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Streets of New York
Anthony Barreiro - Sunday, August 29
Today was the big United for Peace and Justice march. Deborah and I went to mass at St. Mark's church this morning -- they had a liberation theology service, and a great choir. The sermon focused on applying the gospel to the challenges of the day. Both uplifting and challenging. The congregation is small but quite diverse, WASP's, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans, and seems quite closely bonded. They marched together to the big march, and Deborah and I tagged along with them, got to chat with several of them, and shared their sandwiches and lemonade -- these folks know how to march -- they stay on the shady side of the street.
The march itself was huge. When we got to the assembly area for all the religious groups it took almost an hour until we were able to march. A very diverse crowd, high energy, lots of humor and creativity. We were near the quakers, which was cool -- they were very calm, happy, and several appreciated the sage I'd brought. Deborah had her portable radio, and heard that the march completely filled the route, 40 blocks -- that's why it took us so long to be able to start. Later crowd estimates were 400,000. It was a long, hot, slow, crowded crawl up 7th Avenue from 15th Street to 34th Street -- took three hours to get there, to march past the empty Madison Square Garden where the Republicans will be convening tomorrow, then back down Broadway to Union Square. No rally, because the city wouldn't give a permit for one. Along the way Deborah and I got separated from the St. Mark's contingent when we stepped out to buy more bottled water, and then couldn't find them in the crowd, so we just did the rest of the march with one another.
After Madison Square Garden the march thinned out a bit (probably a lot of people left after expressing their disapproval of the RNC at the building), and there were more spectators, so there was more opportunity to interact with a broader range of folks, not just other demonstrators. There were a few angry counter-demonstrators on the other side of the police barricades, but the overwhelming majority of folks were supportive of the intention of the march. My strong sense was that New York City really doesn't want the Republicans here. A lot of the demonstrators signs and t-shirts were really blunt -- e.g. "George W. Bush is a punk-ass chump." My personal favorite piece of street theater was a man dressed as a lion and a woman as a lamb (yes, full fake-fur suits) who would periodically lie down in the street together. Deborah and I had a chance to chat with them when we were all taking a break on a side street, and they were very cheerful, even in the heat. Clearly the most powerful statement was made by the contingent who were carrying 1000 flag-draped coffins for the US war dead in Iraq and an equal number of black coffins for the Iraqi dead.
I was carrying a sign that said "Another voting, tax-paying, military veteran, citizen for peace and democracy" (a little wordy, I know, but I wanted to get all that across), and that got a lot of positive personal responses, which felt good. The other side of my sign was a simple line drawing of the statue of liberty, with the words "with liberty and justice for all", and it felt good to hold that up toward Madison Square Garden, to try and send some of that energy to the Republicans. Don't know how much got through, but at least I tried.
The police were all relaxed, and some were friendly. We later learned that some young demonstrators had lit a large papier mache dragon on fire in front of Madison Square Garden during the march, which led to a scuffle with police and a few arrests, but otherwise everything seemed quite peaceful. We figured out that the dragon incident must have been when the entire march ground to an absolute halt for about half an hour -- which was when we met the lion and lamb.
After we finished the march it was late in the afternoon and Deborah and I were both fried. There was a queer kiss-in at the main library, and a call for people to go to Central Park for a picnic, but we were both too tired, hot, and sticky, so we just got a cab back to the hotel, where fortunately we have a kitchen. After showers, naps, and a lovely simple dinner of rice and vegetables, we both feel much better, although still quite tired.
I really wonder about the value of these huge marches. They make a statement, and they get a minute on the TV news, but for all the time and work that goes into organizing them, and all the energy the participants put into them, is it really worth it? Maybe not in terms of changing the government or the minds of the republicans, but there is a lot of value in being out in the street with hundreds of thousands of other people with whom you share political values and a vision of a better world. Once the physical fatigue wears off, I believe I'm going to carry a lot of energy and hope from today into the future, no matter what happens between now and November, or on election day.
Tomorrow, off to the healing center.
Writing these emails to you all feels good. I wouldn't be disciplined enough to journal this thoroughly, but knowing that folks are going to be reading (or at least skimming) what I write helps me get at least a basic outline down while it's still fresh. Thanks for reading, and for your support. (George, yes you can put whatever I write from the RNC convergence up on the Reclaiming Quarterly website if you want to, with the intro I sent you this morning.)
Anthony Barreiro is a Reclaiming Witch, a radical faerie, a queer christian, and a clinical social worker who lives in San Francisco. His email to family and friends is reposted here by permission. ©2004 Anthony Barreiro.
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