At the peace march in New York City last Saturday.
You may remember that last year, on a frigid Feb. 15, 2003, Mayor Bloomberg made his support of Bush war policies vividly clear. He first denied permits for a peaceful protest against the upcoming preemptive war. Then he used New Yorks police as an attack force to intimidate the tens of thousands of marchers many of them visitors to our city.
Subsequently at a hearing of the City Council Government Operations Committee, viewers saw vivid video testimony of police beating peaceful demonstrators with nightsticks. Councilmember Charles Barron of Brooklyn accused the Bloomberg cops of being discourteous, abusive, mad some pepper-sprayed old ladies.
Hundreds were arrested after mounted police crashed their way through crowds of peace activists trapped in Bloombergs holding pens. I was on a maiden voyage in my new wheelchair and was saved from serious injury only by Village neighbors who encircled my chariot against the onslaught of the Mounties.
In short, the conduct of the mayor and his police force last February shamed the city.
Well, last Saturday was certainly different. I saw nobody arrested during the March down Madison Ave. The police were on good behavior. Perhaps those Council hearings conducted by Councilmember Bill Perkins did some real good.
Meanwhile, the crowds were mellow. It salves the soul to spend a warm, sunny afternoon with crowds of friends and neighbors who are trying to save the world. I was again in my wheelchair and my good wife Annie Shaver-Crandell had helped design and affix to my rig the version of the same sign that Jane Sweeney had designed for the first march last year: World War II Veteran Against the War.
In this presidential election year, surprisingly few were there to hustle for their candidate. Perhaps the most remarkable note on the political button front was the absolute non-presence of John Kerry on anyones bosom. There may have been people there with Kerry buttons, but I didnt see a single one. There was a sprinkling for Howard Dean (remember him?), Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, whom I am told spoke to the crowd around the speakers platform, although I never got close enough to even see the platform. Of course, George W. Bush was featured on thousands of posters and buttons, although none would have pleased him. Re-Defeat Bush was one that caught my eye. Send Chickenhawks Bush & Cheney to Iraq, Bring the Troops Home, was another. Mission Accomplished: $$ For Halliburton! seemed to hit a responsive chord. It was not a Bush crowd.
Most of the messages were without partisan political purposes. One homemade favorite had a vaguely literary quality: Love Peace, Abjure War. Abjure war? Wow! Another, worn as a T-shirt by a somewhat busty young woman, was more direct: Boobs Not Bombs. Shes selling the shirts over the Internet: doubledee.net.
Let it not appear that the day was one marked simply by clever messages. Underlying all the messages and chants and the blaring over loudspeakers were two deeply serious purposes: (1) to end the killing in Iraq and (2) by our large numbers make it clear that there was and is wide and continuing public support for peace.
What warmed my heart and even brought momentary tears to my eyes was the recognition of the variety and intensity of the demonstrators. Young people were there in far greater numbers than earlier marches. A year ago I had seen few people with rings in their ears or noses. Saturday there were many. And they blended well with older New Yorkers such as myself and my friend, activist Ann Arlen, who helped guide my wheelchair through the march.
Beyond the spread of ages was the ethnic variety. There were far more black and brown faces, some of them apparently brought by one of the subtexts of the demonstration, the linkage with the snatching of the president of Haiti as an instance of Bush administration arrogance not unlike the occupation of Iraq. New Yorkers of all ages, all genders, all races were there in brotherhood and sisterhood and common purpose. You simply have to be there to really know how affecting this kind of event can be.
The last marcher to whom I spoke as I wheeled away from the demonstration was a young Latino man wearing a simple sign also worn by thousands of Spaniards mourning the tragedy in Madrid: PAZ