Daily Blog Entries From RNC in NYC

Daily Blog Entries From RNC in NYC

By Benjamin Dangl

The NewStandard

NYC Prepares for RNC

Greetings from NYC! This is the first of the blogging I hope to do while here. The amount of activity going on in the city in response to the RNC is incredible. Even the top of the Empire State Building is decked out in red, white and blue lights.

I’ve heard a few excited accounts of the critical mass bike ride yesterday, Aug. 27, which wove all over Manhattan before stopping at St. Mark’s Church. BBC reported that approximately 5000 bikers participated, 264 were arrested.

Jamie O’Shea, a friend of mine who was there, said “It was at least five blocks long. When we were in motion, I feel like we could’ve gone on forever. We took over Times Square so that no cars could get in. It seemed next to impossible for the police to stop us. We kept almost every car out of the street. I saw one sign on the back of a bike that said, ‘Bicycling, a quiet statement against oil wars.’ Beyond a statement like this, I wasn’t attaching political significance to the ride. If I was trying to say something to people watching, it was as simple as ‘ride a bike.’ I think conservatives should ride bikes too. The city is a nicer place when the streets are run with bikes and not cars.”

A lot of discussion was still going on today about the city’s failure to issue to a permit for a rally in Central Park on Sunday.

Sydney Gillet, a nurse from California attending the bell ringing memorial service at the World Trade Center site, commented on the city’s decision regarding the permit. “I think it’s absurd, I think it is just going to invite more problems. I mean the argument about the grass! They’ve spent what – $65 million on security. It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a bogus argument in my opinion. I plan to go there, I am sure most people plan to go there.”

It is likely to be a wild day tomorrow.

An army of security officials will be there to meet the demonstration. According the to NY Times, the largest group of police and military forces ever assembled to provide security at a national political gathering are in New York for the RNC. The 37, 000-member NYPD has been allotted a security budget of $60 million dollars, which is larger than all but 19 of the world’s standing armies.
More tomorrow…

What a Day!

Phew! What a day. Four years of activism, anger and inventive responses to the Bush agenda seemed to have been converging in this rollicking UFPJ march, (and week’s events.) There were amazing marching bands and plenty of hilarious costumes mimicking the Bush regime. The protest chants became louder and more enraged as we neared Madison Square Garden, where a sign welcomed the Republicans, police lined the street and an enormous Fox News bill board overlooked it all.

The protest signs represented a feeling that it was time to take off the gloves and fight dirty. Here are just a few I jotted down:

We’re tired of dying for your fucking agenda
G. W. Bush kills people so that soccer moms can go off-roading
Terror is the price of empire
When’s the shit head gonna stop the killing?
Red alert: GOP in town
Bush needs to re-read the bible
Bush killed 14,000
Counting bodies like sheep
Bush lied about his keg stands
Christian Cokeheads for Bush
Drop names not Bombs
Vote like you will never vote again

Many of the activists that I spoke with strongly disliked Bush and were outraged that the Republicans chose NY as the site for their convention. For many, the Iraq war was a huge issue.

Maria, a retired nurse from Long Island said, “I came here today because I do not believe in the war, I believe in peace. We need jobs for work and education. The protest is a success, but Kerry is a continuation of Bush. So it is a devil with different horns.”

Will, a student from Colorado, was participating in a pro-Bush demonstration near Madison Square Garden. His reasons for demonstrating were: “Everybody in the media hears mostly about the liberal protestors. They don’t hear about the conservative ones. We’re in the silent majority, and we are just trying to get our views across.” I thought again about the huge Fox News ad near the Republican convention center…

Quotes from Youth March and Central Park Rally

On Aug. 29 a youth feeder march began at 10am at Columbus Circle and left on 5th Ave. towards Union Square. Roughly 400 people participated in the youth march and most of them were high school or college students.

Instead of negotiating with the city for a permit before the march, this coalition of youth and student activist groups from NY decided to negotiate as they went along, avoiding lengthy applications and paperwork. Due to the size of the turnout, the police allowed the march to proceed along one lane of 5th Avenue, instead of limiting the group to the sidewalk.

