my friends. Instead, as a workplace colleague, Margaret Galambos, said to me the other day, upon returning from the U.S. Open in New York, there werent that many people, were there? I didnt see much in the papers or on TV.
And that, not Gitlins paranoia or Taibbis prodding, is the problem that the active left faces today.