Volume 74, Number 19 | September 02 - 09 , 2004

Veteran activists in Chelsea can still see the light

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert
A Penn South Co-oper illuminates “Bush lies.”

By Albert Amateau

Not to be outdone by the hundreds of demonstrators marching up Eighth Ave. on Monday night toward the 31st St. official site near Madison Sq. Garden for protests at the Republican National Convention, a contingent of Penn South residents stood at the barricade near 26th St. in a flashlight vigil.

Residents of the 10-building co-op complex between 24th and 29th Sts. defied the city’s advice to them last month to stay at home to avoid the hassle of protests and police controls. The passing parade of protestors was right up their alley.

“I don’t agree with those scare tactics,” declared Angie Lebowitz, 84. “They also said there would be sharpshooters on our roof, just to make us feel safe. You can’t live in fear.”

A Penn South resident for 15 years, Lebowitz became a political activist than 50 years ago. “I got involved when I was in the Army Nursing Corps in 1943 in North Africa and Italy. Our hospital specialized in maxilla-facial injuries. My patients had their faces shot away. That’s why I’m a peace activist.”

For Dan Greenwall, 83, a resident of the Penn South Co-op for 30 years, political action has been a way of life since he was a young teenager in 1935. “I joined the American Students Union at New York University and was a member of the American Labor Party.”

Rita Immerman, 89, was delighted to be a part of the community protest against President Bush and the administration’s war policy. “I was 7 years old when my mother took me to a demonstration against Hitler in 1933,” she said.

Immerman, who has taught political science as an adjunct at various colleges in the region, believes in the value of peaceful protest. “Demonstrations like these are important. They let the uncommitted know there’s a large contingent of people who are against war,” she said. But she worried that violent demonstration would turn the rest of the country against the peace movement.

Gloria Friedman, 89, a founder of Chelsea for Peace, one of two anti-war groups in Penn South, was also in the Monday night vigil. “When I was 19, I joined the movement to free the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama,” she recalled, referring to the celebrated 1931 case involving a succession of trials, reversals and retrials of nine black youths accused of raping two white women. The secret of keeping young, Friedman said, “is having a good attitude, faith in progress and hope for the future and left-wing philosophy.”

The scene on Eighth Ave. further uptown was reminiscent of Woodstock, but with a heavy police presence. Crowds of students and residents at W. 27th St. at Fashion Institute of Technology watched as 10 ranks of police in riot gear marched in step down the avenue.

A block north, young protestors complained that police on scooters rode into them as they stood by a barricade. Ian Duff, an English youth who spent $250 for airfare from Vancouver, B.C., where he has been living for the past three years, said he came to New York “to express my outrage at the U.S. war police and my own prime minister [Tony Blair] who’s a poodle for Bush.”

Duff said he was amazed at the way New Yorkers have received protestors. “I’m staying with a person I met on a protest Web site. “New Yorkers have offered to take complete strangers into their homes. People have been giving out free food,” he noted.

Jarrett Vick, of Alabama, staying with a friend who is a member of the Skyline Community Church in Bloomfield, N.J., said he considers himself a conservative. “I probably disagree with what everyone else here believes,” he said. “But this is a real part of the political process. From what I’ve seen, it’s been a pretty peaceful demonstration.” he added.

At 31st St., a group of young men held a 12-ft. banner proclaiming The Bill of Rights with a digest of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The maker of the banner, who gave his name only as Nick, said he most resented President Bush’s reversal of clean-air requirements for industry. “It also gets me that we have an un-elected fraud for president,” he said, referring to the 2000 election in Florida. “Don’t forget, there are 5,000 New Yorkers in Iraq that need to come home,” he added.

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