I was one of the lucky ones yesterday, at the anti-war demonstration in NYC. That is, New York’s finest (the cops) actually graciously allowed my daughter, her fiance, and me to join the stationary “rally” for which a permit had been given… That is, after the courts had denied a permit for an anti-war march.
We wanted to join a small “feeder march” being assembled by the Quakers at 53d St & 2nd Ave. We arrived on the V-line subway from Brooklyn, got out at 51st and 3d Ave, hoped to cross easily to 2nd Avenue to find the Quakers. (“We’ll just listen carefully for where there’s a big silence,” I told the future son-in-law.)
Fat chance. The cops were not letting anyone cross to 2nd Ave, even. (The rally was in 1st Ave.) At every intersection they had closely guarded barriers, and they funneled us ever further north with promises that we could cross eastward one or two blocks further up… Thousands of anti-war demonstrators from many parts of NYC and elsewhere were being herded north– away from the rally–but moving along good-naturedly. We became quite a large group of people moving north along the broad sidewalks. Why, it even looked like a march!
At 59th St, they finally let us cross east. By then, it was too late to join the Quaker group, so we walked right on over to 1st Ave and walked a couple of blocks south to join the main body of the rally between 56th and 57th Sts. We “arrived” there at just about noon, the time the event was scheduled to begin. We could not see the head of the rally at all, but watched the whole event on a large screen half a block ahead of us.
The prayers and invocations at the beginning were very moving: a black Baptist Bishop, a Muslim imam, a woman rabbi, a Hispanic Catholic, and the keening prayer of the Chief of the Lakota Sioux. Then, there was an amazing constellation of speakers, including my old favorite Archbishop Tutu. Pete Seeger came out, despite the intense cold and his advancing years, and led a song. The crowd around us stamped their feet or jogged in place to try to get warm. Some notable signs I saw: “Stop mad cowboy disease”, “Duct and cover!” and even a quote from Ovid pinned to someone’s backpack.
Shortly after 2 p.m., I needed to leave. Getting out of the pens the police had made for us was almost as hard as getting in. When I did make it back to 2nd Ave, and then again at 3d Ave– each time, there were barricades up with the police still preventing people from moving east to 1st Ave. Some of those people had been trying to get through for the past two hours. Mostly, the police just seemed businesslike and very firm, stamping their feet and exchanging grimaces about the dire cold.
At one of the intersections I passed on my way out, however, the police were all in riot gear, unlike all the others I’d seen. They were standing around seemingly just spoiling for a fight. Nearby were parked coaches from the prison department, ready, I surmised, to be loaded with arrestees. I didn’t have time to stop and make a clear assessment, however.
And just about all the way over to where I got on the F train at 63rd and Lexington, the traffic was at a complete standstill…
The effect of the court order banning a march, and of the way the police then played their role, was that a lot of people who had come to join the event, including some who’d come hundreds of miles to do so, were prevented from exercising their right to assemble peacefully. Probably, the effects on traffic and on non-demonstrating New Yorkers, were just as bad or worse than what would have been caused by allowing a well-planned march. The police ended up making a hundred or fewer arrests. But they certainly cleaned up on their overtime.
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DRIVING HOME WITH GARRISON KEILLOR: After the rally I drove south. I had dinner with a family friend at Haverford College, in Philly; drove some more; got in late to the home of another friend in DC; left the car outside; went to bed totally knackered
This morning, I found DC magically blanketed in 7 inches of fresh snow, and more coming all the time. I was eager to get back to my hearth and home here in Charlottesville, Va., and figured the going would only get worse for the next couple of days.
It took 40 mins to dig the car out. I knew the drive would be tough but I had warm clothes, food, water, a cellphone, and set off around the beltway to I-66.
The first couple of hours, I had “Prairie Home Companion” on the radio. Garrison Keillor was hilarious. I really haven’t listened much to him recently.
The most hilarious parts were when he was skewering the Bush administration. Lots of jokes about duct tape– of course. And then, a great riff when they were talking about reports that the “Rapture” long awaited by the evangelicals had just taken place. (Asked whether this was true, the ‘President’ said, “Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?”) I shouldn’t spoil the suspense, in case you’re waiting for the re-runs. But I will just reveal that most of the truly righteous souls taken to glory in the Rapture turned out to be Lutherans…
Here’s the thing, though. If even fairly mainstream entertainers like Garrison Keillor are so openly mocking of the Bushies’ present war preparations and scaremongering, shouldn’t the Bushies be paying a lot more attention to that?
Here’s another thing. I wasn’t around in the US during the Vietnam war. And I know the American involvement there grew up differently from the assembling and possibly imminent activation of a massive invasion force that we see around Iraq today.
But it strikes me that the kind of coalition that I saw firsthand in New York– labor unions, black and Latino organizations, churches and other faith groups, public intellectuals, members of the US Congress, etc etc– is a pretty impressive anti-war force to have assembled already… and thus far, the “really big” phase of the war hasn’t even been launched.
Plus, the international dimension of the peace movement is very evident, and very important. We were trying to rally near the U.N., where just the day before French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin received unprecedented applause for his plea to try to avoid war. We were rallying, too, on the same day as millions of other folks from all round the world…
This is not the 1960s. The worldwide anti-war forces are, I firmly believe, in far stronger shape today.
And then, duct tape??? These guys simply can’t be serious.