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BATTLE OF NEW YORK

Huge protests say:
NO Bush, NO war!

By Leslie Feinberg
New York

As we go to press on Sept. 1: Police have arrested hundreds more. Among them were 11 ACT-UP members arrested on trespassing charges after getting inside Madison Square Garden in a third internal disruption. They chanted "Bush lies. Stop AIDS. Drop the debt now!" Among the many protests today 8,000 people forming a giant unemployment line. Tens of thousands of labor union ists rallied within shouting distance of the convention. And thousands rallied in Central Park for reproductive rights.

All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't hold back the tide of protest that has engulfed Manhattan during the Republican National Convention. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in defiance of police-state-style repression.

Based on the placards they painted and the chants they yelled, the occupation of Iraq and the lies of George W. Bush were the primary compelling forces that drew the multitudes of people into the vortex of struggle.

That the rebellious protests have continued all week despite an army of some 30,000 police, advanced weaponry and "crowd control" techniques is a monumental political defeat for the administration. They have further damaged U.S. imperialism's standing in the world, already tattered by the strength of the Iraqi resistance.

The mammoth police mobilization may have turned Madison Square Garden--home to the GOP shindig--into a fortress, but on two occasions protesters were able to infiltrate the GOP's jamboree to deliver their militant message in person. On Sept. 1, several got within 15 feet of the stage inside the convention.

Other youth activists demonstrated that Republican delegates couldn't stay holed up in the convention center day and night, hounding them wherever they went.

On Aug. 31 the struggle in the streets erupted in widespread civil disobedience across the island from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden. Activists--by the thousands, hundreds, or just dozens--skirmished with an overall police mobilization of tens of thousands using high-tech equip ment and brutal tactics. These actions revealed the strong, rising current of youth leadership of all nationalities, particularly youths of color. By that even ing police had taken more than 900 people into custody, bringing the official total of anti-RNC arrests to 1,460. (New York Times, Sept. 1)

Half a million march

The week of protest also drew large marches and rallies.

In sweltering heat that turned the city into the Baked Apple, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets on Aug. 29 in the week's most massive march. The demonstration had been prepared for almost a year by the United for Peace and Justice coalition.

The authorities had refused to grant a permit for marchers to rally in a vast expanse of Central Park capable of comfortably holding such huge numbers, so the more than half a million marchers packed the wide avenues of New York for six hours, able to move at only a snail's pace.

They came from all walks of life, from states all over the United States--as far away as Hawaii, Texas and Florida--and from other countries.

Veterans, deployed GIs' loved ones, labor unionists, youths, whole extended families, long-time anti-imperialist and anti-oppression fighters, seasoned anti-capitalist activists and those demonstrating against the government for the first time in their lives--they united together in the streets for hours before the march began.

And when they stepped off and marched on Madison Square Garden, the RNC site, they roared their opposition to war and occupation for empire, and to attacks on civil liberties. They voiced their enmity toward the Bush administration. And they demanded jobs and health care.

Many of the angry messages conveyed by hand-made placards and banners, though wildly creative, are unprintable.

The Democratic Party, which could have mobilized its apparatus to provide a sea of red-white-and-blue "Kerry for President" signs and stickers, seems to have made a decision not to.

It was clear that many, many in the predominantly white, young crowd were prepared to vote for Kerry as "the lesser of two evils," even if some had to hold their noses to do so. But if they thought that pulling the lever for Kerry was enough action to create change, they would have stayed home until Nov. 2.

Instead, they mobilized to come to New York from far and wide--despite an official campaign of fear and intimidation to keep them away--to march in the streets and make their own voices heard.

After the march ended, hundreds went to the forbidden grounds of Central Park. Thousands thronged in Union Square. Later that night, smaller groups of acti vists faced down riot police while trying to confront Republican delegates partying on Broadway and in tony restaurants.

Youths confront GOP delegates

On Aug. 29, the Mouse Bloc--named for the little critter elephants reportedly fear most--showed on Broadway's "Great White Way" at theaters and restaurants where delegates wined and dined. Police attacked and arrested demonstrators on the sidewalks, including taking 25 lesbian, gay, bi and trans activists holding a "kiss-in" into custody.

Determined activists, with youths in the lead, demonstrated on Aug. 31 that big-business politicians and their hangers-on could run, but they couldn't hide.

