NO WAR FOR OIL:
PEACE PROTEST 2003
by Patrick Patterson, New York Correspondent.
[February 16, 2003]
One hundred thousand protesters marched for peace in New York City on Saturday,
February 15 -- and the Hollywood Investigator was there to exclusively bring you this report!
Protesters had planned to
convene at First Avenue and 49th Street, but because police blockaded many
cross streets to prevent marchers from converging into a single large crowd
(citing "security concerns"), tens of thousands of protesters were never
able to get near the speaker's site.
The Hollywood Investigator's
correspondent had ridden the subway into Manhattan, disembarking at Third
Avenue and 53rd Street -- and was immediately confronted with a large crowd
of protesters marching uptown. They'd hoped to head east to First
Avenue, but street after street had been blocked by NYPD.
Officers lining Third Avenue
urged protesters to remain on sidewalks to keep Third Avenue clear for
traffic. To no avail.
After several blocks of moving
uptown, protesters left the sidewalks and entered into Third Avenue, completely
blocking traffic, chanting: "Whose streets? Our streets! Whose
streets? Our streets!"
Third Avenue belonged to
the marchers until 60th Street, which had not been blockaded, at which
point the protesters flowed eastward into 60th Street, toward Second Avenue.
The peace movement has been
accused of being a front for, or dupes of, the Workers
World Party/ANSWER coalition. And yes, ANSWER buttons and signs
were evident -- but WWP organizers were aggressively selling peace/ANSWER
buttons (at $1 each), so it's a safe guess that many protesters arrived
empty-handed, and took whatever they were given or could buy, with little
thought as to any agenda other than preventing an Iraqi war.
Yes, the WWP may have done
much organizing for the protest, but they neither owned nor controlled
it. From the street, it appeared to be the protesters who did. And rather than the Stalinist left, the rank and file marchers appeared
to be a cross section of America. Both sexes and every age demo was
well represented, from toddler to senior. One man carried a sign
promoting the Libertarian Party.
An elderly couple wore Green
Party buttons. One bright yellow banner read: "FREE PALESTINE",
and there were a few pro-Palestinian signs -- but other signs were in Hebrew
-- and Spanish and Arab and German.
A young couple carried a
banner for "Republicans Against An Iraqi War." (Although, when the
Hollywood Investigator asked if she'd voted for Bush, the woman explained
that she and her hubby were merely carrying the banner for Republican "friends"
who found it too heavy.)
Racially, the marchers were
less diverse. Although people of color were evident, a scan of the
crowd indicated that whites were at least 90% of the marchers, maybe more. Since that leaves 10% for blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Arabs -- combined
-- it seems unlikely that Muslims have a strong influence in the U.S. peace
Combat veterans were among
the marchers. "You'd be surprised how many veterans oppose this war,"
said one veteran who claimed to have seen action in Panama. Other
veterans included a grizzled man whose patch read: "Vietnam Veterans for
Despite the frigid temperature,
the atmosphere was festive. The protest contingent came to a near
standstill on 60th Street, between Third and Second Avenues, whereupon
a brass band struck up some golden oldies, such as "When the Saints Come
Demonstrators joined the
band by singing and dancing, playing drums and mariachi rattles, and waving
flags and banners. Others waved to spectators watching from surrounding
buildings, or tuned their radios to listen to the speakers (a dozen blocks
away on First Avenue), or used cell phones to call family and friends located
elsewhere in the protest. One man finalized plans to meet friends
at a concert that night.
Farther down 60th Street,
two WWP men were agitating, one screaming revolution into a bullhorn, another
selling the party paper. But they had no control or authority or
influence over the crowd, which walked past them with disinterest, more
intent on singing and laughing and enjoying the band.
The Associate Press's Verena
Dobnik later reported that the
NYPD had positioned sharpshooters atop building rooftops. Two
rooftop dwellers overlooked the corner of 60th and Second Avenue.
Eventually, the marchers
inched toward Second Avenue, where police had formed a barricade.
NYPD instructed protesters to remain on the sidewalks, as the police tried
to keep Second Avenue clear for cars coming off the Queensboro bridge --
one block south of the barricade.
A rumor circulated that one
demonstrator had been arrested, possibly for repeatedly refusing to stay
on the sidewalk.
