NYC: Convention Time

So I actually work downtown and west enough that if I didn't know the Convention was here, I wouldn't actually experience it at all (with the possible exception of the NYPD bike dispatching station that they've set up around my subway stop on 8th Ave. -- last time I checked, there were something like 50-odd bikes and tons of cops hanging around). Of course, most of New York is like that -- except for things like 9/11 or the blackout, things could very well be happening on the next block over and you would just have no idea. It makes the city kind of fun. Walk walk walk - BOOM! Movie shoot! It's kinda neat.

But yeah, the convention -- myself and little J headed out on Sunday morning or so, armed with plenty of water and a camera, to see what was going on. I didn't exactly know where the route was going to be, or where the parade was going to be by the time we emerged from the subway, so we just took the F train to 14th St. and figured that we'd wander around until we saw people moving some general direction or another. It didn't take very long. Immediately upon exiting we saw people with signs heading down 16th St., moving west. It didn't seem like much of a parade, so I was initially disappointed. But then I was struck by all the loud thrumming in the air, and realized that from where I was standing, I could see four newscopters and a blimp. The helicopters gave the proceedings an eerie, menacing tone, but that was soon counteracted by the actual people that we ran into, closer to 7th Ave.

The crowds soon thickened up -- the streets were jammed as soon as we actually got to 7th. Huge banners, people in costumes, wearing signs. There was a whole group of protesters I'd actually seen the year before at the Iraq protest I went to (similar vibe), a group of harlequins in full headgear and sparkly makeup. They were accompanied by a guy dressed as the Statue of Liberty, but with a skullface painted on. He was being interviewed by somebody with a videocamera. The reporters were all out in full force, as well as the hobbyists with their camcorders and digital cameras. Everybody was recording everything, including me, who was snapping away with my D100. There was a veritable D-SLR army out there on the street, and I felt a silly, inconsequential kinship with those that had my exact make and model of camera.

One advantage of liberal activist protests that you don't seem to get at conservative rallies is that while the activists are obviously out there because they care deeply about this convention and this administration, they're also out to have a damn good time. There was a very definite pranksterish tone to the whole thing -- people obviously spent a lot of time making elaborate costumes and funny signs, as well as coming up with clever chants to yell as they marched. It's kinda hard to imagine a fundamentalist mom holding up a sign reading "I skipped Burning Man to protest your abortion." In addition, the sheer amount of percussion made it seem like a parade, rather than a protest. I accidentally typed "parade route" earlier in this post, but I let it stand because it still seems like an apt way to describe it. Hippies with their handdrums, maracas, flutes -- whole sections of the crowd were marching, dancing and singing. It made the whole thing seem very fun. Which I think is both good and bad -- in people's efforts to make it an event, gimmicks inevitably win out. I found myself taking pictures of people's funny signs ("God Hates G.W. Bush," "Monkeys Against Bush," "Sluts Unite") and funny costumes rather than the honest-to-god earnest protesters (of which there were some). It's attention-getting sure, but is it effective? Is ANY of this effective? Part of the point I guess is to show the country that there are lots of people who care enough about getting Bush out of office. And perhaps somebody who lives in a mostly red county will see it and feel a little less alone, be inspired to activism, I don't know. It's fairly impressive that hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country have descended upon New York to make a big stink. But on the other hand, if it's the unwashed hippies, the noisemakers, the funny sloganeers -- isn't that also the easiest thing in the world to dismiss? There was very little nuance involved in the demonstration. I mean, granted, nobody is going to be chanting "Hey ho, hey ho, measured troop withdrawal from Iraq by 2008 is the way to go" but neither, I think, is holding up signs like "Bush is a fascist" and "Asses of Evil." I found myself annoyed at being able to very easily come up with counterarguments for all the extreme positions expressed. It's the exact same intolerance for the realities we're facing that I get so annoyed at when they come from White House.

J and I cut around the slowest bit of the parade (it had taken us and hour to move two blocks) and headed uptown, where we caught up with it around Herald Square. After a small picture-taking break, we marched past the mounted police (so cool; when we passed, the crowd started chanting "Give the cops a raise!") and turned down 5th Avenue. By this time, we were hot, tired and a bit dead on our feet, so we followed Fifth Avenue down to 23rd St. (at the Flatiron Building) and headed home from the 23rd St. F.

Overall, I was glad I got out there. Just by being another body out in the crowd, in some way, I swelled the ranks and showed my dissatisfaction with the current administration. But I also didn't feel like I wanted to discuss anything with the people I was marching with. Sure, I don't like Bush. And yes, I want him out office. But I felt like I would have just been picking a fight if I had expressed by more moderate views with anybody there. It is inspiring, though, to see so much motivation and fire. I'm interested to see how the rest of the week turns out...


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