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
Photo by Ted Soqui
“Are you going to protest today?” a deli customer asked the young woman working the counter of Russ and Daughters.
“I really want to,” she replied, “but I’ve got to work.”
It was early Sunday morning on the Lower East Side, far from Madison Square Garden, but already cops were racing up and down Houston Street as marchers gathered outside subway stations with signs attached to cardboard tube-sticks — the only kind permitted by police.
The main question that morning was whether the demonstrators would risk confrontation with police by illegally rallying in Central Park. Of course, the march turned out to be massive and mostly peaceful, with only a few thousand drifting up to Central Park afterward. But despite the half-million head count cited by The New York Timesand others, the demonstration will soon be forgotten by an apathetic public. Besides, even though everyone in the march hated Bush, resented the war in Iraq and was tired of the Treasury being treated as a private ATM by the president’s country-club friends, how many were willing to do more than vote Democratic when they went home — let alone tell John Kerry to stop trying to out-Bush George Bush?
Before leaving for New York, I’d spoken to Linda Boyd, a first-time Republican delegate from Glendora. A registered nurse, Boyd told me she’s been working 70 hours a week as a GOP volunteer. The figure partly explains why Republicans have been getting their message — and voters — out. I couldn’t think of any group, from the Democratic Party to the Greens, fielding an army of such committed volunteers. The GOP is clearly placing a great deal of hope in volunteers like Boyd (instead of simply throwing money on ads) and is rewarding them accordingly.
“A big effort was made this time to make sure volunteers got chosen as delegates,” Boyd said. “There were some donors included, but the delegation has about a 30-70 split between donors and volunteers.”
Did she have any apprehensions about coming to New York?
“We know the Democrats are making a concerted effort to make us feel unwelcome — they have it all choreographed out,” she said. “They have big bucks from the Hollywood crowd, which is trying to defeat our president.”
When I asked why that might be, Boyd replied:
“They have a hate-the-Republicans mentality. They’re not good sports — they’re mean, they throw things and shove people.”
This, of course, sounds like a mirror-backward view of how Democrats see Bush and his party’s faithful — the other side is irrational, filled with spite and hate, and falls back on brute force when it cannot win on the strength of its ideas.
Inside and out of the Garden, street theater provided a welcome break from both slogans and polemics. While Log Cabin Republicans were being welcomed at the Bryant Park Grill by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki (whom Bloomberg intriguingly referred to as his “partner”), the young gays and transgenders of Queer Fist assembled around the corner on the public library’s steps. Like San Francisco’s Gay Shame, the group humorously skewers middle-class gay materialism and its quest for marriage and acceptance. Here, beside one of the library’s stone lions, they staged a mock wedding in which the newlyweds promised to “earn the highest possible corporate salaries and gentrify as many neighborhoods as we can.” The 15 or some Queer Fisters, costumed in veils, suits and one priestly cassock, then strolled around the block humming the wedding march or shouting, “Fuck Marriage!” — and repeated the nuptial ceremony anytime they encountered a set of stone steps leading into Bryant Park.
I asked member Durward Charles if Queer Fist was headed to the Log Cabin gathering, and he replied, “No, we don’t want to confront them — besides, our legal observer hasn’t shown up.”
Meanwhile, late in the afternoon, the equally colorful Billionaires for Bush performance group was getting bullhorned off the traffic island in Times Square. They reluctantly left, but small groups of demonstrators stood vigil outside the theaters known to be hosting Republican audiences.
One group from Richmond stood outside the Lunt-Fontane, where they eyeballed members of the Virginia delegation as they entered for Beauty and the Beast. One protester, T.J., complained to me that every time his group tried to stop and orient themselves in the city, cops would appear in their faces and tell them to move along.
Clearly not everyone sympathized with the protesters. “It’s a little bit disconcerting,” an Ohio Republican named Debra told me as she waited for a bus to take her group away from Wonderful Town. “My fear is that a gang mentality will get out of control. I don’t know if people are here because it’s trendy to protest and I don’t know if it’s helping their cause.”
Linda Boyd told me she saw her fellow delegates spat upon as they left a performance of Aida.
A block away, police were arresting people demonstrating outside the Marriott Marquis, where many delegates were staying — penning onlookers out of their areas of operation with rolls of orange plastic netting. (The delegates were easy to spot — even when not showing Bush-Cheney buttons, the men tended to wear sports coats and ties, while the women carried red New York Times goody bags.)