NEW YORK CITY. On Saturday, February 15, 2003, at noon, a huge throng of Anti-War protesters descended, on Midtown Manhattan, near the United Nations headquarters. Forbidden to parade by administrators for a “terror-spooked” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the crowd, estimated at over 200,000, was packed in, beginning at First Ave. and 49th St., only a stone’s throw away from the East River. The activists then expanded northward for 20 or more blocks, and spilled over to Second and Third Avenues.
There was an extremely heavy police presence and barricades at or on every street and intersection in the area. “I’m not really happy about being penned in like this,” said Eric Barson from Johnson, VT, as he stood at the intersection of First Ave. and 54th St. “But, the energy from the crowd is really positive.”
Despite bitter cold weather, it was a veritable sea of people venting their outrage at the War Party’s planned assault on Iraq. Many were deeply offended by the Constitution-shredding Federal Court rulings, that upheld the denial of a permit to march. The prime sponsor for the rally was the “United for Peace and Justice” organization (UPJ).
Parade permits are routinely granted for large events. Mayor Bloomberg’s bureaucrats had earlier granted marching permits for Dominican, Puerto Rican, and St. Patrick’s Day. The Bloombergites, however, used dubious security concerns as an excuse to curtail the First Amendment rights of the Anti-War activists. This restrictive type of action forced the demonstration into a stationary position on First Ave., rather than allowing it to use the time-honored parade format. If the dogs of war are unleashed by the Bush-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz Junta, more restrictions of our Civil Liberties, like this one, can be expected.
“They are not interested in the safety of the people penned in here like cattle. They have cattle shoots in here to herd us around,” said Roy Volpe, from Putnam Co., NY, while standing on First Ave. “The city even dumped a load of sand and salt down on Third Ave., near 53rd St., and stirred it all up to discourage people from gathering there.” Maureen Lowry, a nurse, from Red Hook, NY, said, “Iraqi women and children are going to die. Peace–that’s what we want and that’s why I’m here today.”
Noon Garfen from Brooklyn said, “It’s too confining–too controlled. It’s not a good feeling to be penned up like this.” She was standing near 57 St., on First Ave. “There was a lady in a wheel chair,” she added, “and the police wouldn’t let her take a short cut out on one of the side streets. I also think it was deliberate that the city didn’t give us a parade permit.”
The bias tone towards this particular Anti-War Rally was revealed on Feb. 6, 2003, in a vindictive editorial by the New York Sun, an Ariel Sharon-friendly tabloid. It encouraged the city officials to obstruct the protesters’ “plans for Feb. 15.” It accused the activists, who intended to parade, of giving aid and “comfort to Saddam Hussein,” whom they characterized as an “enemy of America.” It urged, too, that the NYC police send “two witnesses along for each participant with an eye toward preserving at least the possibility of an eventual treason prosecution…The smaller the crowd,” it predicted, “the more likely that President Bush will proceed with his plans to liberate Iraq.”
Nevertheless, this weekend was the date set for Anti-War rallies in 603 locations around the globe. By press time, nearly 90 cities and county governments, in this country, had passed, “No War with Iraq Resolutions.” Also, a federal lawsuit to stop Bush’s rush to war, without a specific congressional declaration, as required by the U.S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 8 (11), was filed in Boston on Thursday. The severe diplomatic rift, too, between Bush’s War Party and France and German has deepened.
John McDonagh, of Queens, NY, producer of WBAI’s popular “Radio Free Eireann’s” program, on 99.5 FM, in NYC, said, “I see the hand of Bush in all of this. He wants to limit the rights of the people. With a parade permit, the crowd would have been much, much greater. Some folks actually thought there wasn’t going to be a rally today, because a parade permit had been denied. Despite the city’s barriers, we’ve got as many people here today, or more, as Bush has sent soldiers to Iraq.”
The protesters also got to hear from notable speakers, like South Africa’s renowned Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Screen Actor Guild members Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover; popular pundit Phyllis Bennis; and, political activists Angela Davis, Kim Gandy and Dennis Rivera; and the feisty politico, the Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
Ellen Hill, of Jeffersonville, VT, summed up the feelings of many activists, when she said, “There is something that is taken away, when you can’t walk from point ‘A’ to point ‘B.’ There is something very symbolic about a movement of people from one point to another. I marched with hundreds of thousands of protesters, in Washington, DC, on Jan. 18th. It is very powerful. And, today, they took that away from us!”
(C) WILLIAM HUGHES 2003
WILLIAM HUGHES is the author of “Baltimore Iconoclast” (Writer’s Showcase), which is available online. He can be reached at email@example.com.