U.S. Government's Hostility to Democracy At Home and Abroad
There were marches in cities around the world on Saturday, February 15, 2003. Not, however, in New York City. Protesters were not only denied the right to march, but massive numbers of people were also denied the right to be part of the rally. Police on horseback charged protesters and beat up demonstrators, preventing them from joining officially approved rally on First Avenue. Yet estimates are that 1 million people were in New York City on Saturday to protest the U.S. government making war against Iraq.
"New York City politicians didn't want us here," commented one protester. "They tried every single roadblock. We didn't let them win. We are here."
Another protester explained, "Just think, people all over the world are doing it. It's the only way to survive. Everybody came for the same reason, No War."
Responding to the fabrication of a terrorist alert called "code orange" used by city and federal government officials to deny protesters the right to march on Saturday, a student from Cornell University said:
"The city did a lousy job. They give a permit to rally but then they don't let people get there. The fact they didn't give the permit to march is outrageous. The whole code orange is crap."
The U.S. federal government had sent representatives to join the New York City government to ensure that an appeals court judge would back the city's refusal to allow a protest march. The claim was, however, that the protesters would be allowed to have a rally. As it turned out, the police denied a great number of protesters the right to join the rally on First Avenue.
It was a cold day (-5 C) in New York City on Saturday. People came to protest the U.S. government plan to make war in Iraq. They came by trainloads and busloads from other cities. They came from all over New York by subway, bus, and on bicycle. There were young and old, students and retirees, labor unions and churches, represented. The city had granted a permit for the demonstrators to rally on First Avenue several blocks North of the United Nations and further uptown. The rally of people stretched from 51st Street to 84th Street on First Avenue, according to reports. But people were enclosed in metal barricades street by street, with police limiting and in many cases denying people the right to walk on the sidewalks or on the cross streets to get to First Avenue.
There were numerous reports that protesters were injured and arrested by police blocking their right to join the demonstration. Many people tried to get to First Avenue, but were prevented by the police. Demonstrators who couldn't get to First Avenue because of police blockades, filled 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, and there were also protesters on the next block, Lexington Avenue. On these streets, protesters reported police on horseback beating up people and charging people. Local television coverage later in the day showed protesters being charged by police on horseback and being beaten by police.
On First Avenue there were protesters as far as the eye could see. But even on First Avenue, the police blockaded protesters on each block keeping them barricaded from other protesters on the next block. Those who wanted to leave the blockaded areas were often told by police to go to one street corner, and then the police at that street corner would not let them go anywhere, but back to where they had come from. The constitutional right of people to express their opposition to unpopular government activity is seriously damaged when such tactics are used by the police.
Despite all this, there were great numbers of people protesting in New York City. There were many, many homemade signs expressing the disgust of people with the bullying and warmongering activities of the U.S. government.
Just a few of the slogans on the many homemade signs included:
"Thank you Belgium, Germany, France et al.", "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease", "Listen to the People", "Bush the Terrible", "Danke Schon Deutschland, Solidaritat","He's Not My President", "Drop Bush Not Bombs", "Democracies Don't Start Wars, We End Them", "This War is 100% Bush Shit", "Communication not Annihilation: No War Against Iraq, Netizens Unite", "U.S.A. Says No to War Against Iraq","Another Mathematician Against the war", and "I Want My Democracy Now."
A young child being carried on his father's shoulders wore a sign "Dodge the Draft." Demonstrators who had traveled from the state of Vermont who were asked their comments for an article in Telepolis, answered, "We appreciate German attitudes. We represent the majority opinion in our state. They accuse us of being the most liberal state. That's why we are here." Another protester responded, "I would like to thank Germany for taking a courageous stand against my asinine government."
At 68th street and First Avenue, there was a confrontation between demonstrators and police. From 68th Street up First Avenue, there were demonstrators wanting to fill in the ranks of demonstrators below 68th Street. Police, however, blockaded the demonstrators and wouldn't let them pass from 68th Street. Demonstrators on one side of 68th Street were effectively blockaded from demonstrators on the other side of the Street. "Let them through, let them through," demonstrators on the South side of 68th Street yelled. The police would let a few people through and people would clap. But then the blockade would be set up again by the police. Only at the end of the demonstration, around 4 pm, did the police finally allow the demonstrators North of 68th Street to join those South of 68th Street.
The speakers for the rally included an U.S. Army National Guard reservist whose unit had been told it was only a matter of time before it would be sent to Iraq. There was a Palestinian woman and a Israeli refusnik officer. There were poets and elected officials. There were clergy of many denominations. There were calls for peace in many languages, including Arabic and Hebrew. There was a dissident who had fled Iraq in the 1980s explaining how it is not possible to bring democracy to the people of Iraq by bombing them.
One of the speakers on the platform said, "The world's worse leaders have the world's worst weapons."
A German student from Ithaca, N.Y. expressed his surprise at the experience he had at the demonstration. "It is different here than how they handle it in Europe," he commented, describing how the police denied protesters the right to walk to the demonstration. "We walked from 59th and Lexington, a crowd of people moving, but the police were channeling them. "Eventually he said it wasn't possible to get any further. The people couldn't go on the sidewalks. "I never saw this before." His German wife added that, "For the first time in 50 years we are proud of our home country and Europe."
An American demonstrator noted that, "the New York City radio stations weren't covering the rally, except for WBAI, the one anti-war radio station." She commented, however, "This was the first time I feel connected to the rest of the globe."
The assault on the rights of citizens demonstrated by the treatment of protesters on Saturday in New York City demonstrates the lack of respect for democratic rights by both the Bush administration and the New York City government. There are those who wonder if the plan of the Bush administration to attack Iraq is also a pretext being used to take away the constitutional rights of those in the U.S.
While the American people are faced with an electoral system that only allows what many feel is two parts of the same party to participate, there is a long history of protest in the U.S. Often this protest has been waged against vicious repression. But the activities of the U.S. government within the U.S. demonstrate that there is very little popular support for the policies of the government. It is only by waging a campaign to spread fear and terror within the U.S. that the Bush administration, with the support of many from both parties in Congress, can carry out their assault on other countries and people around the world.
The anti-war movement within the U.S. needs support from peace loving people around the world to effectively stem the tide toward fascism of the U.S. government. The marches and rallies around the world on February 15 have demonstrated there is such support. People who were doing what they could to protest Bush's policies' in New York City on Saturday, were encouraged by the massive protests of people around the world. (Ronda Hauben)