Report from one RNC protester
Summary of my experiences in New York for the RNC
September 5, 2004
Reflections on last week in New York City and the Republican National Convention.
Several months ago I was shocked and outraged upon learning of the Republican Party's decision to hold their convention in New York City. In a shameless attempt to exploit the tragedy which happened on September 11, 2001, they even delayed the date of the convention, held in Manhattan's Madison Square Garden, so that it would happen in September. I signed up on a list-serve with the website "rncnotwelcome.org" and began receiving over 20 e-mails every day.
About eight weeks ago I made the decision that I needed to add my voice to the collective outrage that New York City felt about the actions of the GOP. Many people including myself feel the Bush administration let the "9/11 terrorists" go by ignoring intelligence reports, allowing Bin Laden's family leave the country, and failing to capture high-level terrorists in Afghanistan when we had the chance by placing only a small force of 15,000 soldiers on the ground. The Bush administration then attacked Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on the United States, and which posed no threat to us. In fact, as a secular regime, Saddam Husein and the Baath party hated the radical islamists that attacked the United States. Several years ago, I visited my former college adviser, retired forestry professor Dr. William Sullivan. I believe it was during January of 2003. Dr. Sullivan told me "I served in North Africa in the army and then in the Merchant Marine during World War II and have come to the realization that all war is a commercial venture." This simple statement has since had a profound effect on my life. I believe there is overwhelming evidence that the war in Iraq was started by the Bush administration for the sole purpose of enriching some business associates of those in power in this country. Look at the Halliburton fiasco! For the past two years I've tried to attend all the demonstrations in Portland.
Let me at this point highly recommend that the reader of this paper join the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition- every Friday afternoon at 5pm at the southwest corner of Pioneer Square for a refreshing stroll around downtown.
The actions of the Bush administration have made enemies out of the entire world, and have left us in a permenant state of fear. Rather than cooperate with allies to capture the guilty parties and strengthen our intelligence around the world, the administration chose to start a war for profit. The September 11 hijackers did not get a government grant to buy their cheap box-cutters. Attacking countries makes no sense and is counterproductive in the "war on terror". Already almost 1000 of our young men and women in the armed services have given their lives simply to line the pockets of some well known war-profiteers.
Five weeks ago I got a good price on a round trip ticket to Newark, New Jersey and informed my boss I'd be gone for the first week in September. I'm a union electrician here in Portland. It didn't take long for all my friends at work to figure out exactly where and why I was going on vacation.
Before buying the plane ticket I secured a place to stay in the City. There was a buliten board established on the Internet for people offering and seeking housing for the event. Thousands of concerned New Yorkers opened their homes to complete strangers for the week. I won't disclose the names of my hosts. They have an apartment in a nice area of Washington Heights, three shy cats and one friendly golden retriever. We e-mailed each other several times to determine our compatibility. They have a son in the National Guard and a daughter in college. Their son's wife is in active duty army in Bahgdad at the present time. They are active in the organization "Military Families Speak Out".
I was afraid that Manhattan would be completely locked down in an attempt to silence dissent and dressed conservatively for the trip. My flight left Portland airport Friday the 27th at 11:15pm. Transferring planes in Chicago I landed in Newark NJ about 9:45am on the 28th. Then I took a New Jersey transit train directly to Penn Station Manhattan, directly underneath Madison Square Garden. Immediately I headed for the subway in Penn Station, where I purchased a 7 day unlimited Metrocard, and caught the A-train to Washington Heights. My hosts pressed a set of keys in my hand the minute I walked through their door. They were off to an event downtown and I hopped back on the subway for Coney Island- where I arrived about 3 in the afternoon to see the Atlantic Ocean, take some pictures and relax. I stopped at Penn Station again on the way, this time going above ground. Security around Madison Square garden was understandably tight, A large red white and blue Welcome sign was on the building, above hundreds of well-armed police and five rows of fences even before you could enter the building. I observed them checking out a car before it entered the area- the hood and trunk were open, they were checking it with a dog and a mirror underneath. It was a New York MTA police car. Such is the cowardice of this administration that they don't even trust the NYPD!
Coney Island was packed with people trying to escape the heat and humidity. I took some pictures of the people swimming and enjoying the beach and amusement park, and enjoyed a couple hours there.
