Reporter's Notebook at the RNC

The Whole World Was Watching

by Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1252, September 19, 2004, posted at

Thursday, September 2, 11:30 p.m.-- I am sitting here, listening to the frat-rat-crooked-mouth- murderous-lying monster who carries the unenviable title of President of the United States. As the hot night gathers in the city, and the lights and sounds of helicopters break through, he gives his acceptance speech to continue as a crowned emperor of the mightiest of empires. A crowd is cheering him and it comes through the radio like storm- trooping static--"USA!" is being chanted in the background.

He had to get to Madison Square Garden with the largest motorcade Tom Brokaw said he had ever seen.

I have just come from a rally of 10,000 just blocks from MSG, a "permitted" rally in the "Free Speech Zone" that was penned in, surrounded by thousands of riot police, and surveilled from the sky by two choppers. As I left, vans of police were arriving, empty buses driven by cops, and two fire trucks.

Someone told me, "This is what it looks like when they're rounding people up before they take them away on trains with undisclosed destinations." And why? Because while Bush gives his nomination speech to culminate the RNC, thousands of people had come to NYC--transforming the political, cultural and emotional landscape--daring to say they don't want to live in a New Rome. Because, on this night, just blocks from the RNC, thousands had gathered to show that dissent and dreaming is alive and well--in the streets, but not inside Madison Square Garden.

The sounds of a police state still fill my ears as I sit here and listen to George W's speech.


Two futures went head-to-head in the ring of NYC this week, because it is becoming clear to many that the future promoted unapologetically inside the RNC is disastrous for humanity and there is no way it can be allowed to go forward. So multitudes of people, in different ways, came forward to bring out into the open a tremendous amount of diverse and layered resistance throughout the city--from marching in the streets, to street theatre, to "traditional" theatre and art shows--and this got a significant amount of heartfelt support from New Yorkers. This succeeded in breaking out and breaking through, becoming the big story of the day, including reaching people outside the country and around the world.

I look back at this week and recall the vibrations of hundreds of thousands pounding the streets with their hopes and determination held up in tightly clenched fists that pumped in the air on August 29.

That day, I heard the roar before I actually saw the crowds. It was like a river of humanity that stretched for miles and rocked and moved with the angry yells and spirited shouts of people who urgently wanted something more. More than living in a society built on fear. More than living in an empire--a new Rome--that puts itself before and on top of the rest of the world. More than being forced to rely on a lying, murdering president. They came despite the tremendous repression--the threats from city officials, the massive police presence, the stalking of protesters and the painting of them as terrorists. They came to feel, again, the full force of their collective power--in one unified voice, crying, "NO!"

They were told they could not rally in Central Park, so they burst the concrete seams of the city, filling more than 40 blocks, saying NO, with their very bodies, to being corralled or silenced into barricaded, isolated protest ghettos. It was hammered at us again and again that dissent is criminal, that thinking critically under a system that promotes fear of thinking is outlawed and dangerous. And that being so "radical" as to visibly disagree with the Bush regime is extremist or worse.

So, of course, the people didn't listen.

Instead, they poured out into the streets of Manhattan in their hundreds of thousands, with their baby-strollers, their grandmothers, sisters, even their pets--to fight over the direction of the country. They held signs high above their heads declaring their non-complicity with this juggernaut of war and repression. They refused to be "good Germans." They wore shirts that said, "BUllSHit" or carried plastic effigies mocking Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.

The most reviled, hated, distrusted, disliked, ridiculed president in the history of this country inspired what the New York Times called the "most emphatic" election year protest "since Democrats and demonstrators turned against each other in fury over Vietnam in Chicago in 1968."

With great urgency and intensity, people came out to show they would not go quietly or obediently into Bush's future. They came to declare that another future, another world, is possible, desired and very much needed.

And none of this was supposed to happen.

