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The Perfect Storm 

Remember me to Herald Square

Thursday, Sep 2 2004

Page 2 of 3

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.)

As night fell Sunday, a change had come over the protesters who had seen their friends tackled, cuffed and hauled away to a waterfront detention facility on Pier 57. The demonstrations, so long in the planning, were now no longer theoretical but suddenly personal. Those who were not arrested grew increasingly angry and began following delegates as they emerged from the Marriott, cursing them as they strolled through Times Square. It seemed that the mix of Republicans, cops and enraged protesters was making for a perfect storm.


Tuesday, the day of unpermitted direct actions, didn’t start drawing large crowds until the late afternoon, when some 300 people assembled at Ground Zero to march to the Garden. They never left the station — around 4 o’clock nearly a third of the would-be marchers negotiated a deal with police to leave the area by walking on the sidewalk “two by two” — two abreast on the sidewalk. But as this group crossed the street, a light changed, and those left on the other side began bunching up, and soon nearly 100 people found themselves behind arrest netting.

“I don’t buy this two-by-two bullshit,” said one black-clad young man to another. “Look how they’ve got us bunched up here — why don’t we break through where there’s no cops?”

“Then what?” asked his friend, a question that would be asked throughout the day and evening. Around 6:30 a large — and angrier — group swarmed around the public library near Bryant Park. Suddenly they broke down 42nd Street toward the Garden, but in a matter of minutes, with bicycle cops in pursuit, another hundred or so protesters were penned and arrested. New York’s claustrophobic topography and the organizers’ lack of strategy were playing neatly into the authorities’ hands. Eventually most of Tuesday’s remaining actions unfolded in Herald and Greely squares, where dozens tied up Sixth Avenue near Macy’s in a series of die-ins, whereby protesters simply lay down in the street.

As the RNC’s night session approached, GOP delegates heading toward the Garden or attending an MSNBC broadcast in Herald Square increasingly found themselves having to be escorted off buses by police — to jeers from the crowds. Sometimes, however, the confrontations were on a more one-on-one level. A Manhattan family had spent the day walking about carrying banners, one of which read “Dangerously Stupid” and featured a photograph of the president. I caught up with them after they had gone up to Texas Senator Phil Gramm, whom they found standing outside the Garden.

“He said, ‘Are all three of you dangerously stupid?’” the father, William, told me. “I pointed to the picture and said, ‘No, just this guy.’”

Moments later, about a dozen protesters sat on the warm ground at 34th and Sixth, in front of a bus full of delegates. The police, who until now had conducted the arrest procedures with the glacial ritual of a Noh drama, quickly moved in steel pens, pushed back onlookers and rapidly hauled away the protesters, many of whom had donned black Abu Ghraib hoods.

“Looks like we’ve lost our affinity group,” one protester said to another after they had been pushed back onto the sidewalk. They then rejoined their friends — on the ground.

Within minutes, the arrested demonstrators were gone, and the pens folded back on the sidewalk. What the police didn’t know, however, was that a block away nearly 100 protesters, in one of the day’s few coordinated moments, had decided to march to this spot after hearing of the arrests and the fact that delegate buses were parked there. Unable to move directly to 34th Street, they marched all the way around the block. By the time they wheeled around the corner from Fifth Avenue toward the arrest scene, the demonstrators had picked up another 50 marchers. This was a much more militant band than the group that had stood befuddled and paralyzed at Ground Zero. And they were bearing down fast to support their fellow demonstrators — now gone — and to jeer the buses and their passengers.

“No Bush, no Kerry!” they shouted. “Revolution is necessary!”

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