CBS News said this morning that the demonstration yesterday was the biggest ever at any American political convention. I assume that includes 1968. Eventually I’ll get around to explaining the title for this blog, but this will be more or less straight reporting.
What I’m interested in is the mood, the general tone, the feelings and passions behind what’s happening. So I’ll start with Saturday. It was one of those hazy, hot, humid NYC August days when it’s like breathing under water, early enough so that there were still plenty of people from the woman’s march in City Hall Park, late enough to start thinking about Ring Out down by the WTC site. I was on my way to the deli. Next to me on the street was a guy on a bike staring hard at the sky. I looked up, too. Looming out of the haze, really low, was the NYPD blimp, a gaudy Fuji blimp they’ve rented for the convention and fitted out with the latest Si Fi technology. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. What was it doing HERE? There was nothing going on in the West Village. It was sinister and creepy. I’d have been less creeped out if it had been a UFO. When I compared notes with him, the guy on the bike said he felt the same way. He pulled his camera out of his pocket and photographed it. I didn’t take mine out of my purse and photograph it. It’s an image that will stay with me forever, but the thought of photographing THEM while it was photographing US photographing THEM was just too Si Fi, too surreal, for me to play the game.
Sunday morning I had to go to the drugstore. I wasn’t planning to go straight to the demonstration from there, but it took so long to fill my prescription that I went over to 7th Ave. afterwards without going home for my camera. The Village was in its usual late August where’s the party mood, people coming out of the churches I passed, groups of potential demonstrators heading towards Seventh Ave. with everyone in a good mood. The humidity had dropped a little, and there was a breeze. There was the constant drone of many helicopters, and the silent presence of that Fuji blimp. Not too bad a day, at least near the river. I didn’t have to go far up 7th Ave. to reach the demonstrators because the crowd was so huge. Since I broke my leg and have a pin in it, I can’t walk as far as the march was going, and I knew from past experience that when you’re in a march all you see is the group you’re with as the crowd pushes you along. I wanted to observe this, so I went home to watch it on C-SPAN. I’m glad I did. There’s no way to observe all of a demonstration of this size, except by helicopter or from a blimp. MSNBC was occasionally giving reports from Union Square, where the march was to end. NY1 was doing an unexpectedly terrible job of reporting, spending more time interviewing two officials about security than on the march itself. The other channels were essentially ignoring it.
The demonstrators started passing Madison Square Garden at noon, and this continued until 4:30 PM. I don’t know whether everyone got up there, or whether the police decided that was enough and cut it off. This was one truly massive river of people, every possible age, race, and ethnic group, at first rather heavily white, largely baby boomers and older. The oldest woman interviewed was 77 and had managed to get there from New Jersey, but at least one person there was 90. The crowd rather quickly became more mixed, with occasional drums, trumpets, and even bands playing mostly music from Latin America. It was as things were getting a bit hedonistic that the Dragon Float was set on fire; the police handled this, I thought, pretty professionally. They had to get the crowd to move away; this was dangerous. It was also damned annoying since all it accomplished was to disrupt the march. You’ll hear a lot on the news about the angry demonstration. Of course there was anger, but the mood went far, far beyond anger. One sign said, “They Stole Our Anguish.” Meaning the city’s anguish and pain since 9/11. The vast majority of the signs were variations on “Bush Lies.” Yeah, they’ve caught on to this. The mood was more anti-Bush than anti-war. Although there were plenty of anti-war signs and banners, Bush is being blamed for a lot more going wrong than the war. Unfortunately, the mood was vastly more one of desperation about getting rid of Bush no matter how than pro-Kerry. There were very few pro-Kerry signs.
Warning for today: There were a lot of arrests, no reliable figures yet, maybe around 200, maybe as many as 400. Many of these had nothing to do with the demonstration itself. A lot of them were people on bicycles. Police Commissioner Kelly has a thing about bicycles. He said on TV that activists often come in on bicycles. That may be true, but this is a city where people routinely ride bikes! Be very careful riding your bike around town for the next few days. Also, if you’re doing the tourist thing and want to take photos of landmarks, no matter who you are, Democrat or Republican, don’t do that. If there are any police around and you want to take pictures, ask them first if it’s OK. If you don’t, you might be in for a big shock. Nobody wants to be arrested for being a terrorist spy.
I hate Kelly, for reasons that date back to his previous appointment as police commissioner. He’s a total cynic who controls crime by moving it around the city, and I might write about this later because he’s doing this to us again. I do not hate those noble souls who serve in the New York police department who are doing their duty in spite of the fact they haven’t had a contract for two years now. Someone — unfortunately I forget who so I can’t give credit — researched the instructions Kelly has given to the police department about what to watch out for during the convention. Much of the information about what demonstrators are likely to do is an outright lie; much of it exaggeration. Anything anyone ever did anywhere in the world is included, regardless of whether anyone in this country ever did it. How are the police supposed to sort this out under the pressure of dealing with crowd control? So be careful if you’re in the city this week, no matter why you’re here.