Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004

Talking Point

The real patriots speak up: Bush brings out our best

By Keith Crandell

My view of the Republican convention invasion is a minority view. Some see the visiting Bushies simply as disturbers of the peace. I see them as energizers of the body politic of our town. While this little army of fibbers and boodlers and humbuggers seemed to hold much of our city in thrall, thousands of my neighbors went into the streets and into assemblies to exercise the rights enumerated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

To my mind, the real patriots of the week just past were the activists who exercised their rights to assemble, and run their printing presses and speak freely and petition their elected officials with great vigor for a redress of grievances, and even use their right to free exercise of religion in a way not popular with those who turned New York City into an armed camp.

Obvious case in point: the march of hundreds of thousand of patriotic protesters peaceably assembled on Sunday, astonishing in its calm and order. And in its variety: Members of the “Staten Island Department of Peace.” The choral group entitled “Raging Grannies of Rochester.” The sporting outfit under the banner: “Another Jewish Met Fan Against the Occupation.” I am not surprised that the Bloombergs kept their police under wraps for the big march, although they overstepped their bounds at smaller events around the city.

On Tuesday, Bill Talen (a.k.a. Reverend Billy) hied himself down to Ground Zero as he has every Tuesday evening for 30 consecutive weeks to read aloud the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.* Unhappily, as he arrived, the Bloomberg police were draping members of the War Resisters League and their allies in red plastic netting preparatory to hauling hundreds of them off to a makeshift jail. The War Resisters had agreed to walk two by two on the sidewalks north to Madison Sq. Garden. Dangerous, huh? (“Their crimes,” said Reverend Billy afterward, “were to exercise much of the Bill of Rights — free speech, peaceful assembly and petitioning their government. for redress of grievances.”) Reverend Billy was planning to be back at Ground Zero this past Tuesday. Same old script from the Bill of Rights.

My goodness, wasn’t it splendid to hear Laura Flanders of “Air America” lead a panel of commentators, patriots all, defending the rights of people to read what comes off the free presses without the kind of government hindrance envisioned under the so-called Patriot Act. They appeared before a full house at the Bowery Poetry Club on Wednesday. One notable panelist was Larry Beinhart, whose novel, “American Hero,” was filmed as a hugely successful political comic thriller, “Wag the Dog.” Beinhart’s latest novel, “The Librarian,” takes aim at the portion of the Patriot Act permitting government agents to demand records of which books individual Americans withdraw from public libraries — and prohibits libraries from revealing this information to their borrowers. The mocking commentary was particularly splendid in view of the fact that it followed on the heels of the reading by patriots Gail Addiss, Virginia Stotz, Bina Sharif and others of the Declaration of Independence (plus portions of “The Iliad,” the Mesopotamian epic “Gilgamesh” and Benet’s “John Brown’s Body.”

And then on Thursday afternoon, came a march of perhaps a thousand New Yorkers from The Adam Clayton Powell office building on 125th St. up Frederick Douglass Blvd. to 150th St., where patriotic black, white and Latino activists came together to oppose the infamous Bush agenda. Impressive as the Sunday march had been for sheer size, it couldn’t touch the Harlem march for noise and rhythm and blaze. Marchers received a small packet of chants to assure a high-spirited community march. Charles Barron, once a Black Panther and now a city councilmember running for mayor, was the fiery, featured speaker. I was encouraged to join the march by Andre Charles, the one-time graffiti artist who is now a successful Lower East Side muralist. Barbara Backer, who has graced marches such as this since she was a teenager, joined me in representing the Village Independent Democrats.

Later that evening, patriotic opponents of the Bush agenda mounted a candlelight vigil in Union Sq. Park. It was quite noisy and surrounded by the biggest concentration of police I’d seen all week. The week’s other vigil — a silent (really!) vigil for peace brought together a dozen quiet members of the Society of Friends beneath Washington Sq. Arch. Seven N.Y.P.D. officers in riot gear on motorcycles hovered nearby to protect Villagers from notoriously violent Quakers. (Or to protect Quakers from notoriously violent Villagers.)

One bit of cheerful news after all the Republican huffle of the week: On Friday, the day after the R.N.C. ended, some 300 patriots from Lower Manhattan packed into five buses to work for John Kerry and John Edwards in Eastern Pennsylvania. They left from Chelsea at 8:30 and spent five hours doing door-to-door campaigning. Bill Stricklin, campaign manager for the Village Independent Democrats, described the day’s outing as a major success. Similar trips will follow during September and October.

And lastly, a bit of news from a swing state: On Thursday evening, as Mr. Bush was stating his case for election, Ben Crandell, my oldest son, a patriotic Floridian, reports that virtually no one in Florida had heard Bush’s golden remarks. Ben stood in line for six hours to buy plywood paneling to block out Hurricane Francis. Other Floridians were similarly preoccupied, vying to buy gasoline and flee to safety. So it goes.

*First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights was influenced by the Declaration of Rights of Virginia, drafted by a patriot named George Mason. Mason was a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention but did not sign the Constitution because it did not sufficiently oppose slavery.

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