Sunday’s New York City March

Returning home very late from an exhilarating day in New York City, I was too tired to watch more than about twenty minutes of CNN. How was this “most trusted” of news channels going to cover the massive anti-war, anti-Bush demonstration I’d just attended? During the time I watched, there was one single reference to “Republicans and protesters converging on New York City.” Monday morning’s Boston Globe was better; the front page headline was “Crowds Protest as GOP Gathers: Hundreds of Thousands March Against Bush, War, ” and the article duly noted that estimates of participants “neared 400,000 people.” Later the cops gave a figure of 120,000, which for reasons explained below, I find unbelievably low.

Arriving by bus around 10:00, I was milling around at the head of the assembly area on Seventh Avenue where the photographers were congregating. Beyond that point, although I didn’t quite realize the significance at the time, were barricades on both sides of the street separating it from the sidewalk. Feeling famished, I looked around for a place to eat, and almost entered a noodle shop when looking back, I realized I could get some good shots of Danny Glover and Michael Moore with my cell phone camera. So back on the street, I started walking up it, looking for a place to eat, and seeing one, asked one of the army of NYPD officers if I could just, you know, cross through to do that.

“No,” was the wearily rehearsed reply. “You have to stay on the route.” Damn! I thought. I should know this by now. Still, the police-state stupidity of it really irritated me and my empty stomach. I asked several more officers as I walked forward, thinking maybe someone would give me a break, and also, I confess, if only through body language and facial expressions pose the question, “Aren’t you embarrassed to enforce this insane infringement on my constitutional rights?” One of New York’s finest told me, politely, “You have to go up to 34th street. Then you can get out.”

Fine, I thought. The demo for some reason was still assembling. I could head up half a dozen city blocks to 34th, have a bite and then join the multitude as it arrived. However, on arrival, I noticed that barricades cordoned off the corner of 7th and 34th. Huis clos. More interaction with cops. One escorted a journalist lady with child in arms through a barricade, and I thought I’d go along with them, but, no, this was not allowed. Finally I spoke to an officer who said I could leave the route but couldn’t return to the avenue thereafter.

“What if I take the sidewalk back to 7th and 22nd, then re-enter the route?” The officer didn’t know if that was possible. “Okay, well, if I leave here, will I be able to march along the sidewalk through the whole route down 5th Avenue to Madison Square Park and then down Broadway?” He didn’t know but I figured I’d risk it. So I passed through the barricade, took the sidewalk down 34th, past Broadway, and bought a slice of pizza somewhere. The cashier, a very young woman with a strong Spanish accent, said, “Yeah, get out.” Took me a moment to realize she was referring to my button, “Get Out of Iraq NOW.” She was very supportive of the demo and told me to be careful because the cops can be very violent. As I ate, an aging hippie-type came in and sat down at the next table. I asked him if he planned to reenter the route. Of course, he replied, and when I mentioned my experience he explained, as though dealing with a timid child, that all you need to do is leapfrog over or just separate the barricades and walk through.

I had noticed, actually, that police presence was thin on 34th, so leaving the pizzeria to the young woman’s warm “Good luck,” I happened to notice someone scooting through a barricade which was missing a couple bars. So there I was, in the demo, now vigorously underway, able to march with the beautiful assembly all the way to the terminus at Union Square. I arrived towards the head, and as is my wont on such occasions, found a venue from which to watch the whole procession pass. This was Punch Restaurant and Bar, on 913 Broadway, between 20th and 21st Streets. A very friendly attractive blonde woman named Isha is the manager there and was most enthusiastic about the march, which she kept watching from the doorway. One of the staff members wore an antiwar button. Very friendly place. I recommend the East Coast Corn and Lobster Chowder for $7.00.

I sat for two hours, while other marchers, clearly identifiable by their buttons and Posters, came in. I jotted notes on a napkin, counting the number of marchers passing by. From time to time I counted how many passed in one minute, the estimate rough, of course, but this is the best one can do. The figure I recorded most often (the mode) was 180 people per minute, although at times there were only about 120, and at times over 300. There were some densely packed contingents, and lots of desultorily ambling random collections of good people. By 3:00 I conservatively estimated that a minimum of 200,000 must have passed by.

Just at that moment, I heard the Star Spangled Banner. Now, given the profusion of Stars & Stripes (in original or improved versions) in the march, and the sincere belief of some Americans that patriotic symbols can retain a progressive content (even when they cause the world’s people to have bad dreams, vomit, or explode in rage), I thought, Okay, some of the “peace is patriotic” folks are making their point. But it wasn’t quite what I expected, not the Francis Scott Key version (about “bombs bursting in air” proving that “our flag was still there”) but something quite different.

Stop the war, stop the war
Stop the war, stop the war

Then a miracle occurred. All nineteen people in Punch Restaurant, including staff, joined in. Oh, the brilliance of this! I thought. But how to match this minimalist lyric to the melody, at that gut-challenging “what so PROUDLY we hailed” part? Easy. It became, omitting the first definite pronoun:

Stop WAR! Stop the war
Stop the war, stop the woa-or
Stop the war, stop the war
Stop the war, stop the war

Stop WAR! Stop the war
Stop the war, stop the war

The climax:

Oh, stop, stop, stop the war,
Stop the woa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-woa-or

Stop the war! Stop the war
Stop the war! Stop thaaaaa-ah war!

I swear, the whole bistro resounded with this, very loudly, everybody hitting the notes, as passing marchers peered inside in bemused delight.

This is of course a very difficult tune to sing. I confess I do it well, myself, having some practice in vocal music and a good range. But I don’t as a rule sing this particular melody, because of all the unpleasant associations, although one must recall that the tune itself, by John Stafford Smith, originally accompanied the English drinking song (ca. 1780), “To Anacreon in Heaven.” (Imagine instead of “O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” Ralph Tomlinson’s original lyric: “And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine/ The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’s vine.”)

“Anacreon” is fine, but I like this recent composition, born on the streets of New York, even better.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

 

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu