September 01, 2004 7:20 PM

Last Sunday's Protests

This entry is a description of how I spent the August 29 protest, plus a bit of an update on the protests in general. It is pretty boring if I do say so myself. Normally I avoid the "what I ate for lunch" sort of blog entry, but I thought I might want to keep a record of this.

My friends and I started out with breakfast in the East Village at 9am, after which we joined a feeder march going to the main protest at 10am. We joined the main march at about noon, at which point the streets on the West Side were already so clogged that no forward progress was possible. It is unclear how many people were part of the protest — it was certainly in the hundreds of thousands, but no one ever seems to use accurate methods of crowd counting to determine the real numbers. The claims range from 150,000 to 500,000.

The biggest problem of the day was the heat — everyone was baking in the sun, and bottled water was sweating out of people nearly as fast as they could drink it. The fact that the march was barely moving and that the only breezes were stirred by police helicopters did not help. We moved very, very slowly up Seventh Avenue to Madison Square Garden, and then turned right onto 34th street at about 3:30. My group of friends decided that we were not interested in being herded like cattle downtown, so we took the subway up to Central Park and joined the "unauthorized" protest there.

The park was great fun. It was filled with thousands of people peacefully enjoying a Sunday afternoon. The libertarians were out there (as I have noted, I met the LP Presidential candidate briefly and thanked him for running), as were lots of other groups.

The Billionaires for Bush were out in force at the park, looking incredibly well dressed as always. This has been a big week for them, including their Million Billionaires March, their Vigil for Corporate Welfare, and a Coronation Ball. I don't agree with all of their politics beyond disliking Bush — they're fairly standard Democrats — but I wholeheartedly admire their tactics. There are few groups I've seen in some time who get across a message with better humor and verve than they do. The evening wear, the shouts of "four more wars!", and the buttons (which all claim in small print to be produced with sweat shop labor) are terrific street theater. It is a great shame that libertarians rarely achieve the levels of zest and fun that folks like the Bs for B have.

My group finally left the park and got dinner on the Upper West Side around 7pm, and I got home, showered and collapsed well before 9. I was so wiped out that I slept for eleven hours.

Throughout the day's activities, we were shadowed by police helicopters and a police blimp. (Yes, a blimp, equipped with surveillance cameras with high powered lenses.) We were also surrounded by huge numbers of police at every turn. However, for the most part, everything Sunday was about as peaceful as you could imagine. There was one point where a paper Chinese Dragon was lit on fire near us, but other than that, no evidence of anything untoward.

On Friday, though, the police arrested bicycle borne protesters by the hundreds. On Sunday, they arrested a lot of the gays who held kiss-ins in front of theaters where the delegates were seeing shows — reportedly the pretext was "obstructing the sidewalks" but it seemed pretty lame as excuses go. They also arrested a lot of folks on Tuesday. The claim is that they've now well exceeded the numbers detained at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

The police have been pretty low on violence as these things go, but they haven't been overly friendly, either. They've apparently been using a considerable amount of trickery as part of their crowd control arsenal. It seems one common tactic has been to "agree" to let people march along certain routes and then to arrest them when, obeying "instructions", they violated the law. Another trick which was apparently used with cyclists on Sunday was to force them the wrong way up a one-way street and then to arrest them for riding against traffic. I suppose this is all yet more evidence for what every citizen should already know — the police can and will lie to you if it suits them.

The police have also apparently been detaining people not in the usual city jail facilities, but in a semi-converted pier on the West side. Reputedly the floor in the holding area is covered in dirt and motor oil and there aren't any places to sit or lie down. Some arrestees have been detained for periods of 24 to 36 hours before being booked and released, which is pretty unusual, especially considering that they're all being held for the most minor offenses. There is speculation that this is part of the police tactics, but of course there is no way to actually know.

Posted by Perry E. Metzger | Categories: Politics