Saturday night my hosts took me to Riverside Church for a lively concert and awards show by Code Pink, a womens organization founded in response to the use of fear by the Bush administration.
The big march sponsored by United for Peace and Justice was on Sunday August 29th. I attended with my hosts up near the front with Military Families Speak Out. There were veterans of all different ages, from World War II to the latest Iraq war. In spite of the fact that United for Peace and Justice had been denied the use of Central Park for the end of the march, it was a huge success. The size of the event was conservatively estimated at five hundred thousand people. Various organizations fed into the march from different streets. The street was packed over the entire two mile route. The march was allowed to pass in front of Madison Square Garden, and the river of people continued unbroken for six hours past all the media setting up for the convention at that location. This historic demonstration was one of the largest ever in the United States. In addition, it received more media coverage than the opening of the convention itself.
That afternoon I met Jeff Mapes, a reporter from the Oregonion, embedded in the Republican National Convention. We had been placed in contact with each other by a Portland woman wanting to make sure the Oregonion covered the protests surrounding the convention, and he was eager to interview someone who came from Portland to demonstrate against the convention. We met in front of the public Library and had a nice chat for half an hour or so. The Oregonion newspaper published the interview the next day. I was happy with the content of the article but felt I was mis-quoted on some points, and there were a few inaccurate statement s. Also I was disappointed that little was said as to why I was there - I thought I made it pretty clear I wanted the troops home. Finally I don't really consider myself to be a "Seasoned Protester" I seem to be one of the younger ones at these events, and prefer the term "demonstration" over "protest". In general the article was good- especially when looking at it through the eyes of a "swing voter".
Later that night in Times Square and throughout the "theater district" The Republican Delegates were scheduled to attend broadway shows. Of course they were confronted by people angry at the policies of the Bush Administration. Police presence was very heavy, and at one point a bunch of arrests were made when people started blocking traffic. The police arrived by the hundreds and did a far better job of shutting down the streets than any activists could have hoped to.
On Monday August 30 the organization "Still We Rise" sponsored a permitted march from Union Square ending in a street party two blocks from Madison Square Garden. I participated in this event, and estimated maybe 20,000 people- This was also very energetic and well organized. The support from the sidewalks and windows of buildings was unbelievable.
Also on Monday many small fliers and stickers began to appear on the streets and in the subways announcing August 31 as the day of direct action.
They stated " NYC Streets Transformed City Liberated from Republicans, Day of Non-Violent Civil Disobedience and Direct Action to Confront the Bush Administration's Unjust Policies at Home and Abroad. The flier announced plans to meet at Union Square at 400pm, and at 700pm converge on Madison Square Garden.
Later Monday night I took a walk in Central Park and sent a couple postcards. Postcards are sold 10 for a dollar at many locations in Manhattan, as a loss leader to get people into tourist shops.
Tuesday August 31 arrived and I took the subway out to Brooklyn to visit the Transit Museum. It's in a retired subway station and has many examples on old subway cars, which you can walk through. It also outlines the construction of the subway and elevated train system, and much of the history. Personally I would be happy to spend a week just riding around on all the subways and elevated trains in New York City. If the Portland reader can, imagine going between Beaverton and Gresham in twenty minutes during the worst rush hour traffic. Someday I'd like to go and ride every line end to end. My favorite goes out to Flushing, an area of Queens. I believe it's the #7 After going under the East river in a very old, wet, and very deep tunnel it is elevated in inner Queens, on rickety old wooden structures, and you get the most incredible view of the Manhattan skyline.
The War resistors League had a permitted march planned starting at the World Trade Center Path station. I arrived early, and a sign with the name of a casulty from,Afghanistan was pressed into my hands. The march was to stay on the sidewalk as it headed towards Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately the police surrounded the head of the march, and apparently arrested the first eighty people, walking on the sidewalk. The rest of us stood around in the sun for an hour and a half. I then caught the subway from the WTC station up to Union Square where there were events planned. In Union Square there were several thousand people, and the park was completely surrounded by police. There were numerous "Street Theater" performances. Some excellent music and break dancing was enjoyed by all.