King George W Bush was supposed to come to New York and capitalize on the grief of this city from 9/11 for imperial aims. Instead, the city had to build a fortress. He was supposed to be able to come to this city and feel welcomed and congratulated for the internationally deeply hated war and occupation of the people of Iraq. At this moment, when the power structure needs the backing of the people--where they need to say this is a unified homeland-- he was supposed to come to the "city that never sleeps" and celebrate in the glory of all their red-white- and-blue balloons. But just as the hopes of the American occupiers--who were supposed to be greeted with flowers by the conquered but "grateful" people of Iraq--were shattered, so the hopes of King George for a warm welcome by the people of New York City were shattered on Aug. 29 and in the week that followed.

Along the whole march route on the 29th, New Yorkers stood on the sidewalks, hanging banners from their windows, sitting on their fire escapes, cheering people on. And average New Yorkers were what filled the streets that day as well.

Not In Our Name's rally--with its rebel music, Courageous Resisters, and earth flags waving in the clear blue sky--was so beautiful. A mass outpouring emerged to clearly and loudly send a message that we stand with the people of the world, and not with Bush or whoever carries out this agenda.

From the days soon after 9/11, the Not In Our Name (NION) network has provided a basis for people broadly-- from many viewpoints and worldviews--to come together to take a visible and determined stand against the unfolding offensive of war and repression. And the power of NION was brought to bear in the work to deliver a powerful and unmistakable NO!--in the middle of the riptides of the electoral season. A powerful NO--not just to Bush, the candidate, but to everything he, his ruling clique and their larger geo-political agenda stands for. A powerful NO that has brought people together broadly across many divides--including both those who reject the electoral arena, and those who still hope a vote for Kerry might do some good.

All over New York there were loud manifestations of that NO which said another world is possible and that we need to resist the current trajectory in order to bring that other world into being.

Signs that said, "NO!" could be seen all over--on T-shirts, buttons, on signs in store windows, etc.

The sweep of it all is just dizzying!! Our resistance turned NYC into a place where people smiled at you because you were wearing an anti-W button or an "I Say No!" T-shirt. I think of the young man who said, whenever he sees a store or home with Not In Our Name's "NO!" in the window, he thinks, "Safe Space."

Instead of walking with our heads down, avoiding eye contact, feeling alienated, we have stepped closer together, run through the streets together, done jail solidarity (or sat in jail) together, and we have said NO! NO! NO! together. The city became a place where resistance and resisters were just everywhere, and the fear that once gripped the city got seriously challenged.

I think about Union Square being turned into a gathering space for resisters, where people went to discuss and debate different issues, face off with the cops, or recuperate; poets, dreamers, hip-hop heads, revolutionaries, anarchists, voters and pacifists. I see "old Germany" in MSG and a new future in the streets. I see people who would actually value and encourage dissent, if they ran society--and I see how that could be, if they got with Chairman Bob Avakian's vision of such a future.

And throughout the RNC, people had a daily opportunity to get with that vision--to spend two hours with a leader who actually isn't afraid to expose Bush, bring people together, and challenge us to dedicate ourselves to transforming the whole world. A leader who isn't running to catch up with an ever-more fascistic consensus in the ruling class. A leader who is pointing to a liberating future and connecting this with what we need to do today.

This was because the DVD of Chairman Avakian's speech was shown in theatres and poetry cafes throughout the city for anyone to come and get a glimpse of a totally different world.


Not one day went by without some kind of reminder that people were in town to oppose Bush's agenda. There were plays, concerts, and art exhibits to entertain, inspire, strengthen, and move people. Two-hundred artists marched in Harlem. An art exhibit put on by American Friends Service Committee at Union Square showed the Human Cost of War with piles of shoes representing all the dead soldiers and Iraqis. A march of 16,000 men and women across the Brooklyn Bridge called Bush out on his anti-abortion, anti-woman politics.

There was a flurry of banner drops. Naked AIDS activists boldly held up traffic. People poured red dye into dozens of fountains in key tourist spots, in memory of the people killed in Iraq. A single-file "unemployment line" of people holding large pink slips dramatically represented the millions of unemployed. I think of the 5,000 anti-Bush bicyclists who started off the week of protests and faced more than 260 random arrests. Civil disobedience rocked the city from Ground Zero to Herald Square, where people performed die-ins wearing hoods like the victims of Abu Ghraib, not letting anyone forget what horrors an imperialist occupying army can exact.

