NEW YORK –There was a marked sameness to the protest marches in New York City last week — several of them came through my neighborhood and one crossed in front of my building. What was striking, to my eye, was the tension between the protesters and the police … or, rather, how utterly one-sided the tension was. No matter how the protesters ranted and raved, the police, for their part, remained eerily serene. Indeed, the exchanges between the two sides seemed less adversarial than familial. The protesters shuffled down the street like spoiled children, chanting their potty-mouthed slogans, hoisting their profanity-filled signs, their leaders snarling and yapping at the cops along the way, crying, “You can’t tell us to …” or “We have a right to … ” And the cops — many of whom were disconcertingly young, perhaps a year or two out of the academy — stood by impassively, aloof, like patient parents, their arms folded, hearing (but not really listening), nodding (but not really consenting), letting the demonstrators vent their frustrations before moving them along.
Amid the sameness of the marches, however, I did witness a protest singularity. Late Thursday night, 11:45, I was walking back to my apartment on West 34th Street. Walking several yards ahead of me was a young man wearing a “Wage Peace!” T-shirt. The convention had just adjourned at Madison Square Garden, and conventioneers were streaming in our direction. As they passed by, the young man began to berate them. “You should be ashamed of yourself!” “Dick Cheney is a liar! He’s a damn liar!” “How do you sleep at night?”
He continued to scream right up until he encountered a larger cluster of convention goers which included three burly sailors in full navy dress. At the sight of the servicemen, the young man suddenly clammed up. He walked in silence for perhaps fifteen steps until he crossed paths with an elderly couple — at which point he began to yell again.
Rage … cowardice … and more rage.
That will be the lasting impression I take with me of the protests of 2004.