On Tuesday, the protest group, "A31" held a press conference in front of a statue of Gandhi in Union Square. They announced plans for a day of nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action. "We are resisting creatively and openly," said Elizabeth Broad, an A31 organizer, "It's about a celebration of life."
Another organizer, Raquel Lavina, said, "Young people know there's a problem when their only opportunity in life is to go to war. Saying 'no to Bush' is saying 'yes to the world.'"
People in America may not understand why people were so adamant about their protest in New York. Mainstream media has consistently portrayed them as anarchists, disruptions, peaceniks, disaffected youth, and, for the most part, inconsequential.
This could not be further from the truth. The young people who held this press conference were some of the most well spoken, educated, passionate youth in this country. The crowd who marched on Sunday was one of the most diverse I have ever seen. Allison Ramer, from the A31 youth cluster, was entirely correct when she said, "We are the future."
However, as the New York Times reported on their front page Thursday, "Tactics by Police Mute the Protesters, and Their Messages." While the New York Times, and other national media, should acknowledge complicity in that muted message, the real story here is that a huge story -- the message -- is being missed.
Ellen Weiss, senior editor of NPR's national desk claimed in the New York Times article, "There are so many different messages and so many different ways they are portraying themselves."
This, in a sense, is true. The complaints and charges are far more complicated that just calling Bush a girlie man. Shahid Buttar, a lawyer from Washington, DC who protested in New York and spoke at the A31 press conference said, "We are consistently maligned in the media. They say we represent many different sides but they don't show that those sides are connected."
The protesters outside Madison Square Garden, represented by straight talkers like Shahid, were far more interesting and sensible than the politicians inside the madhouse.
Walking into Madison Square Garden was, in a word, sickening. To be there, you could see, in person, someone like Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education who was recently embroiled in controversy for comparing the nation's largest teachers union to a "terrorist organization," say, "All across America, test scores are rising, students are learning, the achievement gap is closing, teachers and principals are beaming with pride."
To be inside Madison Square Garden might allow you to see Bush promise more money for Pell grants.
You could yell out that Bush has raised money for Pell grants at a rate lower than inflation, effectively decreasing grant amounts. But if you were to yell this out, or ask any other question you would be dragged out of the hall by a couple of massive secret service men sporting hats that say, "W."
Time and again during this convention, people have taken it upon themselves to go into the den of the lion and question what is happening. It is a role that has become dangerous. It is something most members of the media gave up long ago.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink was dragged off the floor during Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech on Tuesday. Two members of Code Pink were hauled away during Bush's speech. A dozen students were arrested for protesting during the day on Wednesday. A 21-year-old Yale student screamed at Cheney and was dragged off.
So far, there has been no response from the Bush Administration regarding the protests. Bush's response, though, might be like that from Ed Rispone, an alternate delegate from Louisiana, "It's a great country," he said, walking past a protest on Tuesday night, "people can make fools out of themselves."
What really comes out of that statement, though, is the feeling you may get inside the Garden. It's almost as if this is all a game. A game that the Republicans are winning. To interview a delegate is rarely to feel the heat of passion. Outside the convention -- and at times tearing the carefully woven fabric inside -- are the protesters who truly recognize what is at stake here.
That's not entirely true; millionaires throughout the country know what is at stake for them. Bush promised, during his speech, to make his tax cuts permanent. The Center on Budget and Policy priorities says that in 2004, households with incomes above $1 million will receive tax cuts averaging $123,600.
Where is that money, an estimated $1 trillion from 2001 to 2010 ($300 million a day in lost revenue), coming from?
It is being borrowed on the future productivity of the young people organizing the A31 protests. It is being borrowed on the future value of the natural resources of America. It is a debt that will never be repaid. That debt is Bush's real promise to the future of America. It is just one of the interconnected reasons why so many hundreds of thousands marched this week.
Americans are so angry, so disempowered, and so saddened about the things Bush has been doing, that they have felt that protesting is their only choice.
The choice the protesters made, however, was not a violent choice. As Amy Goodman, host and producer of Democracy Now!, said, "Who is concerned about killing innocent civilians and who is killing innocent civilians?"
Half a million people walked through the streets of New York City. There was no violence.
Media didn't think the protests were important because there wasn't violence. That's ridiculous, it was a thousand times more important because there wasn't violence.
The contrast between the Bush Administration and what Medea Benjamin called their theme of "fear," and the peaceful nature of protests throughout the week, is the big story.
"Do as I say, not as I do." Bush might say to the country.
"Do as I do." The people responded.
Comments? Story tips? Write a letter to the editor
Like this? Want more? Subscribe to Utne magazine