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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Anniversary Peace March

From the Streets Dept.: It was cold that day in March, 2004, so I’m adding this reminiscence to some souvenirs for cold-weather week.


“THERE’S A COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION UP AHEAD,” the young man shouted. “Don’t listen to them. Just keep moving. Keep moving. Don’t listen to them.” He wore a tag identifying him as a volunteer with International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), one of the groups responsible for coordinating Saturday’s protest march in New York and many other cities across the country and around the world. The most recent such march in New York, in Feb. 2003, resulted in over two hundred arrests, a statistic the organizers sought to avoid.

NYC, 21 March 2004 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Avoid it they did. The turnout, estimated by the city police to be 40,000 and by ANSWER to be more like 100,000, was an energetic, determined group, but cooperative enough that there were only four disorderly conduct arrests, and three of those weren’t even on the parade route.

The protest began at 23rd St. and Madison Ave., where the growing crowd listened to a succession of speakers that included Dennis Kucinich. Police again used metal barricades to block side-street access as the gathering filled, sending newcomers north for access to Madison Ave. The march itself began at about 1:30, traveling west across 23rd St. to 6th Ave., north to 40th St., east to Madison and back down to 23rd, where more speakers closed the program.

Along the way were the sights and sounds typical of these events: banners and flags and individual signs, costumes and painted faces, music and dance. And the chants that rippled through the crowd: “Hey hey, ho ho, Bush and Cheney got to go!” “What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!”

But the sense of exhilaration was tempered by a sense of resignation. A year ago it still seemed possible to alter the government’s reckless warmongering; now there’s no end in sight and a demonstrated disdain for rallies such as this. “We’ve got a Democratic presidential candidate who talks about being our war president,” said Bob Rosen, a freelance writer who lives in Manhattan, “so how much can we hope for?”

Even the few confrontations along the route seemed half-hearted. An anti-Israel enclave brandished its own anti-war posters on the corner of 40th and 6th, but prompted only a few catcalls. A small contingent of Billionaires for Bush seemed to confuse many of the passing marchers, who failed to grasp the satire that underlies the group’s street theater performances.

Press reports were even more lackluster than usual. The Sunday New York Times relegated it to the third page of the second section and it barely appeared within the pages of the New York Post. Only the Daily News ran a front-page photo with the hopeful headline “Peace.”

Nevertheless, organizers sought to put the best possible face on the event. “The streets of New York City were filled with people united in their opposition to the Bush program of war,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice and member of the ANSWER Coalition steering committee. “Members of the Arab and Muslim community marched shoulder to shoulder with military families and veterans demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq.”

Reuters estimated the global turnout as more than a million in the 45 countries where protests took place on Saturday. About 50,000 people marched in San Francisco; 1,000 gathered in Crawford, Texas, where George W. Bush owns a ranch, and 1,500 veterans and military families assembled outside Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The Manhattan march was chaperoned by over 6,000 police officers, a much larger presence than has been seen before, accompanied by the usual contingent of helicopters and surveillance cameras. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was booed as he briefly walked the route; he later gave his approval of the police department’s work and noted that this was a preview of the kind of security the city planned to use during the Republican National Convention, a weeklong event that begins Aug. 29.

An upbeat mood persisted even after the protesters dispersed. People sported anti-war  buttons on the subway and in restaurants, and talked about the convention and upcoming election. “It was a good event,” said Rosen. “I try not to get cynical about it. I can remember marching and shouting, ‘Fuck Mayor Lindsay! Free the Panthers!’ You work up a lot of hope, a lot of energy. But they’re saying only 40,000 people here today? You can find that any given day in Yankee Stadium, where people pay to get in.”

Metroland Magazine, 25 March 2004

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