I really hope I don’t have to keep doing this sort of things for the next four years.
Sunday was hot. Stupid hot. The kind of hot where you try to put on sunscreen and you just end up smearing it around all the sweat. And it takes an awfully long time for 150,000, or 250,000, or 500,00 people to wend their way up Seventh Avenue. We started at Seventh and 18th Street at around 11:30 a.m. and finally made it past Madison Square Garden at 3.
On the way, we mingled with a wide range of protesters: out-of-towners, locals, old-timers (not only did I spot a McGovern pin, but I also marched past a contingent of veterans of the Lincoln Brigade, which fought in the Spanish Civil war[!]), kids, families. Lots of the signs were witty, some were incomprehensible. At one point a guy behind me broke out in a raucous chant of “Viva Chavez!” We walked past the giant papier-mache dragon float that was later set on fire, leading to some of the only arrests at the main protest. The incident took place not far behind us, and a man came up shouting, “People are being arrested behind you! Turn back if you care!” We thought about it, but figured that the other 100,000 people heading that way would do whatever needed to be done.
From my admittedly limited perspective, the police behaved themselves, and so did the protesters. No one attempted to pen the protesters in, so people could use the sidewalks and pop into local stores to buy drinks and snacks and film. The protest only became unnerving as we approached Madison Square Garden itself, flanked by a giant ad for the Nissan Titan SUV (“MASSIVE TRANSIT”) and a big Fox News sign that elicited chants of “Fox News sucks!” And it was strange and upsetting to see the public grounds of Penn Station so heavily barricaded and crawling with security guys in suits, who are much scarier than regular cops with identifying badges. I’m bothered that our government feels the need to wall off its nominating convention from its own citizens, and also bothered by having my public spaces occupied.
But I did come away reassured in many important ways. It was good to see that a couple hundred thousand people can gather in public to curse the sitting government without being shot; this is by no means the case in much of the world. Likewise, it was good to see that so many Americans consider the political disruptions of the last four years — which are, by world standards, relatively mild — are more than enough to generate tremendous anger and action. The Bush administration may be awful, but America still works, and no small credit is due to the Americans who work hard to make sure that stays true.