New York Diary, Part 2:
posted March 30, 2003 at http://rwor.org
Part 1 of "New York Diary" by Osage appeared in RW #1193.
As the war rages on, images of burned out buildings and Iraqis slaughtered by the U.S. military confront us daily. Bush & Co. promise even more of this, saying that the war in Iraq will last longer than expected. They've already dropped thousands of cruise missiles and bombs on the people of Iraq--and they threaten even greater death and destruction in the days and weeks to come.
As the U.S. government and its media mouthpieces try to claim large public support for the war on Iraq, and as their "embedded" reporters show only the perspective of the invading troops, people against the war are really wrestling with the question of how to make clear that we stand with the people of the world, not with the U.S. government and its immoral and unjust war on Iraq. We've rallied, done vigils, marched and walked out--and the war continues. We clearly must do more.
Inspired by the example set in San Francisco on March 20 when protesters shut down the city and caused mad trouble for the police, people in New York City planned a massive civil disobedience a week later. The M27 Coalition called for a die-in at Rockefeller Center--on 5th Avenue and 50th Street. Major media companies are located here, and people wanted to protest the biased news coverage of the war and corporations like GE (which owns NBC) that make weapons and other things used by the U.S. military.
Protesters have gotten the word to gather in the area early in the morning and to dress as "normal" people. But with sly smiles and concealed dissent, some of us recognize each other without really knowing each other. Sitting in a nearby coffee shop I smile to myself, looking at the tourists who would soon see a side of New York they may have not been expecting.
People begin gathering on 5th Avenue shortly before 8 a.m., streaming from every part of the city. About 500 of us fill the sidewalk on one side of the block, and more gather on the other side.
Every kind of cop is here, all around the famous skating rink and buildings--the easy-to-spot undercovers who look like misplaced Yankees fans, cops on horses, cops in riot gear. They put up metal barricades along the streets, locking us into the sidewalk.
About 20 minutes after the hour, someone sounds an air horn, simulating an air raid signal, and people begin yelling “into the streets!!” Immediately, hundreds of people rush forward, the barricades fall, and people lie down in the intersection. Dozens more are in other parts of the street, stopping traffic for blocks. Drums and chanting keep the spirits high--“Rise up with the people of the world! This war is not in our name!”
People flow out into the street to watch the “dying” people--and how the police react. The cops roughly grab, drag, and push people. Marylou Greenberg, spokesperson for RCP NY Branch and an initiator of the Not In Our Name Project, is handing out flyers when cops suddenly grab her from behind and arrest her. As they handcuff her, she defiantly gives an interview to nearby reporters about why there can be no "business as usual" while the U.S. carries out this unjust war.
For nearly two hours, traffic is snarled--and the message is sent out to New York City and beyond: people are determined to stop business as usual and bring home the realities of the U.S. war on Iraq.
A small handful of pro-war reactionaries have shown up with signs like "Saddam Says Thanks" and "Burn Baghdad Burn." Although the pro-war side is completely outnumbered, the media focuses on them. They yell things like “traitors!” and “God Bless America! Support the Troops!” and “Get a job!” Some youth take up the humorous chant “Read a Book!” to counter their lies and misinformation. People also chant, “This war is wrong, to resist is right! Support the troops who refuse to fight!”
After the protesters in the civil disobedience are carried off by the police, those of us not in the streets begin to leave. It's only 10:30 a.m., but it feels like 4 p.m. We wait for noon, when NYU and Columbia University are supposed to walk out.
As we make our way back downtown, Indymedia reports that street blockades have gone up in different parts of the city--from way downtown in Chinatown, to trendy SoHo, to 116th and Amsterdam. These blockades mainly involve debris, garbage cans, and anti-war signs piled in the streets. A bicycle bloc has also converged near Union Square, filling the streets with bicycles and bringing traffic to a halt. Some people there are arrested as well.
There are also die-ins at various high schools in solidarity.
As we come upon Washington Square Park, in the center of NYU, we can see hundreds of signs in the air and hear singing and chanting. We join the crowd--looking about 700 students strong--and march around the park, at times taking the streets. The small amount of cops here are clearly nervous about all these rebel youth.
The march ends in a rally. Counter-protesters are here as well. This time, there are more and some of them look like they could be from a fraternity. Again, the media focuses largely on them. One guy, about 20 years old, holds up a sign saying “Where’s your loyalty?” A woman on the mic, whose brother was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, takes him on, saying her loyalty is to her brother and to all the people around the world who might lose their loved ones in a horrible war.
Some of the high school and middle school youth are disappointed that the marching has stopped, and they go right up in the faces of the counter-protesters. A group of 8th grade women begin to debate a cameraman from the right-wing Fox News, who can only come up with lame arguments like, “how old are you?” He's clearly no match for these youth, who are not only bold but know what they're talking about.
The people take the streets again, marching to the NYU student center. The students force their way in to take over the large steps for a dramatic sit-in and die-in. A lot of the people on the outside are really excited and offer to get the students food, water, media coverage, etc. But the students are not going to be here long today. When they succeed in delivering a list of demands to the school president, they dance, play drums, and join the rest of us on the outside.
A bunch of us talk about how some of the high school and middle school youth had really wanted to keep taking the streets and make some real trouble for the system, and were feeling down about the day not being quite like what people did in San Francisco. Someone points out how this day of civil disobedience was a great step forward for NYC. This kind of resistance--right in “Ground Zero”--is something the authorities really hate and fear. New people are coming forward--most of the people arrested today had never been arrested before. And people are learning how to go forward, be defiant, and figure out how to raise the level of resistance here in NYC--in the face of the police state clampdown and the huge numbers of police and National Guard.
Already on people’s minds is April 7--a call has come out from San Francisco for a national day of civil disobedience and direct action to stop the war. We’re thinking about the next time--before today is even over! The people who are new to political life are going through a process and learning resistance as they resist--and it’s so great to be a part of it with them!
We find out that the police are not releasing people as early as expected and that they are not letting people see lawyers. A judge is contacted, and he threatens to issue writs of habeas corpus. The police finally start processing and letting people go around midnight.
Among the people waiting outside, there's a celebratory air. Cheers go up as the resisters walk out of the jail with fists or peace signs in the air. I learn that some of the women read the Not In Our Name Pledge of Resistance while inside, trying to be loud enough for the male prisoners to hear.
It's really inspiring to see the resisters finally walk out of jail--in the middle of the night, in the cold, clearly exhausted and hungry, but absolutely joyous as the people cheer their courage and determination.
Watch for continuing coverage of war and resistance in the Revolutionary Worker and online at rwor.org.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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