NEW YORK -- Stand in the middle of Central Park and rotate 'round and 'round, blinking your eyes continuously. You'll see shirtless Asian boys learning to kick box, Latinos jamming to a boom box, an older white couple sharing a bottle of Chardonnay, Africans playing chess. These are snapshots not of America, but of New York, the world's city that culturally belongs to every nation and no nation at the same time.
But listen to the rhetoric seeping out of Madison Square Garden this week, more specifically the words of Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani, and you may trick yourself into believing that the Big Apple represents the United States, or that most New Yorkers actually feel a connection with Iowans, Texans or Idahoans, the likes of whom have invaded Manhattan this week for the Republican National Convention.
George W. Bush's supporters from the heartland hark back to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 compulsively, as if their right to continue breathing fresh air after this November depends on it. But many of the outsiders swarming the streets don't seem to get the message that New Yorkers have for them: 'Don't use our pain for your political gain!'
The gaping hole that was created in lower Manhattan almost three years ago left a void in the hearts and psyche of many locals. Most cried; many screamed; some chanted 'USA, USA, USA' where the World Trade Center towers once stood; and many supported the Bush administration's decision to invade Afghanistan to root out the culprits. But a Republican National Convention boasting an oversimplified message to reelect an unpopular incumbent blending into New York City's worldly, progressive, and complex culture is like oil and water mixing. Don't count on it.
'If using the legacy of September 11 is a publicity stunt, it's a bad stunt,' said Dorsett Santos at the Poor People's March on Tuesday. 'This is the only thing Bush can write on his presidential resume. But New York does not want to be known for that.'
Larry Nodarse touted a sign at Ground Zero yesterday reading, RNC delegates, Stop exploiting the mass murder of 2,749 people on September 11, 2001. He talked to me about his rage as a homeless man nearby played 'Amazing Grace' on his flute:
'Using the deaths of people to further a political cause is disgraceful. I don't think that any political party should have held their convention here. It wouldn't be quite as appalling if the Democrats had because they've done it before. At least they have a history of embracing New York.
'The Republicans have never embraced New York. I'm not talking about all conservatives, but a good majority of conservatives, especially in the heartland have always looked down on New York, seen it as sin city, Sadom and Gomorrah -- little lefty, pinko, Commy town. Suddenly when September 11 happens they try to embrace New York and make it their own, and try to adopt it as the symbol of their party. I think it's sick that they tried to push the calendar as far back to nearly coincide with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
'Rudolph Giuliani's speech (Monday night) really offended me, talking about a guy who jumped out of the 102nd floor (of the World Trade Center). How dare he use somebody's death to push forward George W. Bush's reelection. Who knows whom that guy was.'
At St. Paul's Cathedral next to Ground Zero, yesterday, protestors from New York and the United States alike clashed head-on with the black-and-white message the Bush administration has forced on the people since that awful day three years ago: 'You are in constant danger. Obey orders, and above all, conform.'
New York City Police arrested upwards of 200 activists who sought to march from St. Paul's Cathedral, next to the epicenter of the post-September 11-world, to Madison Square Garden to protest the Republican Party's abuse of this city's pain as a means to get reelected in two months. Though they didn't have a permit to March, organizers were given temporary permission to do so by the NYPD as long as they stuck to the sidewalks and didn't disrupt traffic. After walking one block, the arrests began.
In what have become ordinary scenes all over New York this week, the police roped in protestors with an orange net, slowly condensing the crowd as if they were rounding up cattle, then made them wait for hours as paddy wagons and tour buses with NYPD labels on them came to take the activists away. Some were not even part of the march, just unlucky pedestrians caught up in a police action whose message was handed down through the Secret Service in Washington, which takes over for local police whenever the president is coming to town. Representatives of the National Lawyer's Guild in their light green baseball caps were also among the fenced-in.
A young man wearing a Fuck Censorship shirt yelled to journalists, 'I don't think Bush should be here manipulating 9/11' as the police handcuffed him.
All over the city yesterday, anti-RNC activists were getting the picture. Now that the Convention has started, there would be no more permits, no more marching, no more opportunities for mobile free speech. Sunday's successful half-a-million-man march was a thing of the past. A four-block area around Madison Square Garden had been closed off, and the city's police force had been ceded to the Republican Party. Battle lines had formed.
Police arrested more than 900 in a single day, The New York Times reported -- at the New York Public Library, at a 'Die In' protest on 28th Street just south of the convention, at Ground Zero, even inside the Garden, where Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin got within fifteen feet of Dick Cheney before she was subdued.
And with two days left before George W. Bush would take the stage at the Garden to accept his party's nomination amidst the cries of protest all over New York City, the police paddy wagons waited to fill up another batch of upset activists.
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