Rode my bike up to 6th and 37th this morning to see what kind of a crowd the United for Peace and Justice march would draw. They were quite proud of themselves for getting permission from the city to march to the U.N. on the day President Bush would address the General Assembly. All in all, it was pretty bland: the usual crayon-on-cardboard hyperbole, a lackluster "die-in," and a monotonous, repeat-after-me chant led by Jesse Jackson. The weather was nice. And I got to catch a some of Bush's speech on the radio in my cab ride back to where I'd locked my bike.
These leftist/socialist/so-called-liberal events attract quite a range of opinions and characters. After just a few minutes I'd spotted some of the usual birds: muttering lunatics looking nervously up at the traffic cameras, despicable anti-Semites waving Palestinian flags, college students searching for the artistic heart of dissent.
First up, the hyperbole. The theme that we are unwittingly submitting to a Nazi--or fascist, or Orwellian--regime was repeated many times over. It's a take on reality the left would be wise to dump in favor of something less hysterical, given the smirks and scowls of passersby faced with stars-and-stripes swastikas. But the left loves overstatement, so this is what we get:
Bush is Big Brother.
Bush is an "Insane World Criminal." (Is that anything like an "Insane War Criminal"?)
It's not just Bush. America itself is turning Nazi.
Moving on, we have the distortions of reality:
The Loose Change crowd made an appearance.
Not to be outdone were the 911Truth-ers.
This woman apparently thinks democracy is a bad thing, and we need more tyranny around the world to stop the Bush agenda. Or perhaps she's also pro-sex-worker, in which case I guess it's a good thing. Who knows?
This marcher wants victory for "The People's Resistance" in Lebanon and Palestine. If she's really so unembarrassed to support Islamist terrorists, why doesn't she wear a Hamas headband and wave a Hizb'allah flag next time?
This woman thinks that what Kanye West says is worth repeating. Except that Kanye West never said that George Bush hates poor people. He said that George Bush doesn't care about black
people. But it sounds like something he might have said, kind of a "fake but accurate" misquote.
These kids were very sharp--the only ones in the march who "made" me as not-on-their-side. Or maybe they thought I was from the FBI. Must be the button-down shirt I was wearing. I should get a neat t-shirt like his. Actually, I should have just asked him to give me his--after all, it's not really "his," is it?
The NYPD were very patient and polite, though I did hear on the radio a few people managed to get arrested.
This guy is my favorite. Couldn't we organize a march and rally just for people who can't figure out what's going on?
A young woman placed tiny plastic soldiers here and there along the crosstown route. I have no idea what it means, but I think it made for a nice photo-op.
The LaRouche Gang showed up. Yikes.
A guy was selling "Zapatista" t-shirts. Someone should tell him that the Zapatistas have become a joke, even in the judgement of the highly sympathetic New York Times
. (The article was titled, "At a 60's Style Be-In, Guns Yield to Words, Lots of Words," and it ran on 31 August 2005. It's now trapped in their TimesSelect archives.)
There was one counter-protester, though he wasn't really opposing the UPJ people, he was just an anti-UN protester. I like his sign. Straightforward, clear, insulting but not vulgar. In need of a spell-check, but one can't ask for too much.
The only time I heard a cop start to lose his patience was when a platoon of marchers dropped to the asphalt in a spontaneous (I think) "die-in." The policeman beside my sighed and said, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" I think he was afraid that the protesters were going to remain there, blocking the street, until he and the other cops had to haul them off in zip-ties.
After lying there for a few moments, gasping and moaning in a way that struck me as mockery more than street theater, the protesters got up and moved on.
The marchers arrived at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza and were corralled into a pen so they could all face the U.N. building. Oddly, there were four or five other pens. I went to investigate. The first one was occupied by a small group of Muslim Pakistani men who would like Musharref to step down.
I won't pretend to know what their agenda is. Pakistani political rivalries and maneuvering are beyond Byzantine. There are five different Pakistani Muslim Leagues. That's why they have the (N) in their name. And you think we have it bad here with Insane Orwellian Nazi World Criminal Bush(it).
The second pen contained an even smaller group of Thai protesters in yellow t-shirts. In lieu of a banner, they had pinned up this t-shirt on the barrcade:
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin must GET OUT! "Thaksin = Toxin." The UPJ crowd should count it's blessings with Bush. They could have gotten the "Master of Evil." But Thaksin was at that very moment losing his country to a military coup
, one apparently endorsed by Thailand's king, since no one sneezes there without his go-ahead. Word of the coup may have reached the yellow shirts, since there weren't very many of them and they didn't seem to have much to protest.
The next corral, adjacent to the UPJ rally, contained a large crowd of supporters of Iranian dissident Maryam Rajavi, who opposes the Islamic Republic with a blend of democracy and Marxism. When the UPJ rally ended, the Iranians got started. Wow, do they know how to throw a rally. The Americans got Jesse Jackson leading the crowd in a droning, halting chant ("This land [repeat one time] ... was made [repeat one time] ... for you [repeat one time] ... and me [repeat one time]" ... I kid you not.) The Iranians got drums, cymbals, horns--playing something melodic instead of the cacophony apparently favored by pacifists. They had photos of the people they want in power (they apparently can agree on whom they want in power), lots of flag-waving, and a stage flanked by two golden lions.
Now that's what the left in America needs!
They also had better signs ...
And funnier cartoons:
All in all, the march wasn't as depressing as I'd expected it to be. There was a strong core of people who are simply anti-war, and though I strongly disagree with them, I'd never want to see their opinions squelched. However, if the rational left hopes to attain any kind of meaningful power, it must find a way to disinvite the conspiracy theorists, lunatics, and vulgarians who always manage to show up for and dominate such events.