NEW YORK – As President Bush took the stage in Madison Square Garden to accept his party’s nomination, protesters took to the streets in numbers unrivaled since Sunday’s massive protest march, coordinated by anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice.
Downtown Manhattan’s Union Square Park was a hotbed of protest activity. Several protest groups had obtained permits to demonstrate in the park, but the largest by far was again the UPJ coalition, which comprised more than 800 smaller anti-war organizations. The group organized a candlelight vigil to protest the war in Iraq.
“The candles honor the people who died on Sept. 11 and are a reflection on the soldiers who died in Iraq,” said New York University graduate student Sheehan Grant.
“They represent Iraqi people who are helplessly being killed,” said New York resident Barbara Trees.
One group chanted, “Move, Bush, get out the way,” adapting the lyrics of a popular song to their political agenda.
Another sat cross-legged and palms up while meditating in front of a wall of flag-draped cardboard coffins that represented troops slain in Iraq. Mock coffins were carried down the march route during Sunday’s protest, which was also organized by UPJ.
Small bands of musicians entertained the crowds while profiteers hawked t-shirts bearing liberal slogans to the eager customers.
Uptown from Union Square, a rally organized by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and end Racism) covered one block between 30th and 29th Streets along 8th Avenue.
Protesters chanted, “Who are the biggest terrorists in the world today? George Bush and the CIA.”
Brooklyn resident and teacher Phillip Kautz said he attended the rally “to be a part of a larger group that’s not afraid to force Bush to accept responsibility for his actions.”
Kautz characterized the speeches of primetime speakers at the Republican Convention as hypocritical.
“They’re accusing the Democrats of being negative while being vicious themselves,” he said.
Kautz, a Democrat, expressed anger over the Wednesday-night speech of Sen. Zel Miller (D-Ga.), in which he attacked his party’s nominee and praised Bush’s efforts in the war on terror.
“He’s a hate monger. I’m not sure what his motivations are. He was practically frothing at the mouth. It seemed calculated to make Cheney seem like a moderate.”
Unlike many other liberals, Kautz said that Democratic nominee John Kerry has his full confidence – he is not voting for the Massachusetts senator merely as a lesser of two evils.
Ceasar Castro, a Jersey City University alum, took issue with the subject matter of the convention’s speeches.
“They mostly have concentrated on attacking John Kerry and have manipulated people with Sept. 11. They haven’t discussed the real issues: health care, Social Security, education.”
Viteri said he is protesting what he feels is Bush’s imposition of his personal beliefs on Americans. He objects to Bush’s appeals to religion as a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. Even while attending the anti-war rally, Viteri said the war was not the most important issue for him.
“The main thing I’m concerned about is Bush’s views on social issues – gay marriage and stem-cell research,” he said.
New York resident Neila Cilmi characterized the tone of the convention as hypocritical.
“I think it’s a little late for them to talk about being open and compassionate when they’ve slaughtered tens of thousands of Iraqis,” she said.
Unlike Viteri, Cilmi focused her criticism of the current administration on Bush’s foreign policy.
“It has targeted the poorest, most desperate people in Iraq,” she said. “The detainment of people without charges in Guantanamo Bay is frightening,” she added.
Cilmi also turned a critical eye towards the New York City Police Department, which arrested a reported 1,000 people Tuesday.
“Some of them got arrested for no clear reason. They usually leave you alone if you’re white and not making any trouble. I’ve heard a lot of hostile remarks from the cops.”
Hundreds of policemen surrounded the area, physically blocked intersections and harrassed onlookers who paused to observe the protest. Some were stationed on nearby rooftops to patrol the crowd. As the night progressed, police blocked off more side streets and obstructed the flow of pedestrian traffic.
A comparatively small group of conservative activists called the ProtestWarriors gathered behind metal barricades separating them from the anti-war rally. The group is well known for its signs, which take no cues from political correctness in mocking liberal ideas.
One read: “Reparations to Blacks! We already take half of people’s money by force and redistribute it. What’s the big deal?” Above this offensive message was a picture of a hand holding a gun.
The Texas-based pro-Bush group also protested Sunday’s anti-war march.
Protesters in Herald Square, near the convention center, hurled insults at Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s “Hardball” and taunted young delegates as they left Madison Square Garden and made their way to an afterparty at the Gotham Cafe.
When protesters began spilling over police lines, one policeman said, “Okay, it’s time to start throwing people in jail.”
Last night’s protests were in stark contrast to Wednesday’s sparse anti-Bush activity. But the Associated Press reported that only 26 people were arrested on the final night of the convention.