Anti war protests and actions
NEW YORK ANTI WAR PROTEST- 15th February 2003
(report from Matthew Arnold, u75, New York)
New York was HUGE. Absolutely fucking huge. I was thinking of you lot in London the whole day.
First, let's do the numbers. I hit 59th and 3rd at around Noon. It took me three hours to wend my way up to 68th, where tens of thousands of us broke through the barricades and crossed over to 1st, to arrive at the 'permitted' venue, at 61st and 1st.
For you non-New Yorkers out there, that's about 16 itsy-bitsy Manhattan blocks and two longish ones - under normal circumstances, a walk of no more than five New York minutes.
The crowd just wasn't moving. We were solid from 45th to 87th, and from 1st to 3rd Avenues. The flimsy metal barriers marking the boundaries of the city's absurd protest 'pennant' areas evaporated as our numbers swelled.
The poor cops had no control and looked terrified, so vast was the crowd. When confronted about their ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary barriers, they were typically apologetic. More than one said to me: "Nobody knows what's going on." It was absolute chaos.
But for the most part, a very peaceful sort of chaos. The crowd was generally on the old end of young to middle-aged.
There were tons of couples with small kids, grannies and grampas marching with walkers, braces and canes (and typically more fired up and confrontational than us whippersnappers).
The atmosphere was one of resolute but joyful defiance. Asterix masks and mash notes to 'Old Europe' abounded, and the restless energy and creative genius of New Yorkers was reflected in placards reading "Duct and cover" and "A village in Texas is missing an idiot."
The Times, never terribly encouraging of any sort of democratic expression (So messy! So... proletarian!), gave its conservative nod to 400,000. The cops wouldn't give an official figure initially, but their off-the-record estimate at the time was 500,000, matching that of organizers United for Peace and Justice. Police commish Ray Kelly has since given news organizations a lowball figure of 100,000.
In the end, God knows how many of us braved the freezing cold, the hostile official climate and the lack of any advance press coverage to show, but all sides agree that it was the biggest protest New York has seen since the anti-nuke rally of 1982.
My aunt Karen called me from the coach on her way down from Boston and told me there were dozens of busses coming from Massachusetts, 12 from New Haven, Connecticut alone. I saw people from as far afield as Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Gainsville, Florida there.
US media coverage so far has been desperately dismissive, focused on the few scattered incedences of conflict between police and protesters, but we were massive today, and it's scaring the shit outta the White House.
What's more, and perhaps more terrifyingly to Bush & Co., there were smaller demonstrations in small towns and regional centers across the US. In my hometown, a gaggle of protesters was splashed across the front page of the local newspaper.
Around mid-afternoon, someone on the stage read an AP report citing diplomatic sources and saying that Bush and Blair were moderating their war footing in response to the demonstrations ('US, Britain Reworking Resolution in the Face of Anti-War Sentiment,' Associated Press, Feb. 15, 2003).
The kids at the barricades in front of me responded spontaneously by tearing them down and taking the street, the crowd to their backs roaring and surging forward.
I almost didn't believe it, but several hours later, while warming my feet and drowning my adrenaline in an upper west side bar, I saw on CNN that administration officials had specifically addressed the demonstrations, saying that war was still a last resort.
The White House never address protestors, and the Bushies, in particular, never acknowledge dissent.
We really rattled their cage today. We made history. Whatever comes next, we've struck a terrible blow against American imperialism.
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