Wednesday, September 01, 2004

RNC=Really No Commotion

My advisor and I went down to NYC on Monday night to protest the Republican National Convention. He had read something in The Nation about "Light Up New York", which was a silent, individual protest thought up by the guy who "invented" the I heart NY slogan (Glazer, I think his name is). People were supposed to bring flashlights, candles, lanterns, anything that made a light and walk around NYC. So being the only liberals in our lab, we both decided to go.
Usually driving from New Haven to NYC during rush hour is a painful experience. Apparently, everyone is completely avoiding New York this week just like they did in Boston last month. No one wants to deal with the fact that the city is overrun with elephants for the week. It was smooth sailing the whole way. (Except for stopping at McDonald's on the highway...they jooked us out of a large fry...dammmmnnnn youuuu McDonald's!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
We heard on NPR (told you we were liberal) that there was a march from the UN headquarters, through Manhattan, and ending at Madison Square Garden. It was "impromptu" (inasmuch as a protest march with hundreds of people can be spontaneous) even though they ok'd their route with police. Towards the end some guy attacked a city cop on a scooter so the police laid the smack down and broke it up. We also heard a story about people getting arrested left and right for innocuous offenses like taking pictures of the protests, city streets, and cops arresting protesters. They took pictures in order to make sure there was no police brutality and the protests were peaceful.
Upon hearing this in the car ride down, we thought we were going to see a lot of exciting things. Protests, marching, yelling of witty rhymes....We parked near Central Park and took the subway into Penn Station. Walking around Penn there were cops as far as the eye could see--city cops, staties, K9, army, national guard, secret service--with and without machine guns. Pretty unnerving to walk around a public train station and have a cop or a camera trace your every move and be ready to shoot you with an automatic weapon at will. Let's hope no one throws a snowball with a rock inside or else they'll be learning about the New York Massacre and Crispus Attucks, Jr. in the generations to come.
We come up from the station and onto 7th Avenue. Roadblocks, more cops, checkpoints everywhere. You even need credentials to walk on the sidewalks. What we didn't see was a protest. We knew that the UN march had already been broken up, but we figured there might be more flashlighters walking around lighting up New York. We walked down 33rd(?...can't really remember) Street....nothing but cops and roadblocks. More walking...more protests.
Walking to Herald Square and the ginormous Macy's on 34th we saw people on the corner talking to the passerbys and waving. Finally...some action. We walk up, flashlights in hand, phrases to yell floating in our heads, only to find that it's a bunch of interns for MSNBC trying to get an audience together for their live taping of Hardball in the middle of the square. We decide "what the hell" and head over for a while. With Matthews was JC Watts (GOP rising star and ex-congressman from OK), Joe Scarborough (of Scarborough County and ex-GOP congressman from FL fame), and two media schmos (some guy from Newsweek and some lady from somewhere).
They're not the exciting part of this story though (shocker). We were behind the panel of guests by about 20 feet or so and some people next to us started yelling anti-Bush things and reacting to the RNC coverage, one guy in particular was being rather vocal. A producer from MSNBC came out of the makeshift control room and told the kid to be quiet, who then retorted that he has a right to freedom of speech and that he can't take it from him. The producer then threatened getting an officer to arrest him and he said fine because he had a right to say what he wanted. He wasn't swearing or anything, just yelling something every couple of minutes whenever something stupid was said at the RNC.
Anyway the cop came up, had a little talk with those involved, went to get backup, and then came onto the staging where we were all standing. Now the talking got a lot sterner. During this an attractive MSNBC staffer came up to me and asked if I wanted to go down and watch the show from the pit right behind Matthews ("You can see better and you'll be on tv!", she beamed with her clipboard and headset). I thought to myself...I can see fine here...and then it clicked. She's trying to move us away from behind the panel. So we fought the man and stayed...quietly and without our cameras or flashlights brandished so as to avoid arrest.
After getting bored with Hardball, we walked around some more and saw a major police blockade. A guy in front of us tried to take a picture of it and the cop said, "You can't take pictures here." He then asked where he could take pictures and was told again "You can't take pictures here." My camera remained tucked away for the remainder of the trip.
Headed up to Times Square where we thought that there must be some sort of protest or anything at all. Nope. Nothing at all. Just cops. After yet another disappointment we called it a night and headed back to the car where we turned on our flashlights, waved them into the sky and some apartment windows and left. It was just our way of fighting The Man. With all the cops present and lights shining through their windows, the tenants probably thought our Man-fighting was an air raid test to protect against the Commies...errr, Islamic Fundamentalists...err, Insert Group Here.
We couldn't believe how anti-climactic our visit was. We figured the streets would be lined with dead-ins and painted signs. Oh well. Maybe protesters only work during the day in order to make it to their Meetups at night. I'm glad I went though. I got to experience first hand NYC in lock-down and how it infringes on personal liberties and freedoms. Orwell's world is an exaggeration...either that or he was 40 years off.


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