By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The first thing that normally hits you upon emerging from the subway near Central Park South is the smell of manure from the small fleet of horse carriages parked nearby. Last Wednesday, the scene was dominated by dozens of New York City police officers clustered around vans and patrol cars, and a newly unfurled chainlink fence put much of the park‘s south end off limits. This was the day before the World Economic Forum and the protests, and the NYPD had established a stunning presence around 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Cops do grow on trees, it seemed, as a few plainclothes men with telescopes and cameras hung in the park’s winter-barren elms, while others stood high up in cherry pickers, presumably scoping out potential gore points between the Plaza Hotel and the Trump Building.
Since the 1999 World Trade Organization donnybrook in Seattle, international congregations of power capitalists (WEF, WTO, the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund) have had their meetings challenged and disrupted by armies of dissidents united by their antipathy toward corporate globalization. In New York the groups mostly included radical environmentalists, trade unionists, socialists, animal-rights activists and anarchists. Especially anarchists -- would they or wouldn‘t they go off?
For that matter, would the cops go off when confronted by loud anti-government, anti-war displays so soon after September 11? Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had quickly thrown down the gauntlet by declaring that anyone who broke jaywalking or other laws would be arrested without warning, and for good measure invoked an 1845 edict against wearing masks in public.
By Wednesday night, the police completely dominated acres of Midtown radiating outward from the WEF at the Waldorf-Astoria on Lexington Avenue between 49th and 50th streets -- the ”frozen zone“ from which all automobile and most foot traffic was banned. Cops prowled the ramparts of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and stood shoulder to shoulder for an entire block along Madison Avenue -- an intimidating tableau vivant of uniforms and batons. Yet they all seemed jovial and at ease with the public, and in the Irish bars around the corner from the nearby 17th Precinct, most people seemed concerned only with the Ranger-Islander hockey game.
”What‘s fa dinnah?“ one officer called out to a passing blonde carrying a bag of takeout on 51st Street, while a pair of cops offered tips to a man seeking sushi restaurants. If the cops felt uncomfortable and unfamiliar with anything, it was their riot helmets, which few wore that night. (In L.A., riot helmets look as natural on cops as mustaches.)
John Sweeney did not look good Thursday.
The AFL-CIO chief had come to the French Institute that afternoon to take a poke at a new political piñata named Enron (the real crime, he said, was not the company’s fall but its rise) and to insist that workers get a better break from the global economy. On the stage behind him sat seven workers who had just finished telling personal horror stories about that economy to the packed audience at Gould Hall. But Sweeney, who‘d taken over from the old Meany-Kirkland machine as a rainmaker in 1995, looked tired and jowly in his brown suit. He hardly glanced up while reading his remarks from the podium, barely looked at the cuff-linked labor leaders, or at the rank and file wearing big varsity jackets, let alone at the old, old lefties with the People’s World book bags. Instead he droned on in a Bronx dialect no one spoke anymore, half complaining that big business made the rules of the global economy, half begging it to share some of its wealth.
The problem was that neither Sweeney nor anyone else in organized labor had been making much rain lately. Not only that, but the Bush administration was actively dividing and conquering parts of the traditionally pro-Democratic labor movement, making Faustian deals with the Teamsters and building-trades unions in return for their support of oil drilling in the Alaskan wilderness, while buying off the machinists with a few war-tech jobs in the proposed missile-defense-system boondoggle.
Soon Sweeney and the crowd moved out of the warm hall into a bone-chilling, rush-hour rain to face lines of horse-mounted cops as the unionists hurried to join a protest at the 54th Street and Fifth Avenue Gap store.
This was the first large demonstration of the week, and it immediately revealed the police‘s total control of the ground war: Between 500 and 800 demonstrators across from the Gap were sardined between steel barricades while cops guarded the avenue’s stores. It also revealed the diversity of the demonstrators, one undreamt of in the history of American protest, as skateboarding rebels wearing Peruvian headgear and watch caps strained to hear Sweeney speak over a weak sound system, along with NYU rads in North Face parkas, droopy-eyed Thoreaus in long gray beards, and a troop of Asian and Hispanic garment workers with neatly printed signs who stood wrapped in clear plastic sheets and wore baseball caps that said UNITE!
Across the street, the word khaki was printed in large letters behind a second-floor Gap window, next to the cut-out image of a falling woman; with the reflection of another building superimposed upon the picture, the woman looked like one of the doomed jumpers from the World Trade Center.