NEW YORK CITY Ė "That was the largest protest
Iíve seen in this city," said the man, as he refueled in a deli.
"Iíd say there were at least 400,000 people. The line of people went on for miles. It was a lot bigger than anyone expected."
The man was not a protester or an organizer, who
are sometimes accused of inflating demonstration numbers.
He was a police officer, conversing without riot gear with supposedly "enemy" protesters participating in by far
the largest demonstration at a national party convention in U.S. history.
That was just one more example of how this historic protest defied expectations and myths.
We had been told not to come to New York to protest
Bush. People on the left warned of 1968 Democratic
Convention-like violence and arrests that would help throw the election to Bush. The Bush campaign warned
of terrorism incidents and threatened violence and mass arrests. The FBI targeted "potential" protesters for
interrogation, and the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into whether people who posted names
of Republican delegates and their hotels on Indymedia.org engaged in voter intimidation, as it ignored much worse
tactics by Bush supporters in Florida and other states to suppress the black vote.
Even First Stepford Wife Laura Bush awoke from
her coma long enough to denounce protesters as "anarchists"
planning to disrupt the Grand Oil Party convention.
In the end, we had to come. We had to show the
Republicans and the world that we werenít going to be intimidated
by their threats, by their lies, by their smug cynicism. We had to stand up for real liberty and justice for all, not the fake,
only-for-the-wealthy kind supported by most Republicans. We sensed, though could not fully know, the risks that came
with walking into this valley of darkness, into an army of 10,000 baton-clad police, some holding machine guns, as
government snipers targeted us from buildings and helicopters and Republican infiltrators planned dirty, provocative
deeds during the sweltering heat that caused tempers to shorten even more.
I didnít make up my mind to confront those risks
and participate in the Aug. 29 NYC march until Aug. 28. I was driving
my four-year-old son and nearly two-year-old daughter into Washington, D.C., to visit the White House, a park and a
Hoop-it-up basketball tournament. Somewhere among the Washington Monument and other magnificent public structures,
I realized I had to answer this call. Our country was founded on protest, on people taking risks against leaders they thought
were unjust and unfit to lead.
I knew about the West Virginia man recently fired
from his job for simply shouting out some questions during a Bush rally.
I didnít want to lose my job over this, but I also didnít want to lose something more priceless. I didnít want my kids someday
down the road to look back at these dark years and ask me what I did to try to make the situation better, and have to admit
that I chose to let fear win and remain on the sidelines during the largest demonstration in our countryís history at a national
party convention. I didnít want to have to admit that when I had the chance, I passed on my best opportunity to make a
statement against the criminal Bush administration.
At Lafayette Park across the street from the White
House, I took some photos of my kids in front of the house, holding a
bumper sticker that read, "Clinton lied about sex. Bush lies about everything." My son helped confirm my decision by staging
an impromptu demonstration, innocently mooning Bush and others in that house as he urinated on those grounds. He did this
as my head was turned, speaking to Concepcion, an activist who had stood up to Bush and other presidents with an anti-nuclear
vigil in that park since 1981. I half-heartedly told my son not to do that again, secretly noting that Bush pissed on the Constitution
and mooned peopleís rights every day. So while he didnít realize it, my sonís action was fitting, if not socially appropriate.
If he could make such a statement right in full view of White House police, how could I not get on the bus?
So like at least 500,000 of my fellow Americans, I chose to stand up. I chose to take the heat and confront the risks.
Like Mary, a D.C. grandmother who made the nine-hour,
round-trip bus ride organized by the D.C. Anti-War Network
with me and scores of others, said, "All the threats against us about not participating made me want to participate that much more."
I got on the bus, aided by a cousin, Mike, a building
contractor, radio station owner and activist who had participated in
more protests than me, dating to the Vietnam War era. There, I met other veteran activists like Mary and Kevin, a nuclear
waste specialist who carried one of many thought-provoking, clever signs we would see that day. Kevinís sign asked,
"Is it fascism yet?" Then, it gave the dictionaryís definition of fascism. On the other side, the sign featured photos of Bush
and read, "The emperor has no clothes."
After riding the bus, the Staten Island ferry
and the subway, we emerged on 7th Avenue, unprepared for the literally
than a mile of people who came here from as far away as California, marching, holding signs, chanting, "Four more months!"
There were rows of flag-draped coffins signifying the Iraqi war dead and picturesque floats, including a large pink elephant.
There was a shirtless boxer in red-white-and-blue trunks taking shots at a punching bag containing Bushís face.
There were families with kids, including a Virginia
Republican who rode the bus with us and her teen-age children. There were
mothers carrying young babies and pushing them in carriages. There were young people with nose earrings and grandparents
with nose hair. There were people dressed up and people dressed down. One wore a nice, sweat-soaked shirt and tie as he
donned a Cheney mask and danced to a jazzy drumbeat.
There were people of all races and backgrounds,
joined with a purpose, a controlled rage, to show Bush the door. This was
the face of America, not the phony dog-and-pony show going on inside Madison Square Garden. This was not a protest
dominated by anarchists and hippies, despite what Republicans like Laura Bush said.
