A Word from a Convention Demonstrator
Posted 12th April 2005
I’m in New York for one of my interminable dental appointments, but, more importantly, to bear witness and participate in a couple of the innumerable smaller, often improvised, demonstrations that are scheduled to take place during the Republican convention. I feel guilty for I have missed the big march on August 29th, but receive an account of it from a close friend.
My friend recounts joining the march behind a performance group, Billionaires for Bush, who dressed in tuxedos and faux evening gowns, roar out satirical slogans like “Four More Wars” and “Free Ken Lay.” And then of continuing to march following a group of women all dressed in pink - the “Pink Slip Brigade” - who shout in unison “Give Bush the Pink Slip.” From my friend’s vantage point, it seemed a generally peaceful march - the humidity making people too enervated to be disruptive. Nothing in his description of the march jibed in any way with the virulently right wing New York Post’s next day headline - “GOP Bash.”
On Tuesday evening I wander through Union Square where a demonstration is scheduled. I can’t find the demo, but there a few thousand people milling about - a veritable political carnival. I see members of the Falun Gong sect, eyes closed, meditating, Trotskyites selling newspapers that preach class revolution, a feverish, unshaven man unfurling a large handmade banner calling for the mutiny of our troops in Iraq, street people smoking dope and banging on drums, and many others (graduate students, graphic artists), carrying signs or wearing a variety of T-shirts with anti-Bush slogans - some witty, others witless and profane. There are also helmeted police surrounding the Square, looking a touch ominous. However, only one incident breaks out, and the crowd is soon pacified.
The next day I briefly take part in The Unemployment Line, a symbolic line representing the 1.2 million jobs lost overall since March 2000, and the more than eight million Americans who are currently unemployed. I am part of a row of mostly middle aged and older professionals - medical researchers, therapists (more than 5,000 people), each of us holding a pink slip, lining the streets from Broadway and Wall St., up to 31st St. and then west along 31st St to 7th Ave. - right across from the site of the Republican National Convention. It’s a stirring gesture.
Early Wednesday evening I decide to go with a friend to a Central Labor Council rally that attracts a wide range of union locals - some from heavily minority unions like the hospital and transit workers, and others from preponderantly white and male craft unions like the plumbers, ironworkers, and electricians. A few of the workers carry anti-war signs, but most of the speeches deal with job layoffs, tax cuts for the rich, the right to overtime pay, and the need for affordable health care, rather than our Iraq policies.
I’m moved by the fact that there are a great many workers angry enough to attend an anti-Bush rally. And though the speakers are far from rousing, and the audience seemingly a bit impassive (though a few supportive remarks from Sopranos star, James Gandolfini, drew wild cheers) - the unionists’ opposition to Bush and his anti-labour policies was clearly heartfelt.
Some of the other protests include groups of young artists like the Rude Mechanical Orchestra performing a wide range of music (e.g., Bosnian and Turkish songs) giving the words an anti-Bush slant. Also, a vigil for the fallen soldiers of the Iraq War is advertised for Thursday carrying the sentiment: “On the day Bush is nominated WE Remember He Lied and They Died.
Clearly, my experience of the New York demos is fragmentary. I never get to see the more than 1500 protestors and ordinary bystanders that were arrested, or the few violent acts that take place. I’m grateful so far that the demonstrators have been non-violent, and have not provided campaign fodder for the Republicans.
I feel an existential need to protest, though I know it will probably have little political effect. But the Convention has demonstrated yet again how gifted the Republicans are at distorting and simplifying the Democrats’ positions, and how brutally they play the political game. In this election I feel that to be merely an intelligent observer is to acquiesce to a juggernaut whose will to win has no moral limits.