FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Breaking Through the Panic

by BENJAMIN SHEPARD

As the week before Feb. 15th march progressed, things only got weirder. The Bush Administration sent attorneys from the Justice Department to file a friend of the court brief backing the City of New York’s case that the march represented a security threat. After the Office of Homeland Security put the country on “orange” full terrorist alert, the New York Dailey News ran a headline with an ominous black cover with the words, “SHOW OF FORCE, Officials warn of stepped-up security will jam city streets, crossings, subways,” on February 10th,. By Tuesday, the New York Times’ cover showed a picture of police officers with automatic riffles in Times Square (where activists planned to converge during the march) with the headline, “Alert on Terror.” The paper reported that courts had rejected United for Peace and Justice’s appeal for a permit, arguing, a “Stationary Rally Poses Less Risk.” The same edition published the administration’s guide to preparedness for a chemical attack: duck tape, plastic sheeting, and fresh water, in a message which seemed reminiscent of the cold war warnings for school children to hide under their desks if attacked by an atomic bomb. In the years before, such warnings had been considered a nonsensical joke. The following day, papers showed long lines of people stockpiling duck tape, as hysteria took hold nationwide. In the meantime, FOX news ran “Homeland Security: Terror Alert High” graphics during evening programming about the new Bin Laden tape broadcast around the world; silly putty in his hands.

As the week progressed, news became more and more Orwellian, “You’re not afraid during an a code orange. Ok, how about a code red? Now are you scared?” the news programs seemed to taunt after the codes were pushed up again. “Better not go to the protest.” Protestors at the rally responded to the sentiment. “We’re already at War with Iraq. We’ve always been at war with Iraq. War is Peace!” one placard read. Riffing on1984, another stated, “Support the Military Tribunals. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” Countless others played on the duck tape warnings. It was clear that in the interstices between the warmongering, a backlash was unfolding. The Saturday march offered its culmination. By Saturday, the administration was acknowledging that the information they had about the immenent attack was not quite as solid as first thought and was back peddling that it didn’t really wanted people to start ducking tape their homes, just yet.

The day of the rally, the City of New York had withheld permits, cut off the UFPJ’s phones, escalated terror alerts to discourage marchers, and shut down trains and transportation routs from Brooklyn to Manhattan and throughout the city–all contributing to a climate of panic. Despite the state imposed barriers, activists from all walks of life descended on city. The day of the march, the police sent horses to break up the marches, sought to separate crowds from each other, pushed marchers off sidewalks with batons, and tear gassed those in the streets. My father, a 66-year-old retired pastor, who was in town over the weekend observed, “We started out at 51st St, then 57th, then 62nd, and then 68th up 2nd Avenue. At 68th Street, we realized we were being pushed out of town. Every time we’d try to turn down to go to the rally, the police would push us up away from the rally. It was perfectly clear that was what they were trying to do. It was crowded like a VE day. They brought out batons to push us and we chanted, ‘Let us through!!! Let us through!!!’ Every time it would calm down, the police would try with to stop us, yet most of us broke through anyway. I was just a citizen trying to gather with other citizens to have a conversation with the President. I was trying to communicate how I felt about this. I’m a citizen. I pay for this war. My friends are going to go get shot for it. I’d like to have a say so. I don’t want to have my head patted or told what to think, being told my opinion doesn’t count. Being told to pay attention to people who know what they are doing like Kenny Boy and Dick Cheney, the important people. We’re going to war. Bush says, Trust me. I’ve got a memory long enough to remember the last time a president said, trust me, I have a secret plan. Nixon’s secret plan to get us out of Vietnam was to invade Cambodia. All Saturday, it was quite clear they were running the marchers out of the streets, like a defense used to run Tony Dorsett out of bounds. They were running people away from the rally.” By the end of the day, this 66-year-old retired pastor had engaged in direct action, working with a crowd to push up through a police line to get past police to get to the rally. And he was not alone.

Over a half a million marched through the streets of New York, in coordination with protests held around the world; 700,000 mobilized in London, one million in Rome. All weekend long, the protests were the top news story. Many described the day as the largest day of simultaneous peaceful protest in world history. Two days later, the New York Times cover story compared the weekend’s mobilization with the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the Revolutions of 1848. “The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion. In his campaign to disarm Iraq, by war if necessary, President Bush appears to be eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary: millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of other world cities…”

Chills run through my body as I think about the possibility that the weekend created. Seattle is no longer the baseline for protest. Out of the ashes of an extraordinary backlash, we have created a new organizational possibility for a global peace and justice movement.

BENJAMIN SHEPARD is co-editor of From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (Verso, 2002) and author of White Nights and Ascending Shadows: An Oral History of the San Francisco AIDS Epidemic (Cassell, 1997). He can be reached at benshepard@mindspring.com.

 

More articles by:
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail