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NO WAR FOR OIL: PEACE PROTEST 2003

by Patrick Patterson, New York Correspondent.  [February 16, 2003]


 

[HollywoodInvestigator.com]  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 movement.

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 Peace."

 

 

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 Marching In."

 

 

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.

 

 

Patrick Patterson lives in New York. He has previously covered the events at Ground Zero and post-9/11 security in New York. His experiences as a Los Angeles based paparazzi are revealed in Hollywood Witches.

 

 

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