Volume 75, Number 19 | Sep. 28 - Oct. 04, 2005

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel

Above, left, Hong Chau, a New Orleans native who lives on the Upper East Side, and two very supportive bus drivers, called for help for New Orleans; at right, Villagers Henry and Kathleen Chalfant waited to board the bus; below, two protesters with another Katrina-and-Iraq protest sign.

Vive la différence! Antiwar protesters go in style

By Jefferson Siegel

This past Saturday there were worldwide protests against the war in Iraq. The largest U.S. gathering was in Washington, D.C., where an estimated 100,000 marched on the Capitol.

As in past marches, many New Yorkers planned their travels as a daytrip, leaving before sunrise and returning home after dark. Buses left from several locations around the city. Just before 5 a.m. in Union Sq., a dozen people arrived early, standing in small groups and clutching containers of deli coffee and handmade signs.

At another departure point in the Meatpacking District a larger crowd was growing by the minute. Florent Morellet, owner of the eponymous restaurant Florent on Gansevoort St., had arranged for several buses to take friends, customers and locals to the march. However, this was not your father’s protest. By 5 a.m., an hour before the scheduled departure time, dozens of people were lining up at a long table in front of the restaurant, piling paper plates high with rolls, corn muffins and bagels with assorted spreads, some adding containers of fruit salad and filling cups from urns of cappuccino and freshly brewed coffee.

Asked why she was traveling to the march from Florent, Julie, a Chelsea resident, voiced a common response, “Why this bus? This bus has better food!”

Chelsea parents Alexander and Elizabeth Bernstein stood in the darkness with their daughter, Anya, 6. Alexander took a sober view of the day’s events. “We’ve got to speak up,” he said. “We’ve got to do something about this atrocity.” They had heard about the buses from Anya’s teacher at P.S. 3.

“I just feel like we need to make our presence known, our dissatisfaction with what’s been going on with the war,” Elizabeth added.

In addition to the predawn spread, each traveler received a personalized shopping bag with a box lunch containing a choice of chicken, egg or veggie sandwiches. And at the end of a day of marching, the same table would be set up in Washington to greet returning marchers with cheese hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.

Morellet was greeted by many in the crowd as he poured his first cup of coffee. “I love the morning when everyone is a little sleepy,” he said between sips. “This is our fifth or sixth bus trip to D.C.” He had arranged previous trips, including ones in 1992 to call for abortion rights and 1993 for gay and lesbian rights. “People against the war, it’s a majority that keeps growing and growing,” he noted.

Infused in the light-hearted atmosphere was a serious sense of purpose. Village resident Henry Chalfant said, “I’m brought here by my outrage and by the last five years of government and the Iraq war, which is an unnecessary and, by international law, illegal war. The incompetence of the administration is without bounds.” His actress wife Kathleen, well known for her role in the play “Wit,” added, “Bush is the boy in the bubble. This [march] is for other people to understand this entire enterprise is wrongheaded.”

As the first rays of sun filled the eastern sky, 108 people started boarding the waiting buses on Washington St. The atmosphere was jovial — but clearly they felt their trip was no laughing matter.

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