Many signs were more-than-creative. Billionaires
for Bush, a satirical group whose female members wore cocktail dresses
and silk gloves and male members donned tuxes and top hats, waved signs saying, "4 More Wars," "It's a Class War -
and We're Winning" and "Swift Yacht Veterans for Bush." Others asked, "How do you ask a soldier to be the last person
to die for a lie?", "If you think voting doesn't matter, then why did Republicans try so hard to prevent black Americans from
voting?" and "What would Jesus bomb?" Others stated, "Drop Bush, Not Bombs" and "Keep America safe. Use duct tape."
A huge sign on a building proclaimed, "Save America. Defeat Bush."
Among such theatrics, I barely noticed the hundreds
of police officers in riot gear lining the sidewalks and SWAT vans.
The loud helicopters and Fuji Film spy blimp that flew overhead were hard to ignore, and I caught myself glancing up at
skyscrapers, searching for snipers. But all I saw there were people enjoying the procession like a festive parade.
At Madison Square Garden, where the machine gun-holding
officers stood, we arrived just after someone burned a large
dragon puppet and saw the fire engines. Several posts to Indymedia.org, which put the demonstrationís numbers at more
than 500,000 people, said the fire could have been set by provocateurs.
One witness who watched from the second story
of a pizza restaurant as the incident occurred wrote, "We saw what looked
like more than 20 people dressed in black, with masked faces and carrying black and red umbrellas. They were an unusually
large group for how a Black Bloc usually works. We noticed the group huddling together, and one of them rushed over to the
dragon and threw something in that obviously lit the thing. It went ablaze very quickly, it had to have been a gasoline fire.
Even the glass window of the pizza place was getting hot.
"The cops didn't seem to do what they otherwise
do to Ďensure that protestors don't get out of hand.í There were no arrests,
or even serious chases or attempts to catch these people as far as we observed. And the most interesting part is that this
happened right next to Madison Square Garden, right in front of the big ass Fox News sign, right in the center of all the
corporate news videocameras. I don't believe Ďthose young kidsí that we call anarchists would willfully set fire on a
[ĎDonít Just Voteí] float carried by fellow protesters. 2 words: PROVOCATEUR and COINTELPRO."
Another wrote, "For the record, the ones arrested
were not the ones who set the puppet on fire, but they had been standing
nearby when it happened. As my friend explained, no one there knew them and suspected they were undercover officers with
some kind of color-coded wrist band police use to identify their own so they won't arrest them."
Still another who knew the people who built the
dragon said it wasnít done by those creators, but the act "was likely a
action, on the part of activists who felt little obligation to solicit the consent of the people around them, despite the seriousness
of the act." Another added that an undercover officer could have done it and that "we canít jump to conclusions that it was
genuine protesters who did it."
Anyways, we were allowed to proceed, although
many people stopped in front of the convention site to listen to colorful
drummers and chant "Liar! Liar!" and "Go home!" Instead of making a u-turn to Union Square, some protesters found
Republican delegates hiding in Broadway theaters and restaurants and chanted sayings like, "Republican scum, your time
has come." Some blocked hotel entrances.
Others defied Republican Mayor Bloombergís order
not to rally in Central Park because they might damage the grass,
of all the weak excuses. As Mike said, the real reason Bloomberg and other Republicans didnít want us to rally in Central
Park was they didnít want anyone to get an accurate crowd count and know just how many people were there. Just like
Bush & Co. doesnít want anyone to count how many people are dying in Iraq. "Itís tougher to gain an accurate crowd
count when youíre in a long march, as opposed to being in one place at a rally," Mike noted.
While an initial Fox News report said only 5,000
people protested and CNN would only put the numbers at "tens of thousands,"
The New York Times quoted a police official who agreed with organizer United for Peace and Justice that the crowd was close
to 500,000. Thatís far larger than the previous largest protest at a national party convention, when a mere 12,000 people
demonstrated against the Republicans in 2000 in Philadelphia, according to the Boston Globe. Reports on the 1968 Democratic
Convention in Chicago put those protestsí numbers at around 10,000.
There were a few counter protesters, some of whom
amused themselves by calling fellow Americans "pinko communists."
Republican officials accused Democratic Party activists with organizing the protests, but the Washington Post noted "there was
no real sign of a Democratic Party hand at play. Democratic strategists, in fact, have talked of holding their breath, lest the
protests dissolve into violence or the Republicans turn them into caricatures of the left."
United for Peace and Justice and other organizing
groups deserve a lot of credit for pulling this demonstration off. And
many Americans who ignored the dire warnings and answered this call to action also deserve kudos. For everyone who
chose to show up, there were probably 100 others who wanted to be here.
We reminded America and the world that standing up to injustice, to lies, to corruption, to greed, is always the right thing to do.
Jackson Thoreau, a Washington, D.C.-area journalist,
contributed to Big Bush Lies, published by RiverWood Books and
available in bookstores across the country. Thoreau's new electronic book, The Strange Death of the Woman Who Filed
a Rape Lawsuit Against Bush & Other Things the Bush Administration Doesn't Want You to Know, can be read at http://www.geocities.com/jacksonthor/know.html. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
return to bartcop.com