Anti-RNC Demos Continue, Addressing Labor Issues, War, Media

Anti-RNC Demos Continue, Addressing Labor Issues, War, Media

by Benjamin Dangl, Amanda Luker, Andrew Kennis


The NewStandard

Though it has been almost a week since demonstrations against the RNC began in New York City, the protests show no sign of abating. Among the many rallies held today were demonstrations by organized labor, an event put on by the National Organization for Women, and a march against the corporate media.
A Long Line to Highlight an Even Bigger Problem

Shortly after a third day of the Republican National Convention dawned in New York City, several thousand people formed a symbolic unemployment line, which reportedly stretched more than three miles from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden along Broadway.

Demonstrators held oversized “pink slips” that read in bold print: “The next pink slip might be yours.” The demonstration lasted just eighteen minutes during the 8:00 hour. Organizers say almost 8,000 people participated this morning in the three-mile long line, intended to represent the 8.1 million unemployed Americans presently seeking jobs.

One participant named Josh told Reuters, “We’re here to demonstrate that never in America’s history since the Great Depression has there been such a consecutive loss of jobs as we’ve seen in the last four years.”

Washington-based nonprofit People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization, put the event together, with support from labor and other organizations.

Pickets Against Bush

In lower Manhattan, a daily picket line walked by workers for the last four months turned its focus to the RNC as well.

Union members gather for two hours every morning at the intersection of Broad St. and Exchange to vent their anger at construction work being done by poorly compensated, non-union workers. But, with the Republican National Convention in town this week, the regular rally took a different if related focus.

“We’re here, we’re defending the middle class,” Elfren Reinaldo Torres, an organizer with the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association Local 28, told the crowd of about 200-250 people. “Without the unions there’d be no middle class, there’s no doubt about it. The other party wants rich and poor, that’s it. They’d be happy if we were all making minimum wage at Walmart.”

According to Torres, steamfitters, electricians, plumbers, iron workers and others attend the daily picket, which is organized by the Building and Construction Trades Council of New York and Vicinity. Torres says they plan to continue protesting until Brooklyn developer Shaya Boymelgreen, in charge of the construction on the 40-story building at 15 Broad Street, relents and allows the union to organize all the workers on the project.

Dennis Lynch, of the Ornamental Iron Workers Local 580, said the Republicans who have descended upon Manhattan this week “should of never come” to New York. “These are the same guys who are always union-busting.”

Labor Day Rally

Later in the day, thousands of union members flooded the streets south of the Convention center for a large labor rally. By 4 p.m., several blocks along 8th Avenue were densely packed with pro-union and anti-Bush demonstrators, most in union garb.

Police set up wooden and metal barricades at each intersection, which kept participants from merging with those occupying other blocks. In effect, each block was a separate rally spot, complete with large screens showing images from the stage every two blocks south from 27th St., and giant speakers at the corner of each block.

“That’s been the policy for the last several years,” said Michael Hom, a member of Transportation Workers Union local 100. “They separate the blocks and build a maze out of gates at the entrance.”

Hom also complained about the rally itself. “I’ve never seen people speak so softly,” he said. “It’s as if we’re in church.”

New Jersey Communication Workers of America organizer Anne Luck said she was happy with the rally, though the heavy police presence and barriers seemed unnecessary. As for the Republican National Convention being held in New York City, Luck said it should have never happened.

“It is so important to get Bush out of office,” Luck said. “And all these people here, and plenty of others who aren’t, know it.”

Dennis O’Neill, an antiwar activist and member of the American Postal Workers Union, said this election is more important than any, even those in the Vietnam Era, which he lived through. O’Neill expects that labor will vote in larger numbers than the general population, and most of those votes will be cast for Kerry. But he worries that all the effort expended to elect Kerry may hurt other movements after the election, should Kerry win.

“I think that labor’s anger toward Bush will be heard,” O’Neill said. “But it’s important not to dissolve the momentum and action of other movements entirely into the ‘elect Kerry’ campaign. We’re going to be keeping Kerry honest once he’s elected. I think a general labor rally should be scheduled for the Saturday or Sunday directly after the election, no matter who wins.”

Numerous labor union contingents attended the rally including: Communications Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Service Employees International Union; Unite HERE!; Teamsters; United Federation of Teachers; Utility Workers; the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees; the Hotel and Motel Trades Council; and many others.

‘March on the Media’

This evening about a thousand people gathered in front of the CBS building on Avenue of the Americas and 52nd St. for the beginning of a “March on the Media.”

Sponsored by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Paper Tiger TV, and others, the march roved around to several corporate media buildings in Midtown Manhattan. Demonstrators rallied outside giants CBS, CNN, and FOX.

Sheehan Grant, 30, who is a student at New York University, said, “I’m here specifically this evening at the media protest because I feel the media has a long reach as far as the most effective means to reach people, but it is framed in a way in which dissent is being hindered.”

Dave Robinson, 45, a musician from New York, said: “Corporate media is completely complicit with the craziness that is going on. There is the war in Iraq. The media had no problem swallowing the bullshit of the WMDs, the ties between Al-Qaeda.”

He continued: “The media is very much to blame for giving Bush a free pass after the 2000 elections. I don’t know who rolled over more, the media or the Democrats.”

Alicia Lacher, a 58 year-old unemployed New Yorker, was carrying a sign that bore the logo of CNN on one side and on the other side read “All Strike For Living Wage.” She explained her sign and participation in the march: “Nobody is talking about living wage. The media isn’t covering this at all.”

Ellie Ommani, 59, from Westchester County, said: “I came to this one because the media is a complete tool of the White House. It is not an independent media. People are sick and tired of hearing the same old coverage on the television. The media basically exists just to sell commodities. We came to tell the corporate media that we want the airwaves back because they belong to us.

The more immediate relevance of their criticism was not lost on the demonstrators, either. Many expressed the belief that coverage of the numerous protests outside the RNC over the previous several days, or the lack of such coverage, exemplified their concern.

“The media coverage of the RNC protests is not surprising,” Ommani said. “It goes along with a lot of the things about traffic and delays and putting this in an economic perspective and trying to get people to feel sort of adversarial about protesters as an economic hindrance or time hindrance when this is in fact the sole mode of dissent we have during the course of this week, and it hasn’t been covered at all, except the sensational parts.”

‘Eyes Wide Open’

Throughout the week Union Square has been a main gathering point for demonstrators, media and police. Today proved no different.

The American Friends Service Committee brought its “Eyes Wide Open” display to the park, setting out 978 military boots, one for each US service member killed in Iraq, and 1,000 ‘civilian shoes’ to represent the 11,000-16,000 civilians the group says have died since the US-led invasion of that country last year.

AFSC member Rowena Daly said the exhibit, which has been touring the country for several months, would be reassembled at Washington Square on Thursday.

Donna Albanese, a New York resident browsing the memorial, said she was returning from St. Marks Church, where people were reading the names of all the people, military and civilian, who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“It’s the same as the Vietnam era,” commented Albanese, whose shirt is festooned with antiwar, anti-Bush and pro-Kerry buttons. “The people who are gung-ho about war, I don’t care about them. But the kids who didn’t really want to go to war, my heart goes out to them. And even more to all the Iraqis, especially the children, who have died as a result of this war and occupation. I resent the way the Republicans are using my city and the way they use 9/11.”

Albanese expressed happiness with the various protests against the RNC, including the more confrontational actions of the previous day. “I think it’s a beautiful thing, these people risking arrest and standing up for what they believe,” she said. “That’s true patriotism. God bless all those people who are willing to do that.”

© 2004 The NewStandard. See reprint policy.