And very importantly--we took Central Park, with thousands celebrating our success from the day, in the face of being denied a permit.


Thursday--As Bush Gets the Nod, Give 'Em the NO!

Today, Thursday, the day Bush delivers his acceptance speech, Not In Our Name went all throughout the city to make sure the word NO! was everywhere. All along the side streets near Madison Square Garden, you could find stores, many owned by South Asian immigrants, with "NO" in their windows. In one bar filled with average New Yorkers who had just gotten off work, the whole place erupted into a big "NO!" at the television as Bush began to speak.

And all this was going up against an intense backdrop of tremendous fear-mongering and repression, and "threats" (promised by Tom Ridge) of the potential for "terror attacks" and a climate where protesters were blamed for the "danger" of the moment. Yes, there is real danger--the danger that this whole Bush agenda will be extended--no matter who is elected to carry it out. But a giant, impossible-to-be-ignored NO was delivered this week, and the basis for real, determined and ongoing resistance to that agenda was laid.


Every single march and gathering that has occurred in this city, permitted or not, has been attacked in some way. People were pre-emptively arrested by cops using plastic orange nets to scoop up whoever they could--bystander, reporter, or protester. It didn't matter to them. More than 1,000 people were arrested in one day, and the total got up to nearly 1,900 for the week. People were held at the "Guatánamo-on-the-Hudson," where unhealthy conditions made people sick.

With all their repression, the powers-that-be continue to prove they are not fit to care for this earth or the world's people.

And where was Kerry? Did you hear him denounce these blatant attacks on civil liberties? Did you hear him call out Bush for silencing this dissent? Did you see him come out and stand with even the pro-Kerry folks who were in town? HELL NO. He can't and won't. And not because he needs to appeal to some conservative majority of voters, but because he is appealing to a ruling class that has decided we can't vote against the war; that has decided if you want to get rid of Bush, you gotta pick Bush Lite. There's a whole system at stake he's got to defend. Whatever differences he has with Bush, they're not significant enough for him to call into question all these injustices.

Can we talk now about democracy being just a form of dictatorship, as our Chairman has said?


My mind tunes back to the radio and I hear W say they're a force for good on this earth, and my insides leap up to jeer him--this earth knows no good has ever come from their hands! And thousands have come together to the "city that never sleeps," to show exactly that (often not sleeping!).

The Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, with more than 65 youths who came from around the county, was an inspiring example of this; running in the streets all day to connect with the millions of people who don't want to live in the new Rome, struggling with people over the need to resist, as well as the potential to destroy all the shackles on humanity, and then staying up til late in the night discussing the theory advanced by our Chairman and how to get to a totally possible and radically different future. This was a unique strength they brought to these struggles.


I hear that protesters succeeded in disrupting Bush as he spoke--not just once but three times! Just as protesters had interrupted Cheney and others!! Even inside their sacred halls of the RNC they are being opposed! And anyone watching on TV or listening to the radio saw it!


Friday, September 3, 10:38 a.m.-- The last 10 days or so have been victorious for the people here and around the world. Bush & Co. were not able to come here and feel welcomed in full regalia, replete with lying tassles, conquering cowboy hats and blood-dripping sneers. They were exposed, naked and brutal for all to see. The next few months will no doubt be challenging, as they kick up their battle against resistance and put the focus on their Evil vs. Lesser election.

My mind has been spinning from taking in this city in a whole new way. And I can't help but reflect on the Revolutionary Writers & Artists RNC collective I got to run with this week. It was a tremendous first we accomplished in having it. Communist writers, film-makers and photographers from several different cities coming together to capture the big picture--zooming out--and the hearts, dreams, signs and sounds of different people, zooming in and bringing it out for people here and elsewhere. It was such a tremendous experience and training to run as a team of revolutionary journalists, running through the streets of NYC from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. half the time, running on little more than excited adrenaline and caffeine. Trying to apply the methods of Chairman Avakian, based on his vision of how people can work together in ways that raise each other's consciousness, master new things, learn from everything around us, getting a sense of the questions facing people, and an extreme confidence that we can accomplish so much when we come together with all that. All based on the future we are trying to get to.