At about 630 pm the police pushed through the crowd, and arrested some of the (highly skilled) break dancers and other performers. Someone announced that there were five or six thousand people at a demonstration near Madison Square Garden. At about 700pm, with the police were closing in on Union Square, I headed underground to the Subway and traveled in the direction of the Convention. Upon getting out of the Subway, The usually packed area of midtown near Madison Square Garden was an eerie ghost town. Groups of police were on all the corners. I walked to a coffee shop and then decided to head to Times Square. Upon exiting the subway I noticed that Times square contained maybe half the number of people I'd expect. There was a small group of maybe four people with "protest materials" including a man with a "George Bush for Dog Catcher" sign. I became angry at him because dog catcher is a position demanding maturity and responsibility. We all laughed and took off together.. We happened on a larger group of people at an intersection closer to the Convention, nearby a closed to the public republican event. To the best of my knowledge this was at 34th street and 6th avenue. About 50 of us began chanting slogans and waving signs from the sidewalk across the street. A few police were there as well. We all noticed some buses with delegates coming, and when the light turned red about 10 people sat down blocking the street. Others rushed in to feed them with apples and granola bars, to prepare for the inevitable arrest and detention.
The Midtown Sweep
The police came on horses, vans, and foot. As they surrounded the group, some of the delegated came off the buses and walked through our gathering to their private event. We limited ourselves to chanting slogans at them, mostly "RNC, GO HOME" Nobody even so much as spit on the republican delegates. One of them looked down his nose at me and said "Get a Job!" I said, "I have a job, I'm risking it to work for my country." The police separated those of us on the sidewalk from the people sitting in the street. They then put plastic handcuffs on the people in the street and took them away in a bus.
Having the Police still lining 6th avenue in front of us we (about sixty of us at this time) took off marching down 34th- we failed to notice the barricade set up by more officers down the street. This was at about 900pm. The police came behind us with "bicycle rack" fencing and orange netting. Both sides were blocked by buildings and enclosed garages. They literally sandwiched all sixty of us between the barricades and arrested everyone, whether in the street, or on the sidewalk, and even some people who just happened to be walking in that block at the time were arrested. They did allow anyone with an official press badge to leave.
One at a time they pulled us out of the barricades and placed us in plastic "flex cuffs", hands tied behind our backs. I was assigned to a group of five with an arresting officer by the name of Perez #11312. Officer Perez, as with most of the lower ranking NYPD, was very kind to us. The police were pretty much stuck with us for the next forty hours. We were placed on city buses. A higher ranking officer climbed aboard our bus and as we left the scene said to us "Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to NYPD tours, My name is Officer Matty, Our first Stop will be Pier 57".
The last use of Pier 57 was a garage for city buses- obvious from signs hanging from the rafters. The floor was concrete, consistently greasy with whatever has ever been under a city bus, and our cloths became filthy with this from sleeping or sitting on this floor.
After waiting in the bus for quite some time we were marched past hundreds of clapping prisoners in 600 ft enclosures- 10 foot high cyclone fence with a coil of razor wire at the top. Throughout our detention, whenever they'd move groups of prisoners we would clap in unison. Our property was taken from us and placed in plastic bags, and we were hastily searched. We were then placed in a large fenced off area of about 8000 square feet. The concrete floor was dirty consistent with it's previous use as a giant city bus garage, there were no benches to sit on. It was at least four hours before we could use the portable toilets or get a drink of water. Bright lights were kept on during the entire day and night. Other people will complain about the signs and other evidence of "chemical storage" in the area- I was more concerned with a few pigeon feathers on the floor. They tend to carry disease.
The co-ed group had incredible diversity. There were a few "anarchist" types. The street performers from Union Square were there. There was an entire marching band (minus instruments) Some students, Business men and women. A few older people one appeared to be in his 70's or 80's. There were some old hippies- one in particular I would credit with keeping things sane and cool throughout the ordeal. There was one Sikh Indian, complete with black turban. There were Christians, orthodox Jews, Arabs, Mexicans, Chinese, Whites, Blacks, and everyone of all ages was there.
Eventually our "flex-cuffs" were cut off. (The police were fairly kind in placing them loose to the point most of us could struggle out of them.) We were provided with an apple and later a bologna sandwich- consisting of two pieces white bread and one slice of bologna. Some singing and dancing occurred and we even started a little soccer game with a balls made from crumpled paper cups. Someone shredded enough paper cups to spell "The Spirit can never be caged" on the floor. Somebody wrote "I hate jail" by dragging their foot on a particularly greasy area. I was able to sleep a little on the concrete. The temperature was pleasantly cooler than the 85 degrees and humid in town due to the fact we were on a pier above the water.