Instead of negotiating with the city for a permit before the march, this coalition of youth and student activist groups from NY decided to negotiate as they went along, avoiding lengthy applications and paperwork. Due to the size of the turnout, the police allowed the march to proceed along one lane of 5th Avenue, instead of limiting the group to the sidewalk.

Peter Lo’Re, an organizer of the march, and student from Hunter College said, “We negotiated the street by talking with the cops this morning, so we have one lane, which is a huge success actually. In this case it is easier for both us and the police.”
The march continued down 5th Avenue and fed into the larger UFPJ march which left from Union Square at around noon.

Before leaving Columbus circle, Lo’Re addressed the crowd of activists: “Repeat after me: we are youth, we are students, we are against the occupation of Iraq and the Bush administration! Here is the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild…”

There were no arrests during the march. Many bystanders were surprised to see the protesters, but all that I spoke with were sympathetic to their demands, many commenting, “It’s fine with me; they’re exercising their 1st amendment right.”

Jon, an employee at the Brooks Brothers clothing store on 5th Avenue watched the march go past and commented on the police presence, “The police don’t bother me. I am used to that. Come to Brooklyn and you’ll see them all over the place.”

Rafi Rom, 21, a paralegal with Community Health Services in Phildelphia, PA spoke of the presence the youth march had in the weekend’s events. “With the youth contingent, it is a matter of demonstrating that young people are in fact very politically active and although we have low voter turnout rates, we can still work together and have a significant impact on the political process. And this is just one way to get people hyped about getting involved in politics or identifying with other people their own age.”

Whitney Richards-Calathes, 18, a student from Bronx, NY and an organizer of the march commented on why she was participating in the event. “The Bush agenda clearly isn’t working, especially for youth and students. We have the program of No Child Left Behind, yet a college graduate has trouble finding a job in our economy. Tuition prices are going up, the funding for education is going down. And people who are our age are being sent to Iraq to die for no reason. It’s important for youth and students to work together, and realize that we do have a voice and that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. We need to be in solidarity with one and other.”

Though many denounced the Bush administration’s political agenda and the war in Iraq, few activists were excited about the prospects of a John Kerry administration. One sign read, “2 Parties, 1 System, No Choice”

Kate Crockford, a student from Bard College, spoke of the two candidates. “It sucks that we have a choice between minor fascism and mega fascism, in Kerry and Bush.”

Dale Peterson, and architect from New York and father to a couple of the activists in attendance said, “I don’t agree a hundred percent with Kerry, but I think that if we learned anything four years ago, it was that it matters a hell of a lot who is the president and there is no question that with a democratic administration you’re gonna have more caution when it comes to going to war and more attention to social issues. Are you going to satisfy everyone in this march? No. But is it going to be better than what the Bush people are doing? I don’t think there is any question.”

Organizer Lo’Re said, “This is the largest show of force against the war since February 15th. We need to sustain this energy through November 2nd and past November 2nd, because whoever wins, the war is still going to be going on.”

Central Park Rally

Despite, or perhaps because of, the city’s decision to not allow a UFPJ rally in Central Park on Aug. 29, one took place anyway.

As the UFPJ march passed Madison Square Garden and headed onto 5th Avenue, many activists decided to leave the permitted route and head to the park. The slow and steady exodus began at 4pm and continued for a couple of hours. 5th Avenue heading north was completely blockaded by police so activists went around to 6th and 7th Ave. or took the subway to arrive at Central Park.

The rally had a festive feel to it, with music playing and people just lounging around and talking.

Bill, environmental scientist from Brooklyn arrived at the event later in the afternoon. “I went down to Union Square, there wasn’t really anything organized at all, so I came up here. I think the thing with Central Park was political. I don’t think that was a justified argument for not having people rally here.”

Jarod Bushie, a Republican who was volunteering at the RNC also believed the UFPJ activists should’ve been able to rally in the park. “I think it was a bad decision to not let the demonstrators into Central Park. We’re spending a lot of money on security; I think we can throw down a little grass seed to give everybody a common place to meet up.”

