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A week of protest comes to an end


FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2004, NEW YORK -- On the last night of the RNC, during the histrionic hour when President George W. Bush accepted the Republican Party nomination again, a small but determined group of protestors demanded to be brought to man who called himself their leader.

It had been a long week. Most of the activists that'd come to New York were either still in cells (Central Booking or Pier 57) or had gone home. So the ones still hanging around either joined the ANSWER rally on 30th Street and Eight Avenue or gathered in Union Square -- a site suggested by United for Peace and Justice since it was the location where New Yorkers mourned the World Trade Center. Arundhati Roy had been in Union earlier, as had a Triumph the Insult Comic Dog imposter. But now after 10 p.m. in Union, demonstrators milled around the park, some melancholic as they clustered around radios, listening to Bush speak.

But since the Bush administration rarely addresses the public, and tonight the dissenters knew where he was, they wanted to get as close to him as possible. So hundreds of protesters ambled over to Union Square's Westernmost side around 10:15 p.m., bass-drum-thumping marching band in tow, and informed the cops they were going to march up Eighth Avenue, even though they didn't have a permit. The cops let them, but came out in full force. And even though the demonstrators doubted they could get past 30th Street, it was still worth trying. All the week's protests were important, of course, but tonight was especially important, even if the numbers didn't reflect it. Tonight, he was speaking, that spoiled child, con artist, dope, monkey, bat boy, idiot, jerk, criminal, Ivy League schlub, terrorist, manipulator, National Guard duty dodger, coke head, drunk driver, bad man, fearmonger, warmonger, liar. He was about 20 blocks away and they would go to meet him.

And so the 600 or so who hadn't really gathered under any specific activist affiliation stomped along -- excited, frenetic, glowing. Two men carried Bush and Cheney masks stuffed with newspaper on poles. A Shawn Fanning lookalike in a Ramones T-Shirt stuffed the Bush head in his crotch for a photo. Five girls excitedly joined from the sidewalk. Outside Cajun's restaurant, a chef leaning on a pole scowled at the cops: "Put your clubs away! This isn't '68!" Some dissidents held fake delegate signs, representing the states of "mourning," "siege," and "agony." They hooted, hollered, clapped, stamped, and chanted. The march was catharsis and closure. It was also group therapy.

Heading towards Madison Square Garden, the fist-pumping procession fashioned itself as the angry masses ready to show up under the king's balcony. This was so great! This is what true democracy looked like! Not the shiny, happy façade in Madison Square Garden! Bush could not hide anymore! He could not evade them any longer! The people united will never be defeated! They'd walked miles, or so it seemed, to confront him -- he could not turn them away! They came to demand their rights back! They were here and he could not ignore them any longer! They were coming for him! And they already had Bush and Cheney's heads on sticks!

Then it died. Kaboom. The spirit evaporated. Poof. At 30th Street, the cops unsurprisingly halted the thumping throng, barricades preventing them from moving any further. Disappointment set in. And there was no use fighting. Helicopters hovered. Policemen surrounded them on all sides, even standing on top of paddy wagons. Alas, they were not going to confront the man who'd betrayed them. They were just going to rally in a pen. Again.

A man with dreadlocks and Sevendust T-shirt tried to keep the spirit alive. "We marched without the movie stars," he shouted. "Without UFPJ [United for Peace and Justice]. And we did this together. This is a great victory for the people!"

It didn't feel like one. The cops didn't even think this was unruly enough to arrest people. And so as the drums played, the protestors slowly conceded. At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday September 2, 2004, the Republican National Convention was over and it was finally time to go home.

Issue Date: September 3, 2004
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