Thousands of people attended a rally against the war in Iraq and the Bush administration on the last night of the Republican National Convention. The rally was organized by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) coalition and featured a plethora of speakers who orated to an enthusiastic crowd, through bellowing speakers. The rally lasted for about three hours, beginning at around 7:00 pm and ending while activities were still going on at Union Square at 10:00 pm.
The rally was attended by many activists, a number of whom were seemingly new to the anti-war cause. "I believe in protesting against the health care crisis and poverty, and these speakers have a lot to say about these issues," said Kimberly Castro, 18, who traveled all the way from Texas to participate in the weekâ€™s events against the Republican National Convention.
While the rally was ostensibly organized, "to show opposition to the war, to both major party candidates and to encourage Kerry supporters to put pressure on his stand on Iraq," as lead A.N.S.W.E.R. organizer Brian Becker explained, the speakers comprised a rather diverse range of groups and causes.
Margarett Presscott, from the Global Womenâ€™s Strike, railed against the fact that women receive lower and fewer wages doled out to workers. Muna Coobtee, of the Free Palestine Alliance spoke against the illegal occupation that Israel continues to undertake and the US continues to fund, while Yoomi Jeong from the Korea Truth Commission voiced her opposition to the fact that her country continues to contribute to the occupation in Iraq by supplying troops.
Hip-hop music, including groups like the Coup and Rage Against the Machine, was played to a dancing crowd between many speeches.
The crowd, nevertheless, was frustrated with the location of the protest and the fact that
hundreds were cordoned off from the main part of the protest by police-imposed pens and fences.
"I wish itâ€™d be closer to Madison Square Garden, so that the convention could hear us. Actually, I wish itâ€™d be closer to people from Texas as well, because they are just not getting any information, the media is not reporting," said Ann Maldous in an aggravated tone. Maldous, 62, a Manhattan resident, just began protesting since the September 11th attacks against the "revenge tactics" of the Bush administration.
While many activists and protesters alike did make it to the rally, in addition to the hundreds separated by pens from the main part, an untold additional number of protesters were prevented from even reaching any part of the rally, as police completely blocked off access from one of the two avenues that paralleled the rally, while the other avenue only had one open street accessing it. That street was promptly closed after the start of the rally while another block farther downtown was opened but only gave access to the second part of the protest which was penned in and shut off from the other larger part.
Not long after the rally started, protesters voiced their disagreement with the pens by shouting "Let us through!" to the hundreds of police guarding the pens. The other larger part of the protest joined in by shouting, "Let them through!" Finally, by the time the rally was almost over, police allowed the protesters to be united, but not before hundreds had already left the rally in frustration.
Police officials explained that the limited access to the event was taken as a precaution against overcrowding, however, neither penned in area was full. The exaggerated security precautions may have been taken because President Bush was due to speak around the time the rally was ending and arrived via motorcade on 34th Street at about 9:30 pm.
Security precautions or not, protesters were quite frustrated. "How the fuck do we get in?" bellowed one protester to a police line guarding one of the closed streets.
New residents to the area were presented with real problems, as no access was granted to anybody without a convention credential, a police department certified press pass or a government issued I.D. with the corresponding blockâ€™s street address. "We just moved in this week and now the cops wonâ€™t let us into our new apartment," said Chris Singleton, 34, and a resident of the 31st street between 8th and 9th avenue, which is in the Chelsea neighborhood district.