Flowing from 60th Street
into Second Avenue, the marchers now moved downtown -- the direction from
which they'd just come -- as they sought an open cross street to take them
into First Avenue where the speakers were.
At 58th Street, police again
lost the battle to keep the streets clear as protesters surged into Second
Avenue, walking amid cars and bringing traffic to a standstill.
Motorists had mixed reactions. One man shut off his engine in the center lane of traffic, got out, and
leaned against the hood of his van, smiling at passing protesters. He knew he wasn't going anywhere soon.
A chauffeur in a stretch
limo gave the peace sign to passing marchers, saying in her Caribbean accent:
"No Bush, no Bush!"
But another man gaped from
behind the wheel of his white Mercury Cougar. When a marcher gave
him the peace sign, the man exclaimed: "Get me out of here! What
the f*ck is going on?!" His expression was one of perplexed exasperation
rather than of anger.
Looking down the barricaded
cross streets, one could see the march's tail end still over at Third Avenue
moving north to 60th Street. It had taken nearly two hours to walk
11 blocks. "It's worse than the lines at Disneyland," someone joked.
The marchers continued south
on Second Avenue to 54th Street, where there was another standstill. Eventually, police on horseback arrived to push demonstrators to the side,
trying to clear a path for trapped cars. Protesters responded by
chanting: "Shame on you! Shame on you!"
Some protesters grew belligerent,
and one man was arrested. But other marchers urged calm, shouting,
"This is not about the police. It's about stopping a war!" Yet another shouted, "This is a peace protest!"
After several trapped cars
escaped from the crowd, the mounted police formed a circle at the cross
section of Second and 54th, surrounded by protesters. "It's not a
good idea to surround the police," one nervous protester noted.
Yet the police exhibited
little tension. Most, if not all, were smiling and laughing, apparently
enjoying themselves. Whether their good humor came from sympathy
for the protesters, or laughing at them, or simply from calculating their
Saturday overtime pay, is a secret known only to themselves.
As of this writing, there
are reports of 48 arrests, 8 injured officers, and one injured horse. However, as far as was witnessed by the Hollywood Investigator, the marchers
were overwhelmingly friendly to passersby and police alike, and the police
were largely polite to marchers.
Two fiftyish female protesters
asked a mounted policeman if they may cross Second Avenue. He apologized,
and said that they couldn't just yet.
While demonstrators were
upset about cross streets being barricaded, hindering their attempts to
converge, most seemed to realize that the police were not the enemy and
were only doing their job. The police's primary concern seemed to
be that the protest go off without injuries. They arrested unruly
individuals, but whenever the crowd as a whole entered the streets or broke
barricades, the police made no immediate effort to stop them.
By 3:00 pm, temperatures
were falling still lower, the protest was losing energy, and people began
drifting off. Contact was never made with the main body on First
Avenue. No one had come near any of the speakers. They would
have to watch that on the evening news.
One departing protester shouted
to the mounted cops: "Good job NYPD! Good work!" He was sincere,
expressing his gratitude for a largely safe and peaceful rally.
Long after the main demonstration
ended, and the gentle peaceniks had gone to dinner with their families
(their protest signs leaning against the windows of pricey Manhattan eateries),
smaller groups of hardcore WWP protesters continued to march about Manhattan. At 4:25 pm, some forty WWP protesters were seen marching east on 40th Street,
toward Third Avenue, blocking traffic and chanting: "Show me what democracy
looks like. This is what democracy looks like!"
But in the end, although
the hard Stalinist left was loud and energetic, prepared with signs and
button and bullhorns, they were overwhelmed by kinder, gentler, more festive
protesters -- by average Americans.
Certainly, there were isolated
idiocies. One sign read: "I Love Iraq More Than Ever" (which can
mean its people or Hussein). Naturally, the sign had a red heart
for "love." But the majority of protesters expressed no hatred toward
America, nor to the police, nor to the military, nor even to Republicans
(Bush and Cheney excepted), nor toward any nation or group.
As for the celebrity speakers
on television, one cannot know how many rank and file marchers might have
agreed with this or that statement. No one in this protest contingent
ever got near them, or heard them, apart from a few who briefly listened
to their radios.
The rank and file protesters
appeared to be average Americans (albeit disproportionately white), angry
at Bush and Cheney, opposed to "war for oil," and trying to make a difference
while having a good time on a Saturday afternoon.
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