Sunday, August 29, 2004

Marchers Denounce Bush as They Pass G.O.P. Convention Hall

NY Times
August 29, 2004
Marchers Denounce Bush as They Pass G.O.P. Convention Hall

On bicycles, on foot, and some with their children in tow, hundreds of thousands of people moved through areas of Manhattan today in rallies or mass demonstrations, carrying messages against war and the Bush administration.

In the largest demonstration ever at a political convention, people swarmed through the midtown area of Manhattan in a march organized by United for Peace and Justice, passing by Madison Square Garden, where this week's Republican National Convention starts on Monday. At the height of the march, it took more than an hour to move one block.

Groups of bicyclists were detained by police officers on scooters in other parts of the city.

The police cordoned off an area along Seventh Avenue near the Garden when a papier-mâché likeness of a green dragon went up in flames. The fire was quickly extinguished. A protester was arrested on arson charges and a police officer suffered third-degree burns on his hand while making the arrest, the police said.

Another officer was hospitalized after being hit in the head with a thrown object, the police said.

By 4:30 p.m., at least 134 arrests had been made, including more than 50 on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking traffic near 37th Street and Seventh Avenue on Manhattan's West Side, the police said.

Witnesses said a group of cyclists was arrested at Park Avenue South between 27th and 26th Streets. The police handcuffed the cyclists, photographed them and searched their bags, which they then placed in clear plastic sacks. Those who were detained called out that they had been riding lawfully when pulled over.

Much of the activity was focused on the Garden, where President Bush will accept his party's nomination this week. But even as the demonstrators were marching, Republican delegates were enjoying other aspects of the city, including theaters and restaurants.

As delegates lined up on West 44th Street, waiting to be admitted to the Majestic Theater for a matinee performance of "Phantom of the Opera," a couple of dozen picketers chanted "Get out of New York!"

Some delegates responded, "Four more years!"

The protesters retorted, "Four more months!"

When a drummer and a man in an elephant costume — "Elephants Against Republicans" — filed by, Flora Rohrs, a delegate from Colorado, burst into song. "This is my country," she sang, with bits of "God Bless America" thrown in.

"What is going on here is we are going to get George Bush re-elected," she said, adding that the day's demonstrations did not faze her.

Outside Madison Square Garden, about 100 people from a group called Young Koreans United stood banging drums for about 20 minutes chanting that it is time for Bush to go.

Imbo Sim, 40, said he was from Los Angeles and that most of the group were from out of town. "We're against Bush's war policy," he said. "We're against any escalation of tension with North Korea."

A group of older women calling themselves the Raging Grannies from Rochester, N.Y., sang to the tune of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

"No more lies from Dick and Georgie, we deplore their wartime orgy."

On 41st Street and Sixth Avenue, six other bicyclists were arrested for disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic and parading without a permit.

One man, Kevin O'Connell, a 37-year-old graphic designer, was among those arrested. He said there were "all these small scooters, about 12 of them, with officers in civilian clothes."

"They blocked off the road and caught us," he said.

Mr. O'Connell said he had stepped onto the sidewalk from the street to try to make sure that people were getting through and "was knocked off his bike by officers" and sprayed with tear gas.

Authorities braced for protests by hundreds of thousands of people, including the largest rally, that planned by United for Peace and Justice, which had expected about 250,000 people to take part.

The huge demonstration wound its way north through steamy streets just around noon, when temperatures climbed to about 88 degrees Fahrenheit, starting in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The route took them past Madison Square Garden before turning south again to finish in Union Square.

Among the marchers were war veterans, parents with their children, and the elderly, as well as familiar faces, like the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the filmmaker Michael Moore. Many marchers commuted into the city.

"The march is going great," said Faith Strongheart, a 31-year-old film production coordinator, who drove in from her home in New Jersey to attend the rally.

As she spoke, she struggled to be heard over the chants of a raucous crowd. "There are tons of people, the energy is really high," she said. "There are people with homemade signs. The main message is to get Bush out of office."

She said the heat was beating down on the marchers but "people are very peaceful, everybody is singing, the cops are being very cooperative."

Uniformed police patrols were thick on the ground in the midtown area and other parts of Manhattan and along the planned protest routes near Madison Square Garden. Officers strode through the tunnels of New York City's elaborate subway network, watchful of passers-by.

Even before the convention started, as of Saturday night more than 300 people had been arrested on charges related to the event, according to the police.

A large group of bicyclists on Friday were among those held. The police said 264 individuals were arrested on charges of obstructing governmental administration, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct at various locations throughout Manhattan.

Thousands of protesters gathered today in Union Square Park on the edge of the city's Greenwich Village neighborhood, holding up placards opposing the policies of President Bush.

Paintings showed scenes depicting Mr. Bush in a war crimes setting. One old woman in a wheelchair held up a placard saying, "I'm 98 and I'm outraged."

One organizer of the protest shouted through a megaphone to the crowd that the police were "closing down" a table with pamphlets and booklets espousing the anti-Bush views.

"Save a Tree — Plant a Bush Back in Texas," read one placard.

"Bush — You're Fired!" read another, using a motto that has infused popular culture borrowed from the reality television show "The Apprentice," set in New York City.

Streets around the convention center were sealed off. After the march, thousands of demonstrators gathered in Central Park, despite court decisions last week that denied some groups, including United for Peace and Justice, permission to hold rallies.

Earlier in the day, police vehicles and officers on patrol circulated among the joggers, bicyclists and dog-walkers. Helicopters thudded overhead in the Upper West Side neighborhood. But by late afternoon, thousands of protesters, many still carrying placards, had converged on the Great Lawn. Some sat on the ground, their signs at their sides, others milled around as the police watched and answered questions for those who needed directions.

Mari Elena Granger, 57, a self-employed New Yorker, carried a sign that said, "Bush lies. Who dies. Bring the troops home now."

Asked whether most of the people in the park had come from the march organized by United for Peace and Justice, she said: "I am assuming most of them are, particularly because they told us we couldn't go. It was a very poor excuse."

The police have been training on mock demonstrations for the convention, which starts on Monday and continues through Sept. 2.

On Saturday, a small circle of demonstrators used Central Park's Great Lawn for a protest, lying in the grass covered by plastic garbage bags.

"Come join us!!" they shouted to people strolling around the oval of grass. Bemused couples with babies lying on picnic blankets looked on but did not budge. One man, throwing a Frisbee with a friend nearby, shouted, "Shut up!"

"If they get out of control we're going to shut it down," a park security guard said, standing in the shade nearby with her arms folded.

Randal C. Archibold, Carla Baranauckas, Natalie Layzell, Jennifer Medina, Colin Moynihan and Marc Santora contributed reporting for this article.