NEW YORK — Standing in the midst of thousands of protesters Sunday morning, I wondered if any of the individuals in this massive crowd actually believed the self-righteous propaganda.
The catch phrase of the day was, “Dissent is Patriotic.” I saw not a hint of irony on the faces of the mob as they demanded, for hours on end, “Republicans go home!” and “GOP scum, leave our city!”
Let’s think about this for a moment: There are 5,000 Republican delegates in town for the convention. Protest organizers predict the final count will be somewhere around 250,000 and I’ve no reason to doubt the figure. So protesters will outnumber delegates 50 to one.
At what point exactly, I asked several members of the Question Authority Brigade, is one group far enough in the minority that they become, well, dissenters? Sputtering, uncomprehending rage was all I got in response.
But considering the numbers and the fact that any small Republican counter-protest was immediately converged upon on by frothing-mouthed burst of vitriol and obscenity, it would seem those speaking truth to power (i.e., “dissenters”) in New York City Sunday morning were Republicans.
Not once during the Democrats’ convention did I see any large number of Republicans show up to chant, “DNC go home!” Not once did crowds of conservatives attempt to silence Democrats with obscenity or physical intimidation. Not once did Bush supporters question the legitimate right of a political party to gather for a convention. Yet all of this is commonplace at the Republican event.
“This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd chants as they demand that Republicans’ right to assembly and speech be beaten to a bloody pulp.
WHEN I ARRIVED AT press conference for the kick-off of the United for Peace and Justice march, I was met by several dozen of the group’s yellow-shirted “marshals” who herded reporters into a metal pen, which kept us from mixing with organizers and celebrity participants, who had their own separate area to protect them from the rabble.
The girl keeping us from mixing with organizers and celebrity participants was wearing a sticker that read “Free Speech Zone” with a U.S. map next to it.
“So what is this?” I asked.
“The ‘Free Press Zone’?”
Several of the marshals snickered among themselves until I explained that I was not kidding. I reiterated the question.
“It’s too crowded in there,” one of the marshals explained. “There’s a safety issue.”
The irony, the hypocrisy, the hubris! Last month in Boston, the “Free Speech Zone” cage had activists hopping mad. And here the activists had turned around and done the same thing to journalists.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
She sighed and turned away.
Moments later, I saw Michael Moore walking nearby.
“Hey, Mike!” I shouted. “Can you help a journalist get out of the ‘Free Press Zone’?”
Moore looked over, vaguely confused, and turned back to resume his conversation with Danny Glover.
The marshal turned to me and told me she didn’t want trouble, but if forced, she would get a NYPD officer.
Soon after, I noticed Marisa Tomei standing right next to the marshal, tearing up at Congressman Charles Rangel’s nonsensical address to the crowd. I started to call out to her, but the marshal got in the line of sight and glared. A writer for Liberation likewise gave me a nasty look. Tomei sauntered over to greet Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler.
I tried to explain to the marshal: “I wasn’t going to bother her about politics. I just wanted to tell her how much I loved, My Cousin Vinny and ask her what Joe Pesci was really like.”
Nothing. So I turned my attention to the preachifying.
“We already won!” a New York City Councilman told the crowd. “There’s already been more coverage of the protests than there has been of the convention.”
Moments later, he said that last year America needed “regime change here, not in Iraq.”
Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, distilled the Republican platform down to one simple line — “war, greed, hate, and lies” — before Congressman Major Owens lightened things up with a short explanation on how America was becoming “a snake pit of fascism.”
Then Jesse Jackson showed up, but when I realized he wouldn’t be giving a talk about the South Beach diet, I decided to go see what I could find on the fringes.
THE REST OF THE day was a bit of a blur. Here are a few observations from my five hours of marching:
Fox News is now hated more than George W. Bush. “Fox News Sucks” and “Fascist News Network” were both chants I heard more often than any anti-Bush screed. When I was writing down the chant, a dirty hippie in a “We are all Palestinians” shirt kept looking over my shoulder demanding I write “Fascist News” in my notes.
The young women in the anti-Bush group Code Pink are confused and demented. One of them, who should be arrested for cruelty to animals, dyed her small dog pink and made him walk down Broadway. Others wore buttons: “No War On My Sisters in Iraq, Iran, Syria, or North Korea.” You know, those havens of equal rights for all.
A Canadian couple held up two signs.
The man: “Canada Begs You to Get Rid of Bush.”
The woman: “USA Out of New York.”
Early in the day, I ran into the crew from New York Atheists, a mainstream group with catchy slogans like, “Atheism is a non-prophet organization” and “Schools need a moment of science, not silence.”
“What’s an atheist to do in this election?” I asked.
“There are some problems with Kerry,” one of the godless heathen admitted. “But, Bush is terrible and, unfortunately, atheists can’t win right now. When it comes down to it, Kerry’s basically on our side.”