Republican delegates reportedly holed up in a restaurant on East 28th Street while police made nearly 40 arrests outside.

Wisconsin delegates were confronted by activists chanting, "Who would Jesus bomb?"

Texas delegates staying at an upscale mid-Manhattan hotel were greeted by activists posing as employees of "Halli bacon," who grunted through plastic pig snouts and rolled around in stacks of "$100 bills" with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney's photos on them. The protesters charged Cheney and Halliburton with war profiteering in Iraq.

Delegates staying at the Carlton Hotel on 27th and Madison also ran into protesters and trashcans on fire.

Demonstrators picketed outside Sothe by's auction house as members of the Tennessee delegation inside were bidding on the estate of deceased country-western singer Johnny Cash. At least one angry protester explained that Johnny Cash made music about "the poor and beaten down," not the ones who do the beating down. (Daily News, Sept. 1)

"Around 8 p.m., delegate buses were forced to unload a block from Madison Square Garden," AM New York reported. (Sept. 1) "Harried delegates were escorted by cops past the protesters under a barrage of anti-Bush chants. Leslie Finn, a delegate from Missouri, said his bus was stuck for more than an hour as protesters chanted from the sidewalks."

At Madison Square Garden, according to the Sept. 1 New York Post, "the protests got physical--and a little wet--as Bush-haters roughed up and spit on GOP delegates who got caught up in the demonstration crowds as they tried to enter the convention."

The Sept. 1 New York Times reported that, "As protesters converged on Herald Square in the evening, the police tried to contain the increasingly raucous crowds. Hundreds of protesters seemed to get too close to the buses of delegates and the crowd became unruly as the police moved in metal barricades and used scooters to try to push the crowd back. Those who would not move were arrested, and each time the police moved in to make an arrest, they were swarmed by protesters."

Demonstrators, unable to press forward to the Garden, broke up into groups and took over the streets and avenues, chant ing, "1, 2, 3, 4, we don't want your oil war!"

The crowd also cheered a group of some 20 activists as they laid down and locked arms in the middle of Broadway.

Traffic was stalled for hours as police tackled and arrested people indiscriminately.

One GOP delegate with a Stars-and-Stripes top hat on her head emerged from shopping at Macy's to find herself face to face with thousands of angry protesters. "Omigod, how do I get to the Garden?" she asked one cop.

"Good luck, lady," he replied, as she reportedly fled. (Daily News, Sept. 1)

'The streets belong to the people!'

Thousands of activists also held other actions throughout the day and evening and many tried to march on the convention itself.

Civil disobedience on Aug. 31, aided by text messaging and cell phone technologies, erupted in the streets outside the New York Public Library, Herald Square, Union Square, Irving Plaza, Madison Ave nue, in front of Fox News Channel studios in midtown, and on the sidewalks that line "Ground Zero"--site of the former World Trade Center complex--and elsewhere.

Hundreds of police were on hand to secure the blocks surrounding the New York Stock Exchange before it opened at 8 a.m.

An hour later 14 youths were arrested by three to four times as many police for the "crime" of stringing a ball of yarn across the street to call attention to their anti-profits message.

Police made an estimated 200 arrests at a demonstration of several thousand who marched near Ground Zero to oppose the occupation of Iraq. This protest was organized by the War Resisters League and the School of the Americas Watch.

According to media reports, the group had abided by an agreement that they could march on the sidewalk, two abreast, to the Garden. But once the march was underway, police unrolled orange nets to trap them and began mass arrests. Out-of-town journalists were also enmeshed in the roundup.

"We don't know why we are being arrested, we were just crossing the street," one activist told reporters. "We were told if we didn't do anything illegal we would be allowed to march on the sidewalk and we did just that."

North of Ground Zero, hundreds of other demonstrators surged into the streets for a "die-in." Police immediately "netted" them and began sweeping arrests. The remaining hundreds marched up Broadway, where scores were able to hold a successful action in the street just blocks from the convention center.

In the afternoon, two women tried to unfurl a banner on the steps of the New York Public Library. Police wrestled them to the ground, but fellow protesters surrounded the police chanting "Oink! Oink!"

Cops cordoned off the block with netting and rioted, throwing people to the ground.