Barely any police were at the event, which dispersed slowly as the evening wore on. Rather than the expected violence and clashes with police, the event was very peaceful

Another full day of events

Another full day of events. Started out at the Poor People’s March which left from Union Square around 12:45 and headed to Madison square garden. It was a hot and humid day and whenever there was a pause in the action, many took to the shade to recuperate a bit.

One thing that struck me immediately about the Poor People’s march was that the chanting and cheering seemed more energetic and passionate than what I heard at the UFPJ march. It was relentless. Maybe it was just where I was in the UFPJ march, but there seemed to be a constant flow of chanting and singing that sounded like the people really meant it. The diversity of the NGOs and groups present was impressive.

The rally at the end was interesting but disappointing due to the fact that a police-blockaded road stood between the protesters and the stage/speakers. One policeman I spoke with said it was for security reasons and to allow delegates through to Madison Square Garden. It made one of the few permitted rallies weaker and divided.

The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) was similar to the Poor People’s March in themes and participation. This group had a permit for a rally but not a march, so organizers and activists in attendance chose to march anyway, in spite of heavy police presence. The cops cooperated with the group in as far as they allowed activists to march toward Madison Square Garden via an indirect route.

One thing that has struck me already after a quick glance at mainstream news sources is that there is next to no coverage of the protests and activist events now that the convention is underway. Unfortunately, this might turn out to be true for the rest of the week as well, unless something grabs their attention.

Johnny Cash and the ‘Arrest Everyone’ Police Strategy

August 31 was full of impromptu protests and civil disobedience. All across the city protests sputtered to life, small marches converged into larger rallies, disparate activists with signs and on bikes paraded the streets – and the cops were there to methodically squash it all.

The amount of arrests was ridiculous – 1,100 in one day. 100 people over what even Mayor Bloomberg had “prepared” for. Towards evening it seemed every where I went, people had either just been arrested or were about to be.

Minutes before I arrived at the NY Public library, a group of protesters were arrested. They were all being led onto a bus with a window by the time I arrived, many of them waving peace signs through the window. More than a few did not look like protesters at all and sat in the bus even more bewildered and confused than the others. I imagine one minute they had been crossing the street to go home from work or go out to eat, and then next they were being corralled into an orange mesh net and handcuffed.

Down at Herald Square where Chris Matthew’s “Hard Ball” on MSNBC was being aired, a massive group of demonstrators had gathered to heckle the delegates as they passed by in buses to the convention. Around 8:30 pm a group of twelve people in hoods linked arms and sat down in the street. Hordes of camera crews circled the group immediately, snapping and filming away. What struck me was that though there were hundreds of reporters and press people there from a mixture of mainstream press, virtually none of them asked the activists any questions – they just wanted a good shot.

Then things started to get a little out of hand. Thirteen horses (with police on top) arrived to scare everyone. Then a couple hundred more marchers showed up via another street and this scared the cops. Tensions rose and before long the group of protesters was being squeezed down 35th street and into a wall of police mopeds. Again, a number of bystanders, including two member of the national lawyers guild and people who were just walking out of a nearby restaurant were arrested, 150 total.
It seems the police have been less and less tolerant of protesters as the RNC wears on. As we near the day Bush will give his acceptance speech, their strategy seems to be “arrest everyone,” just in case.

Johnny Cash Republican Event

On August 31, activists in attendance of a showing of Johnny Cash’s belongings to Republican delegates were outraged that the Republicans were using Cash’s legacy to help fund their agenda. “Cash wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat, he was a rebel,” Aaron, a literature professor from NYC explained. “He stood up for the working class time and time again. It’s disgraceful, it’s sacrilegious!”

Most of the group of 400 activists were wearing black in homage to their musical hero. Guitarists strummed Cash hits and the crowd song along.

Ethan, a young artist from Brooklyn said,” Cash was a man of the people. These delegates live in this illusion that there is no dissent in this country, and we want to make it known there are dissidents out there.”

