I’m a traffic surveyor by trade. Among other things, I count pedestrians on sidewalks, vehicle flows, etc. So when I go to a parade, political or otherwise, I try to make a professional count or at least a professional estimate of how many people were there. Today I stationed myself at Tin Pan Alley, 28th Street & 6th Avenue, & watched the anti-war march.
It took 1 hour & 50 minutes to go by. But there was 1 patch of 20 minutes where very few people walked by, & another of 10 minutes. However, during the rest of the time the marchers were in largish groupings. As the parade went for dozens of blocks, with people waiting at numerous locations for the parade to come by to join it, I must add in an estimate for such people, etc. Thus calculated, I come to 60,000 demonstrators.
The cops said 30,000. They don’t lie. One traffic officer once said “Why would I bother? No one will believe me, no matter what number I give out.” The problem with their calculation is that it tends towards the mechanical; how many people can be in a given space at one time, etc. They tend to miss the ‘informal’ parade. People walking with signs alongside the march, on the sidewalk, folks leaving early to get back to work, etc.
The march organizers estimated 100,000. However, I have discovered Brenner’s Law: All leftwing organizations overestimate how many people come to their demos, all religions overestimate how many people are in their flock. The operative proverb is ‘the master’s eye fattens the horse.’ In this case, that very slow 20 minute period rules out 100,000. Sixty-thousand is the number that I give as a figure that I can defend before my professional peers, other traffic surveyors.
The march was a success. There is no doubt that the antiwar movement is the major player in campus politics & will stay that way. Given the enormous percentage of students in modern America, this assures that the future is ours. However there were many older people, so in terms of age the march was good in that respect as well.
There were 2 visible weaknesses. I saw very few labor contingents, with less than 1,000 marchers behind their banners. And Blacks made up no more than 5% of the marchers. One reason for the low number is inescapable. Many of the marchers were students coming from out of town, & they were mostly white, thus lowering the Black percentage.
There were about 200 Haitians in 1 contingent. But beyond that I saw hardly anything in the way of black contingents. Most of the Blacks who came did so with their student group, union, left organization, etc., i.e., in racially integrated groups, or they march by themselves. By & large, the city’s black non-student youth didn’t come. But every so often one, two or three guys would come by, dressed in full poor young black regalia, baggy pants, do rags or braids, & Co., carrying signs or chanting, clearly part of the politics.
While there were hundreds of Muslim women wearing black head scarves, there were more women wearing nothing but secular clothing marching with pro-Palestinian contingents, etc.
There was one problem that can be corrected. The arrangement with the cops meant that people lined up for several blocks, & listened to speakers before the march. For most people, that meant listening to them over loudspeakers on trucks along the waiting area. It doesn’t work. Either you are too far from the loudspeaker to hear clearly, or you are too close & the damn thing is blasting in your ears while you must stand there, waiting for the march to begin. My suggestion is just have the loudspeakers in the immediate area of the speakers & forget about the people waiting blocks away. People understand that if they get there late they won’t hear the speakers. As long as they are part of a large march that is fine with them.
A number of groups did dances. Others had bands with them. Individuals dressed in costumes, etc. Most were very well received. The cops laughed. They put everyone in a good mood. My only complaint is that there should have been more of such groups, arranged by the central organizers, interspersed among the marchers. Expecting good entertainment to keep coming along serves to catch & hold the attention of the countless thousands of people working, shopping, etc., along the route.
Standing in 1 spot, I saw little in the way of counter-demos. Ten guys with rightwing signs, all of the same format, entered the parade just as they got to me. “We are for peace & against Communism, which killed 100 million people.” “We are against private property, except for Islamic property rights.” Their irony was utterly lost among the signs around them.
Given the posters & chants, the bulk of the marchers were supporters of Kerry. But it was obvious that the politics of the marchers, including these people, are to the left of Kerry. Prior to the demo there had been complaints from United For Peace & Justice, & others, that the demo was too pro-Palestinian, with ANSWER having signs saying end the occupation, in Afghanistan, Iraq & Palestine. But, in the crunch, Leslie Cagan & her supporters did indeed build the march. There were many Americans, walking by themselves or with friends, carrying Palestinian flags or signs denouncing Israel. But frankly, knowing New York politics, I doubt if any significant additional numbers of supporters of Israel, Jewish or otherwise, would have come to the event, even if everyone promised on a stack of Old Testaments not to denounce Israel.
The success of the event, with its failings, tell us what needs to be done. For example, the movement can only gain by publicly debating the issue of Palestine. The intimate involvement of Neo-con Zionists in the Bush administration in the planning of his invasion is now routinely discussed on major media talk shows & it is ludicrous for any group to think, under those circumstances, that an antiwar movement could stay away from discussing their role. Full debate re Palestine will attract new people who want to know what is going on.
There should be demos at the WTC site. Endless numbers of tourists now visit it. There is already a small survivor & relatives group there, passing out leaflets complaining about a Bush cover-up re not relating to warnings of an impending attack. But there is absolutely nothing visible in the way of a full time anti-war presence.
Just as important, there is obviously a need for daily tabling at key locations in Black neighborhoods. And, as it is clear that the self-styled antiwar union leaders are doing nothing to mobilize their ranks, such tabling should be done outside union meetings.
The pols & the cops are getting ready for giant demos during the Republican convention. Today there were only 4 arrests, but they expect up to a thousand a day then. Most of these will be in civil disobedience demos. These must be handled very carefully. America is full of people who loath Bush for many good reason, but who, for equally good reasons, don’t want to get arrested. This requires that CD demos be separate from demos for this broader element.
In this world, numbers count. At this point, 500,000 at a law abiding rally is a lot more than 10 times more important than a CD demo of 50,000. CD events are fine in so far as they act as advance promo for a huge march. But it must be absolutely clear to everyone, marchers, cops, media, that the main event will be as peaceful as today’s success.
It is also to be understood that demos are obligatory whenever Kerry comes to town. He was for the invasion of Iraq & now he is pleading with the new Spanish government not to get out. He is solidly behind Sharon, wall or no wall. He isn’t saying anything about the immense US involvement in the civil war in Colombia.
Many of the ‘anybody but Bush’ people will honestly feel that demos against Kerry on these issues would be diversions from their fight ‘against’ Bush. But they are for Kerry because they think he can beat Bush, while Nader & other left candidates can’t possibly win. That is true. However these elements can’t have it both ways. If they think Kerry can win & they know he is wretched on these issues, then they should want to let their winner know that he has to get real on every issue. And the best way to let him know is to demonstrate on those points at his appearances.
Someone can be satisfied with Kerry on many or most issues & disagree with him on 1 or more questions. They have to realize that, if they take that 1 issue seriously, they have to take him on about it.
I’m an anti-capitalist anti-imperialist, committed to equal rights for Palestinians. I would not be overjoyed if young Deaniacs demonstrated re Palestine for 15 minutes against Kerry & then walked inside & applauded him on other issues. But I’m a big strong fellow & can endure such, while demonstrating against him re Palestine, or whatever, even while supporting him, would be a huge step forward for them. It will mean that they take all their principles seriously & it will warn Kerry that, if he wins & tries to give us a Bush-Lite administration, which, essentially is what he is indeed about, that he will face the same kind of committed opposition, from his own supporters, that Bush faces.
I don’t think anything can make Kerry honest & intelligent. But demonstrations against him on Palestine, or legal recreational marijuana, or whatever, will make him fearful. And, as every reader knows, a Democrat afraid of the antiwar movement, & especially his supporters in it, will have to think twice about committing further crimes.
LENNI BRENNER is the editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.