During the morning of the first of September we were moved to some of the smaller cells, segregated male/ female. About 500 of us male prisoners were taken back to the large area and told to sit in lines on the floor. People started clapping and chanting "Lawsuit" clap clap "Lawsuit", and then began a giant deafaning roar until one of the higher ranking officers in a white shirt blew his top and started yelling NYPD Blue style. Over the next several hours we were called one at a time. We were then loaded on Corrections department Buses. We were marched past an area where many police officers were either resting or waiting on paperwork. They were completely exhausted, many were sleeping in their chairs. I left in a police motorcade with two or three of these buses, a few police cars, and a dozen or so of the large police scooters which are almost motorcycles. Sirens wailing and running red lights we drove quickly to 100 center street, the criminal courts jail.
We didn't go through a regular intake process at first. Instead after being taken off the bus we were marched upstairs to the third floor. We were searched again, then placed in three different holding cells of approximately 400 square feet. At one point there were 70 (seventy) men in one of the 400 sq. ft cells. Outside the bars our arresting officers were sitting around, waiting for paperwork, as with the pier, many of the officers were sleeping in folding chairs under the bright lights, and the vast majority appeared seriously fatigued. Throughout the day and night of September 1st, we were occasionally moved among these three cells. There were benches, and people were very good about sharing, although most of us were content to just sleep on the floor as best as we could. Throughout the night they called names, at one point they appeared to be calling obviously fake names just to keep us all awake.
In my experience in custody, this third floor area was the most stressful of the various locations we were held. No doubt due to overcrowding. Generally I believe that if you lock up 70 people in 400 square feet problems will occur. However I personally observed no serious incidents. I did see them leading two people away individually from one of the other cells though. It is my firm belief that there were few if any serious incidents in custody due to hundreds of small acts of kindness and de-escalation among prisoners, and even between police and prisoners. I was involved in one in which I took action to calm a gentleman down when he seemed to be "losing his cool". After all, the New York Post described us as "Peacenik Punks"- so we had a high standard to live up to. Seriously, I think we did exceptionally well under the circumstances. Also, I believe the wide diversity, and the presence of older activists in their 60's and even 70's in our group contributed to our ability to keep ourselves from "falling apart" . I can't really explain it but I do believe it.
My name was called about 930am on the 2nd of September. My left hand was placed in a cuff on a long chain together with nine other men. We were marched together downstairs, and given the impression we'd be released quickly. At this point corrections officers fingerprinted and photographed us, and provided some good-natured harrasment in a typical jail-intake process. We were placed in some smaller cells downstairs, and these had pay-phones so we were able to learn that the Lawyers Guild had filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in an attempt to gain our release. The corrections officers were calling names throughout the day, including what seemed to be fake names, my guess was to prevent us from sleeping. For breakfast a single-serving box of cereal and an 8 ounce milk was served. At lunch We were given a choice of Bologna or peanut butter sandwiches, and at one time a cup of Kool-Aid was provided to us. Water was available at a combination sink/ fountain near the toilet.
I was kept in the cell downstairs until about 330pm until my name was called. A group of seventeen of us was taken to a row of very small cells with a closet exposed to "the other side" After about a half hour or so we were given a few minutes to speak with a lawyer, mine was Mr. Nathan. Mr. Nathan read my charges to me, 2 counts of disorderly conduct, one of parade with out permit. He said the city was offering "AC D's" which means nothing happens to you, the case stays open for six months and if you avoid trouble during this time the case dissipears from your record. By doing this you do give up your ability to sue for false arrest. I agreed that an ACD really sounded like a great idea especially because it means I don't have to fly across the country for a hearing in a month. Mr. Nathan said that I should remain silent in the courtroom and he would accept the ACD on my behalf. Mr. Nathan also reminded us all to vote in the upcoming election.
