Taking back the streets from the GOP:
September 3, 2004 | Page 2
ERIC RUDER reports from the protests against the Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City.
IN THE days before the RNC, New York's tabloid newspapers ran huge scare headlines about the hordes of anarchists bent on violent protests. Every newspaper published guides for "avoiding the convention madness."
But in defiance of the threats and warnings--as well as late summer sweltering heat and humidity--hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers joined people from across the U.S. to take back the streets of Manhattan from invading Republicans. On Sunday, some 500,000 people marched past the Madison Square Garden convention site in the centerpiece of a week of demonstrations.
The next day, several thousand youth and students joined a march organized by Still We Rise to oppose the politicians' war on the poor, the death penalty, U.S. support for Colombian death squads, Israel's occupation of Palestine and other injustices at home and abroad. As Socialist Worker went to press, more protests were planned--direct action protests on Tuesday, a labor march on Wednesday, and a vigil of military families and veterans on Thursday, along with dozens of other actions, large and small.
In the end, the mass march on Sunday was overwhelmingly peaceful. The city succeeded in forcing demonstrators to give up their plans for a permitted rally in Central Park, yet thousands streamed into the park anyway after completing the march route--to show their defiance and assert their right to free speech and assembly. "We're supposedly fighting for free speech and democracy in Iraq, yet we can't have a rally in Central Park?" asked one protester on Central Park's Great Lawn.
The signs and chants on the earlier march challenged every aspect of the Bush regime, and everywhere, signs ridiculed Bush--such as "Wanted: George Bush, war criminal" and "A village in Texas is missing its idiot."
One of the most moving sights was a bloc of marchers carrying 1,000 coffins, representing the nearly 1,000 soldiers who have so far been killed in Iraq. Fernando Suarez del Solar, the father of a Marine who was killed early in the U.S. invasion, joined the march and, using a bullhorn, told his story: "I paid with my own son's life. Bush lied, and who died? My son!"
Bridget, who lives in New York City and was involved in the movement against the Iraq war, summed up the feeling. "It's an affront to our sense of justice that Bush is in the White House, and it's an affront to our sense of justice that he's in our city," she said. "We're not only saying get our troops out of Iraq, we're saying Republicans get out of our city."
Bridget probably spoke for many people on the march when she said, "I'm not pro-Kerry, but I'll probably end up voting for him." Bridget argued that the independent campaign of Ralph Nader was a "spoiler." "It's the lives of Americans, it's the lives of Iraqis, it's the lives of so many people that are at stake," she said. "So we all need to vote for the same person, which isn't Bush. If it's Kerry, okay, but we can't afford another four years of Bush."
Throughout the march, a contingent of Nader supporters tried to make a different case, chanting, "A vote for Kerry is a vote for war, Nader, Nader, 2004." Again and again, Kerry supporters ran into the middle of the Nader contingent to abuse the marchers for daring to support an independent alternative.
Peter Camejo, Nader's vice presidential running mate who marched with the contingent, put the discussion in context. "We're marching in support of the massive opposition to the war in Iraq and the USA PATRIOT Act, and for social justice," he told Socialist Worker. "This march, in content, is against Kerry and Bush, and is pro-Nader. But the tragedy is that many of the people here will vote against what they believe in, and vote for Kerry in November."
Despite the dominance of "Anybody But Bush" sentiment on the march, a minority of people are looking for a real alternative. On Monday night, some 500 people attended a meeting titled "Can't we do better than 'Anybody But Bush'?" The meeting featured Camejo, as well as global justice activist Naomi Klein, labor journalist Joann Wypijewski, Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, exonerated California death row prisoner Shujaa Graham and International Socialist Review editor Ahmed Shawki.
Throughout all the events of the week, there was a sense of pride in the actions of so many people raising their voice in protest against the Bush agenda. "The protest march sent a message to the world that the American people want their army out of Iraq, out of Afghanistan," Indian author and leading activist Arundhati Roy told Socialist Worker."They want their government to stop supporting Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. Now."
Protesters defy cops' crackdown
"THE LARGEST armada of land, air and maritime forces ever assembled to provide security at a national political gathering." That's how the New York Times described the police lockdown of New York City for the RNC.
At a cost of $70 million or more, Madison Square Garden was surrounded by 10,000 police in the immediate area, and an 18-square block "frozen zone" around the convention site. Helicopters hovered overhead constantly, and 26 boats patrolled the rivers.
Federal officials floated non-specific claims about al-Qaeda attacks, and the New York Post splashed the headline "D Train Bomb Plot" across its front page the day before Sunday's mass protest. The headline was designed to terrify people with the prospect of an imminent attack on the city's subway system. But the story inside the paper explained that a man had been arrested the day before on the basis of a single alleged conversation about a bomb early this year at a bookstore--with absolutely no evidence of specific plans for the past, present or future.
However, as the huge turnout at the march showed, most New Yorkers didn't buy the hype. According to one poll, nearly a third said they were worried about a terror attack during the convention, but the vast majority said this was "not very likely" or "not likely at all." Nearly three quarters opposed the city's decision to bar demonstrators from rallying in Central Park, and 11 percent of New Yorkers--amounting to nearly 1 million people--said they planned to participate in one of the demonstrations.
Super-rich party in New York
THE REPUBLICANS may consider New York City to be liberal turf, but make no mistake--there are plenty of super-rich parasites and corporate fat cats ready to show GOP conventioneers a good time. "Fresh off the heels of an unprecedented number of lavish parties in Boston for Democratic power brokers, companies and lobbying organizations are keeping their checkbooks open so that they can treat their favorite lawmakers--many of whom happen to possess choice seats on certain committees--to a glass of bubbly, or at least some high-end grub and maybe a concert or two," concludes a report from the Center for Public Integrity.
At the ultra-exclusive jewelry store Cartier, guests can browse the posh merchandise at the same time as they schmooze with lawmakers. Restaurants like Daniel and Per Se--among the most expensive in the world--are booked for private parties.
Corporate America will pick up the multimillion-dollar tabs, but executives know their blowouts are a great investment. "They will use this as a relationship-building vehicle with committee chairs and others who have oversight over their business," veteran lobbyist Harry Clark told the New York Times. "It's a very practical view of the political world."
No one is bothering to hide the influence peddling, either. The American Petroleum Institute, National Mining Association, American Gas Association and Edison Electric Institute are among the groups throwing a party to "honor" Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who happens to be chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
The American Bankers Association will toast Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Hoping to head off a bad PR image, the White House issued--no doubt with a wink--a "stern warning" to administration officials: Don't act up at the all-night parties, or take free gifts. In case they need quick legal advice about the toothless laws against selling political influence, the Bush team can call a 24-hour hotline, answered around the clock by the White House counsel's office.