The August 29 United for Peace and Justice rally has been gathering press for months, due to UFPJ's altercation with the City of New York over the city's refusal to issue a permit for a post-protest rally in Central Park. In the end, both the City and the state court rejected UFPJ's request to use the park. However, several thousand people convened in the park regardless, in a peaceful. festive gathering which went mostly unmolested. Meanwhile, police arrested over 150 people - many of them bystanders - in Times Square and on Broadway,as protesters attempted to converge outside the venues where Republican delegates had gone to watch Broadway shows.
People began assembling for the main UFPJ rally and march at 10 AM and continued to arrive for the next two hours. The main body of the rally gathered between 15th and 22nd St and between 5th and 9th Ave, while various feeder marches convened nearby, including a bike bloc, the International A.N.S.W.E.R. rally, and the "Don't Just Vote" bloc, who marched with a giant green dragon puppet. All in all, organizers estimate the total number of protesters at 500,000. For my own part, I can say that when I climbed on top of a bus stop and looked down 7th Ave, there was no end of the march in sight, either ahead or behind. The Infernal Noise Brigade was present, as were a myriad of other music makers, performance artists, and dancers.
The march proceeded past Madison Square Gardens, the site of the convention, where it encountered a couple hundred pro-Bush counter-protesters. It then looped around and ended back at Union Square. From there, some protesters headed towards Central Park to rally on the Great Lawn and others formed a Mouse Bloc (so called because elephants are supposedly afraid of mice) on Broadway. The police attempted to prevent protesters from arriving at Central Park, arresting several bicyclists who were heading uptown. However, the crowd that eventually arrived on the Great Lawn was several thousand strong and the police did not seem inclined to confrontation. The crowd rallying on the lawn was peaceful and somewhat disorganized- it resembled a picnic in the park more than a riot.
Meanwhile, the police were attempting to clear out Times Square for the convenience of the Republican delegates. Protester Nick Schwellenbach observed, "There were a lot of pedestrians there. just walking by and police tried to kind of lock down the area but there were too many just regular Joe Schmoes walking by." The officers used orange netting to encircle the protesters (and unfortunate bystanders), arresting 100-150 people according to legal observers. The remains of the Mouse Bloc proceeded up Broadway, attempting to catch up with the delegates as the Broadway shows let out. Using a squad of about twenty undercover officers on unmarked motorcycles, the officers boxed the protesters in on 45th and Broadway, and again on 53rd and made several more arrests. The march had been proceeding on the sidewalk, not blocking automobile traffic.
The lack of police response to the unpermitted rally in Central Park, by contrast to heavy repression of protesters on Broadway suggests that the City was happy to have the majority of dissenters safely out of sight of the delegates, while the smaller crowd on Broadway could be easily controlled. By UFPJ's estimate, about 180 people were arrested over the course of the day.