March o’ the Times

Sunday was a fine day for an outpour, and so we did: the United for Peace and Justice march against George Bush was a staggering success. And you’d be staggering too, after all those hours in all that heat.

NYPD takes everyone who ever wore blue, yanks them out of bed, and puts them on the streets with a badge, even commandeering the Fuji blimp for lazy looping air surveillance duty. For their trouble there are a handful of busts early on, mostly part of the police brush-war against bike riders this week. (Mike of Satan’s Laundromat has a harrowing account of his bike arrest, and his pictures of the RNC from the inside are wonderful — so much for the vaunted security of the G.O.P., right? Couldn’t keep Mike out of the Garden once the party started.)

For those of us on feet, the day is hot and sweaty, long and stirring, a tough, slow-moving blend of grit and purpose. I’m on a text-message cell phone bulletin list, so intelligence trickles in.

> /Counter-demonstrators marching south on 6th @ 27St, Aprox 200 with PD
> /At 34 St, a strong police line blocking people from heading north to the park.

I’m at the staging area in my new Lick Bush shirt around noon, just after the protest starts. At 1:20, when the head of the march has reached 34th Street, turned back downtown, and dispersed in Union Square, we have inched only a few blocks forward; side streets are packed solid, and the 14th Street area has been sealed off for 20 minutes already. I’m at 19th Street or so when the flood of 1,000 coffins, some in black and some draped with flags, comes streaming from the East.

> /Aprox 20 to 25 Bike Bloc-ers have been arrested, Bike Bloc is calling on cyclists to regroup at Union Sq South
> /Front of UFPJ March has reached the end point, Union Sq: most people haven't left assembly area.

For a while I’m packed in with Glamerica, a bouncy group sporting fur-fringed signs (Fashion Tip: Bush Doesn’t Go with Anything; Fashion Forecast: Bush is Out in 2004; Cancel W, Just Give Me Vogue). A splinter of Code Pink flows past. My friend Nancy, who just finished a great run on the Fringe with her musical Mankynde, waves from behind a rambling drum band, and we walk together for a few blocks. A bubbly breathtaking girl in a Metrocard “Unwelcome” cut-off tee teases her girlfriend, pulling the shirt up over her breasts. “Pull it down,” she breathes, “pull it down, people will see.” I try not to look, really I do.

> /There is a 30' dragon float on fire on 7 Ave @ 34. Protesters can only get past on sidewalk.
> /Over 1000 protesters have gathered in Central Park, seems calm at this time.

Communists and Naderites and Falan Dafa freaks are everywhere, ignored by all. For a time I’m with the No-Bush bouncy-ball sheet, for a while I pace the pink balloon G.O.P. pig. For several streets I swim a long current of marchers on the far end of 65, and older. They are grim and attentive, helping each other with a touch, a gesture, an arm on an elbow and a sympathetic nod, moving together or not at all in the petulant heat. Singer Richard Julian trucks by, guitar in hand. All along the route people wave and hoot and instigate from roofs and fire escapes; a Make Up Not War sign flutters from a balcony holding what looks like a touring production of The Mikado. From a rooftop a woman waves a sign that reads Go Team, to roars from below.

> /Update: police have closed 6 Ave and all streets west of 6ave from 34 St to 59 St to bicycles
> /standoff between police and protesters at 46th and Broadway. also many people in central park- things are calm

NYPD, which doesn’t estimate crowd sizes, hisses to the press that there are 100,000 people marching. Don’t believe it. New York Times coverage makes us half a million strong, and they’re about right. I’m passing Madison Square Garden at last, more than four hours after I started just a mile down the road, and there are still throngs surging along behind; the protest heads back downtown from there, but Central Park is on my agenda. In my world, when the Mayor tells me I can’t take my case to the Park, that’s where I’m bound to be found. Mama Gelber didn’t raise no sheep.

Some signs, painted from memory:

  • My Other President Isn’t a Liar
  • My Other President Wasn’t an AWOL Drunk
  • 2004 Diet – No CARB = Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Bush … and definitely no Rice!
  • George, George, Give it Up
  • Separate Church and State: Get SATAN Out of the White House
  • Re-Defeat Bush
  • Maybe Bush Should Try Going Vegan
  • Our City, Not Your Stage
  • Bush/Cheney: Making Enemies Faster Than We Can Kill Them
  • Somewhere in Texas a Village has Lost its Idiot. I Found Him.

In the 30′s, hours into the day, we pass a rhythm rave camped by the side of the road. The drummers dervish-whirl and dance, passing a bullhorn back and forth. “Show them what America looks like!” they chant, in all their shapes and colors and hairstyles and motley. “THIS is what America looks like!” we roar back, white and black and all the rest, straight and gay, old and young, lean and chubby, short and tall, kempt and weedy, and all points between. “THIS is what America looks like!” I find tears on my cheeks, burning as they streak sweaty paths down my face.

> /Police are cracking down on bikes west of 6 Ave from 34st to ban in effect

Central Park is peaceful and gently full. The press is out in force, and I’m photographed twice and interviewed once before I find a soft spot to sit. (By request I describe my shirt for WBAI, but I’m too tired to be clever.) No screaming rioters here; the reporters are disappointed, but at least they have Billionaires for Bush to chase — in top hats and tuxes and gowns, waving cigars and mixing martinis, the Billionaires are a funny, photogenic bunch. Three young women are pointedly topless, which is legal in New York, but since no outlet can use the pictures the media mob reluctantly stays clear.

> /Police are using a net to detain a group of aprox 50 protesters in Times Sq.

I wake from my nap next to radical rebel comedienne Reno, who is holding forth among friends. Via text message I track the progress of Queer Fist’s Times Square Kiss-In, the theatre actions of Mouse Bloc, and the further uglier skirmishes with the wheeled wings of Bike Bloc as the police chase them into the evening.

> /46th and broadway netted off, arresets likely.

Word of arrests comes in from Times Square and I head down to observe, but 46th Street is pretty much clear by the time I arrive; one last protestor is hustled into a cruiser, and NYPD looks tired and angry. The police glare me over and I stare back at them. You can spot delegates by their tags and by their clothes; they’re dressed like the last time they saw fashion it was on Jason Robards. Faces flushed, they are excited and nervous. They are not leaders; they are sheep, running among wolves.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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