The largest sign at the event read: “Send Bush to Fulsom Prison.”

If a Tree Falls in the Woods…

If something happens (ie: a tree falls in the woods) and no one is there to report on it, does it make a sound? The question came to mind more than once this week.

Before the RNC, pundits and media folks were blabbing about how this year’s RNC was going to be a re-enactment of Chicago in ’68. When it didn’t turnout to be, some from the mainstream media seemed disappointed, especially after lugging all their gear out there on a hot day.

From today’s NY Times:

“It is almost easier to explain what you are not getting here,” said Ted Koppel, anchor and managing editor of ABC’s “Nightline,” when he was asked why news organizations have given little time to the protests. “What you are not getting here is a replay of 1968 in Chicago.”

Why, Ted, gravitate towards what it easier to explain? Asleep at the wheel? Don’t care?

Dave Robinson, 45, a musician from NY who was participating in a march against corporate media on Wednesday 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. They just weren’t there. 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. 9-11 was very beneficial to the president, because at that point, people were beginning to realize that he didn’t have a clue.”

From the same NY Times article on the RNC:

“If the protesters do something outrageous, they benefit Bush; if they don’t do something outrageous they don’t get covered,” said Kieran Mahoney, a Republican political consultant from New York. “They are the answer to the question, ‘If a tree falls in the forest, does it make any noise?’ “

Do Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson make a sound…? Guess so.

The activist events this week have been incredible. I’ve never been to a week long activism bonanza like this that has kept its momentum each day until the very end, (and hopefully beyond.) I guess that’s what happens when you host a Republican convention in a city that hates Republicans; it’s really easy for the activists to get to the marches.

I hope the effects and messages from this week’s events reach across the country. Those involved certainly gave it their all: NYC Indymedia, the medics, the lawyer’s guild, the NYCLU and the activists, organizers and on and on, it was an amazing feat.

Disappearing Dissidents at Herald Square

One of the more chilling experiences I had this week was on the day of civil disobedience (A31) when cops were rounding up 150 people after corralling them into a wall of mopeds and cuffing them.

I have read and talked with people about the “Dirty War” in Argentina, and the disappearances of people under the Pinochet regime in Chile. Luckily I had never witnessed anything that was similar to those horrible accounts of kidnapping, torture and disappearance, until Tuesday evening.

It was far from what went on in Argentina in the seventies, but close enough to scare the hell out of me. It was around 9pm, when people were being lined up and put into the paddy wagon. Men and women of all ages looked like deer blinded by the cop car headlights and flashes from cameras, amazed and wondering, possibly if this was actually happening to them at all.

The National Lawyers Guild was asking everyone for their names in order to help them get out of jail and keep track of who was being arrested. Each person said his or her name in a different way. Sometimes it was detached, other times excited. Some people didn’t say their name at all. But this one man, in his thirties I would say, normal looking person in a blue shirt walked up to the paddy wagon with a cop on each arm, turned his head and pronounced his name to the NLG legal observers. The way he said it was sad; he was sad that this was happening to him and a little afraid of what might happen next. His name was the only rescue line he could throw out there before the doors of the paddy wagon shut behind him.

It was eerie.

The flashing lights, the variety of detainees, cops in riot gear, feds videotaping the crowds, the important looking men in suits telling everyone to get the hell out of the way and stay on the god damn sidewalk – it all seemed like a replay of stories I had heard of dictatorships in Latin America.

Maybe I am looking into this a little too much, but at the time I wondered how long it would be until we ever saw those people again. They threw their names at us, and one final look. Often that’s all that’s left of the disappeared in Latin America; a name and a snap shot, tens of thousands of them.

I am not saying we are living in a military dictatorship…yet. Luckily, the justice system worked well enough and there were enough people fighting to free these people that most of the detainees from the RNC are out, (I think.) They’re not without some horror stories from Pier 57, where they were detained. But how many others in this post 9-11 dissident/terrorist/immigrant round-up have actually disappeared?

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