Police also busted anti-war demonstrators, particularly youths, as they left large rallies in Union Square.

Many other protest actions took place during the day, in front of the Bureau of Immigration, at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in subways and on side streets.

The big-business media, charged with being propaganda machinery, were also targets of Aug. 31 protests. More than 1,000 people protested outside the studios of pro-war Fox News, chanting, "Fox lies, people die."

Demonstrators threw fake blood and heckled a live broadcast by Chris Matt hews as he hosted MSNBC from Herald Square.

Eric Laursen, a spokesperson for the A31 Action Coalition, which coordinated many of the Aug. 31 actions, concluded, "We've showed that there are thousands of people in New York who are willing to stand up to the police. The streets of New York belong to the people."

'Whose streets? Our streets!'

The week of events leading up to the RNC began on Aug. 26 with a war crimes tribunal.

Despite police harassment of the more than 500 activists from the United States and around the world taking part in the tribunal, the event concluded with a unanimous verdict of "guilty" against President George W. Bush and his administration.

And the tribunal declared that resistance--from Iraq to Palestine to the streets of Manhattan--is a right.

That same day, 11 AIDS activists were arrested after taking off their clothes in the street outside Madison Square Garden. They did it to dramatize their demand that Washington make funds available to help confront the epidemic in poorer countries.

Four other protesters now face a grand jury hearing for what they did that same day: unfurling a mammoth banner down the side of the posh Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue. The word "truth" on the banner pointed in the opposite direction from the word "Bush."

On the evening of Aug. 27, the monthly "Critical Mass" bike ride, which usually draws hundreds of bicyclists, grew to thou sands to protest the convention. They tied up traffic and chanted anti-Bush slogans.

Police viciously attacked the bicyclist-activists, injuring some and arresting more than 260.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of mothers with young children, a few dads and other supporters pushed strollers across the Brooklyn Bridge in a demonstration organized by Mothers Opposing Bush. Malissa Smith said she took part because "Bush is taking away our children's future. Money for preemptive war takes away money from child care."

The next day, women and their allies, estimated by organizers at 25,000 strong, massed at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to rally in front of City Hall.

This reproductive rights march was initiated by groups that included Planned Parenthood of New York City, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Black Women's Health Imperative and the Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans Community Center.

Many speakers denounced the Bush administration for its anti-abortion, sexist and anti-lesbian attacks and its pandering to the religious right, which has spearheaded violence against women's health clinics. Rally speakers also pointed to the impact of racism, particularly on health care funding for women of color.

A NARAL speaker received enthusiastic applause when she called for an end to all occupations--"of Iraq, Afghanistan and our bodies."

'Fight AIDS, not Iraq!'

Midday on Aug. 30--the first formal day of the RNC--an estimated 10,000 people took part in the Still We Rise Coalition March.

Gathering at Union Square, they marched on the Garden chanting, "Fight AIDS, not Iraq!" The multinational protest also revealed the strong, rising current of youth leadership--particularly youths of color.

Hours later, at 4 p.m., a "March for Our Lives" started with a rally at the United Nations. The Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign organized the event. When demonstrators tried to march toward 34th Street without a permit, police in huge numbers and a line of vans tried to block the protesters' forward motion.

But the crowd would not stop. They chanted: "Whose streets? Our streets!" Faced with this militant defiance, the police backed down and the protesters marched to Madison Square Garden.

Police arrested at least 10 during the demonstration.

Dozens of smaller actions also took place on Aug. 30.

Plans for other rallies and marches are gathering steam. A Sept. 1 Labor Day rally called by the Central Labor Council to protest Bush's anti-worker policies is expected to draw thousands.

Later that evening a mobilization sponsored by NOW-NY to protest Bush's war on women, workers, people of color, the poor and immigrants will assemble in the East Meadow of Central Park.

On Sept. 2, the day Bush addresses the RNC, Artists & Activists United for Peace are scheduled to rally and march from the Harlem State Office Building. The rally will feature City Council person Charles Barron, Bob Law, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, Don Rojas and Nellie Bailey.

At 7 that evening, while Bush is speaking inside the Garden, a "Rally to End the Colonial Occupation of Iraq, Haiti, Palestine & Everywhere"--called by the ANSWER coalition--will take place outside.

Reprinted from the Sept. 9, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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