My name was called at 415 pm and I was led into the courtroom. I clearly remember the bailiff bore an uncanny resemblance to the character Worf on Star Trek. The female judge didn't look at all happy about being there. Mr. Nathan accepted the ACD for me and I was free to go, no paperwork or anything. Out the door I went and walked around in circles for a bit in the street, there were legal support people waiting outside who asked me to provide my name, and asked if I needed medical attention or if I had seen anything bad happen in custody. They also advised me that I needed a disposition to claim my property from the trailer. So I went back in through the front door of the courthouse, to the clerks office- who said I needed an unofficial disposition from the court first. Back in the courtroom, they eventually came up with an "unofficial disposition", and I headed back to the clerks office. It was closed as it was five minutes past 430pm- However a gentleman came out on his way to leave work and was kind enough to go back in and prepare the official disposition for me. Just another one of the thousands of small acts of kindness I witnessed throughout the last week in New York. Unfortunately when I got to the temporary property room in a double wide trailer four blocks away, the police said that because my camera was "arrest evidence" that I would need a release from the District Attorney's office to claim my property. Back at 100 center street the DA's office was really closed. So I made plans to come back early the next morning.
About 5:00pm I located a subway station and headed uptown on the A-train. Luckily I was able to keep my host's keys throughout my detention. I opened their door to an ecstatic golden retriever, and a note from my host's saying they were going to attend a candlelight vigil in Union Square. Then I took a shower and changed in to some clean clothes, and headed back to Union Square, to a large candlelight vigil and lively demonstration. I found my hosts and their friends, who were very happy to see me. Union Square was again ringed by police- one of which was standing atop a truck and diligently scanning the crowd with some sort of binoculars. At about 9:00 the demonstration in Union Square began to pour into 14th street and march in a scene reminding me of the "Lord of the Rings" movies. As I had promised the court to behave for the next six months I went down into the subway. Upon transferring trains underground at 14th st. and 8th ave. the noise from the lively march in the street above was filling the underground station.
Friday morning I was first in line at the DA's office on the 7th floor for a Release so I could claim my property- This form was provided to me without charge and in a couple hours I was able to claim my property from the police. Nothing had been removed or damaged. Then I headed back, said goodbye to my hosts and made my way by subway and New Jersey Transit train to the Newark airport, I left Newark at 550pm and arrived in here in Portland late Friday night.
Conclusions and General Impressions
Overall I believe the week was a resounding success for the peace and justice community in New York and the United States.
First of all the large United for Peace and Justice march Sunday afternoon overshadowed the Convention and was a larger media event. Conservatively estimated at half a million it ranked among the largest demonstrations in United States history.
Second of all throughout the week I observed no violence whatsoever on the part of protesters or the police. The attitude of most of the NYPD- in spite of their corralling us with nets and arresting around 2000 people simply for being in midtown- was "we are all in this together."
Third, I saw many "delegates" on the street. Very few were wearing anything beyond their badges identifying themselves as being associated with the convention, even though the convention was giving out messenger bags and other branded gifts.
The delegates on the street, and the ones I saw in the Newark airport did not look happy at all about being in New York. A very reliable source I will not disclose said to me "The convention was too long, it was like a four-day infomercial"
Many people are understandably upset by the conditions of our mostly false arrests, and the physical conditions of our detention. The ACLU, and the Lawyers Guild are preparing lawsuits on our behalf. Let me now say that I would like to see us refrain from suing "the city" or "the nypd" I am very much aware that police and corrections personel will pretend to be friendly to detainees in an attempt at learning information related to criminal offenses. However this did not appear to be the case last week at Pier 57 or 100 Center Street. (The Jail) As I said before, the police were exhausted. Although they will be well compensated with overtime pay, their quality of life was negatively affected last week.
Let us instead sue the individuals in high places who abused their power last week. This means you Mayor Bloomberg. I also heard rumors of Homeland Security asking the city to delay our release until after Bush had left the city. Let us file a lawsuit demanding information. I believe the conditions of our arrest and detention were a calculated act of mismanagement at a high level in the city government, and illegal collaboration with the Republican National Convention.
Let me conclude by reminding the reader that in spite of the outrage the majority of the citizens of New York City felt toward the Republican National Convention exploiting the tragedy of September 11, I witnessed no acts of violence or property destruction throughout the entire week. Evidence that dissent was effective was clear in the unhappy faces of republican delegates. Delegates from all over the United States, including Texas, and other "red states" have been made aware that the people of this nation strongly disagree with the deceptive policies and war for profit promoted by the Bush Administration.
God Bless America!
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