Not Your Mother’s Convention

As I begin to write this, police cars are dashing downtown along the highway. Well, the New York March and Rally for Women’s Lives should be starting to gather in City Hall Park before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, and we can’t allow that, can we? My next-door neighbor and her daughter are planning to go, so I hope they’re safe. I’m lame, so long marches aren’t for me right now. There’s a lot planned for today. There’s the Books Not Bombs Youth Convergence at St. Mark’s Church in the East Village, the woman’s march, a Green Party Festival in St. Vartan’s Park at E. 35th St. and 2nd Ave — which should be far enough from Madison Square Garden that they shouldn’t have any trouble, the Middle East Peace Coalition demonstration in Union Square (the Farmer’s Market should be open today, too, so I might get to both if it doesn’t get too disgustingly hot.) The Stone Walk is supposed to arrive in Manhattan. They’re walking here from Boston pulling a 1400 lb. granite memorial honoring the “Unknown Civilians Killed in War” which should be in NY through Sept. 11. Ring Out will be ringing bells at Ground Zero late this afternoon, The Imagine Festival of Arts, Issues, and Ideas starts today at various locations, The Fourth World War film screening is at the Anthology Film Archives this evening, there’s a Women Against War concert at Riverside Church this evening, and a Clamor Magazine Party in Brooklyn. Today and tomorrow seem to have the most activities planned.

This is a city of 8 million people. That’s probably not all that’s going on, just all I’m aware of. That’s not much for a city of this size, even on a quiet weekend at the end of August. Local neighborhood papers like The Village Voice that regularly post what’s going on usually have much longer lists than this. Normally there are street fairs, art fairs, festivals, concerts, outdoor concerts, parades, lectures, church functions, you name it, dozens of them, and nobody minds this at all. There’s a race planned in Central Park tomorrow, that’s going to cause at least some street closings and bus rerouting, and that’s so normal it’s getting no attention even though it will cause some “disruption.” There are a couple of ball games and the US Open tennis match. Only those activities designed to protest the war or Bush are getting any public or press attention, no matter how benign or tiny they are likely to be.

Geez! Four military helicopters just flew down the Hudson. They do seem to be taking this march across the Brooklyn Bridge seriously! I’m on the West Side, so I can’t see what’s converging down the East Side. I should point out that various groups often march across the Brooklyn Bridge to support various causes, and these events receive little notice. There’s also a sweet little sailboat drifting by, and a yellow Water Taxi docking at the pier across the street. Life goes on, regardless.

Then there’s the Security Orgy, not only around Madison Square Garden, but, it turns out, all over the city, including the boroughs. (A line of big police SUV type vehicles just headed south down the highway. Something’s going on down there — I’m just assuming it’s the March.) This is the biggest convergence of security forces, Federal, state, and local, probably ever. Considering that the Convention is only going to be in the Garden all day Monday, and then only in the evenings until it ends, this is incredible overkill. Even 9/11 didn’t get a response like this. Streets close around the Garden, open again, close again. Buses are rerouted, re-rerouted, and nobody knows where to catch them to go home. The subways will or will not run, there will be schedule changes, and they will be stopped for searches. More and more kinds of barriers, metal, concrete, what-have-you, are hauled in and set up. There are check points, so bring plenty of ID. Businesses in the area are giving people notes to show that they are going to work. (Now the TV News trucks are heading south. Maybe I’ll even find out on the news what’s going on downtown.) People are already complaining that it’s taking them an extra hour to get to work. It’s insane to have the Convention in the middle of midtown. Homeland Security is using this as a proving ground for all sorts of weird, Si Fi type security and spy devices. This is the Brave New World in action, folks. Be careful.

The Republicans want arrests so they can blame the Democrats for disrupting the city, so that’s what they’re gonna have. There were a few yesterday, most notably Act Up, the group of AIDS activists who have been staging demonstrations for years, who stripped beside the Garden to demonstrate “the naked truth” about the Bush AIDS policies. The police were very moderate and let them have their say for 15 min. before arresting them. Not so moderate last night. I’m hearing that there were 250, 250+, or 264 arrests, some in the area of the Garden, but mostly in the East Village. The target was a group called “Critical Mass” that rides their bikes into Manhattan once a month to protest for environmentally friendly transportation. They’ve been doing this for months without any trouble. Last night, from what I’ve learned so far, there were utterly indiscriminate arrests. It didn’t matter if you were on a bike or not. At least one person there as a “legal observer” was arrested. If you were in the area, you were arrested. Never mind that it was a nice night, and the East Village is where you go on a nice night. So — the fun has begun.

What’s a democracy? This has nothing to do with democracy, or rights, or law and order. New York City, while not exactly lawless, is never exactly orderly, either. This has only to do with PR, and press coverage. To some extent, on both sides. (More big police vehicles are going down the highway.)

I’ve saved the really scary story for last. A neighbor came over to talk to me on Friday, very upset. Her college age daughter, who doesn’t live at home, had visited her to warn her that she, the mother, might be visited by the FBI, and she shouldn’t be upset if this happened. Her daughter, a small (she wears a size 2) very pretty blond, is an artist, a photographer, and had been photographing the Brooklyn Bridge. Now, the Brooklyn Bridge is an American icon. Artists have been painting it since it was built. Some of the paintings are very famous. There are thousands of published photographs of it. It is famous in song and story — and poetry. If you go to the Smithsonian, you can see samples of the actual cable used to build it. Very impressive. The engineering plans and history of how it was built are on display and published in books. Any terrorist who wanted to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge would only have to look up the volumes of, by now, public domain information about it to find any information that could possibly be needed. But, for God’s sake, don’t get caught photographing it now! She was grabbed by two policemen who called for backup, and six more arrived. Dressed in her tight little shirt and shorts, she couldn’t possibly have looked like a mad terrorist suicide bomber concealing a bomb in her clothing. It takes eight armed men to subdue a tiny blond woman? Eight seems to be the magic number now — the girl who belongs to the American Friends Service Committee (that’s the Quakers, the original non-violent group so this was really nuts) was “visited” and grilled about whether she was planning violence during the convention was also grilled by eight men. They held my friend’s daughter for several hours, demanding that she tell them why she was photographing the bridge. She tried to reason with them. She explained about art, the effects of light and atmosphere; that didn’t work. They wanted to know WHY she was photographing the bridge. She tried another approach. “Don’t you have photographs of your mother? Don’t you want to be able to remember how she looks right now? She’ll grow old, and she’ll change. The neighborhood around the Bridge will change, and I want to be able to remember how it looks right now.” They didn’t buy that, either. They wanted to know WHY she was photographing the bridge, with strong hints about WHO she was photographing it for. She finally said, “Are you arresting me?” They said, they could keep her until at least 3 AM without arresting her. They finally let her go, but it’s clear that they’re watching her. She was approached again when she was photographing an unused canal — a rancid stretch of water of no use to anyone.

This is paranoia and sadistic power let loose and running rampant. Our Brave New World.

UPDATE: So far as I can find out, nothing was happening this morning. The woman’s march was fine and everyone had a great time. I haven’t heard of any disasters at the Holland Tunnel, which is south of where I live. Various kinds of police vehicles have been dashing by, sirens blaring, all day. Doesn’t seem to mean much, except their general state of hysteria.