cloudy New York sky split and shined down on the 100,000 demonstrators who
took their grievances to the streets of Manhattan on Saturday March 20th. It
was sort of a quasi protest, as Mayor Bloomberg quarantined activists in
fenced in areas which were surrounded by police officers wearing soft gear,
as opposed to the Robocop armor sported during most large protests
throughout the US. Unfortunately thousands of people couldn’t even reach the
scheduled event, as the metal interlocking barricades along the sidewalks
kept them out. The day surely wasn't much fun for these folks.
As activist Ziggy Ellis put it, the rally was really “’Protest-Lite’, low in carbs and low in confrontation,” a sort of flat beer with no punch. Mayor Bloomberg was happy of course, as the crowds and cops were obedient and cordial. With only four protesters arrested, Saturday’s number handcuffed paled in comparison to the over 200 taken in during last year’s event. Coverage in the mainstream media as usual was dismal. The New York Times failed to report substantially on the major festivities even though they took place in the backdrop of their plush Midtown offices. Perhaps if their had been more civil disobedience, or any at all, the Times and the rest of the corporate media would have put a photo and article on their front pages. But don’t count on it.
Along the designated route, the handful of TV news cameras I saw that interviewed people were from Spain, France and Canada -- not CNN or Fox mind you. The only local TV stations that covered the march ran fifteen second snippets on their nightly news broadcasts, touting the gentle police and crowds along with a pompous Bloomberg quote, with little mention of why so many had gathered in the first place.
Nevertheless, many individuals complained about being videotaped and photographed by the New York Police Department’s Response and Technical Assistance unit. Most of these plain-clothes officers were lingering along side recognizable cops throughout the march with digital cameras in hand -- the new age of COINTELPRO has gone high tech.
At the corner of 34th Street and 6th Avenue, police jammed approximately 100 cyclists known as the Bike Bloc, and confiscated a few of their bikes but later returned them after on looking protesters shouted in unison, “Give Back The Bikes! Give Back The Bikes!”
The end of the rally was the largest disappointment of the day for many who traveled miles to attend, as Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich and others spoke to listeners in Madison Park. But protesters were not allowed to gather in the public space to watch the speakers, as it was designated "off limits." At this point if people left the protest, they were not allowed to re-enter, as if they went to sneak a couple beers but weren't allowed back into the prom by their adult chaperones.
Despite the gorgeous spring day, New York’s demonstration lacked a vital quality of any successful protest -- direct action. However, the past weekend’s march may be a sign of what’s to come of the Big Apple in late August, as the Republicans unashamedly gather to hail George W. Bush as their candidate for November’s election. Protesters will most likely be faced with a much more aggressive police force, as well as tighter areas in which they will be allowed to voice dissent.
For those protests we better bring our gas masks and attitude. At least it would make for a more lively welcoming party for the old Republicans. And maybe we’d get the Times to send one of their third-rate "journalists" like Judith Miller to cover it. Now that'd be fun.
Josh Frank is author of a forthcoming book on the Left and the 2004 election. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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