United for Peace and Justice, Today’s Protestors are Mature, Artful, and Productive

NEW YORK — Crazed hooligans breaking windows, overturning
cars and uprooting fire hydrants … Anarchists from the heartland
bombing media vans … Street protestors harboring terrorists in
their midst, threatening to unravel civil society!

These are scenes the Republican Party would love you to see on
Fox News, heightening your state of panic and making you fear the
throngs of youth who have taken to the streets like wild dogs this
convention season.

But the United for Peace & Justice Coalition’s enormous
march in Manhattan yesterday that kicked off the icy reception the
Republican Party will receive at its convention in New York this
week did little to feed the conservatives’ fire. Instead, hundreds
of thousands of well-organized and peaceful activists stuck largely
to their game plan as they left Union Square at noon, filed down
7th Avenue, and bypassed Madison Square Garden where the incumbents
will re-nominate George W. Bush as the leader of the free world on
Thursday, before returning to Union Square.

An organized, and potentially volatile sequel to the
demonstrations never materialized in Central Park after the city
denied protestors’ the use of the Great Lawn. By 6 p.m. New York’s
famed urban park enjoyed the tranquility of a typical Sunday
afternoon in the Big Apple. However, police did make dozens of
arrests in a sudden and controversial sting operation in Times
Square in the hours following the United for Peace & Justice
march through lower Manhattan.

The march, itself, featured witty placards, emotional voices and
sheer strength in numbers. Poignant and humorous signs included,
‘Bush did what Osama could not. He united the world against us’ …
‘Dick Cheney before Cheney dicks you.’ … ‘Draft the Bush twins’
… ‘Would Jesus strike ‘preemptively?’ NO!’ … ‘Republicans cause
cancer’ … ‘Halliburton ?ber Alles’ … ‘Stop Mad Cowboy Disease’
… ‘My Bush smells like shit,’ hung above a Whole Foods Market …
‘Emissions Accomplished’ with smokestack spewing out toxins … ‘We
will NOT be silenced!’ with a picture of the Statue of Liberty with
a bag over her head and her arms tied, reminiscent of Abu Ghraib
… a picture of Bush, saying, ‘I resign, or is it resume?’ …
even a sign proclaiming, ‘Partying on a Graveyard’ with a martini
drinking, top hat-wearing Republican elephant dancing on Ground
Zero wreckage.

But acts of creative street theater stole the show, with
creative expressions suggesting that America’s activist movement
may have come of age.

Running helter-skelter down side streets perpendicular to the
protest thoroughfare, the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army
played a virtual game of freeze tag with journalists and
photographers before suddenly retreating in chaotic fashion. They
wore dirty green army fatigues, fake passes identifying them as
Republican delegates to the convention, and ridiculous clown paint
on their faces.

‘Our hero, Dubya, is in town for the Republican National Clown
Convention, so we’ve got our credentials,’ said Larry, a leader of
the Clown Army. ‘We’re the Big Top delegation, from right between
Kansas and Missouri. We’re ready. We’re just as big clowns as they
are.’

Suddenly Larry moved out of character. ‘We’re trying to find
different ways to express dissent in the public space, with satire
and with irony. We’re trying to move in ways that are different and
create a subculture, because I think it’s important to create a
culture instead of just consuming it.’

On 34th Street after the march had passed Madison Square Garden,
members of the Bond Street Theatre troupe appeared walking high on
stilts, adorned in classy business suits and smoking huge cigars.
Only the plastic snouts on their faces gave away their identities
as greedy politicians.

Anti-Bush protestors and religious-right counter activists,
alike, couldn’t help but laugh at their hilarious antics as Michael
McGuigan revealed his cigar to be plastic and made in China. ‘What
we’re aiming for is a strong visual impact, which is something that
everyone can relate to right away,’ said Joanna Sherman, artistic
director of Bond Street Theatre. ‘If people are given a visual
spectacle, they will latch onto it, unlike just words on paper,’
echoed Megan Grey.

‘The element of humor is a distinctly human thing and it helps
you see things from another angle,’ McGuigan summed it all up.
‘That sense of humor and ability to be creative is a way to solve
the biggest problems in the world. We got a lot of problems, and no
one is solving them very creatively.’

The activist parade route also featured its share of challenges
for the protesters. But holding it all together was the cool and
collected presence of Robert Baum. The United for Peace &
Justice volunteer steered activists through the gauntlet, trying to
keep them focused as they passed an epic string of hurdles when
forced to turn onto 34th Street and head back to Union Square.
Confronting an enormous police presence at Madison Square Garden,
walking under a nerve-racking billboard of the hated, right-wing
Fox News cable station and an intimidating ‘In God and Pres. Bush
We Can Trust’ placard held by several loud and boisterous
‘bible-thumping’ activists threatened to derail what organizers had
worked so hard for. But Baum encouraged nearly every one of the
hundreds of thousands of protestors to ignore the right-wingers on
34th Street.

‘It’s important that everybody understands that activists also
do crowd control,’ he said while coaxing several demonstrators
yelling ‘Shame, shame!’ at the top of their lungs to move on.
‘We’re concerned about safety and about getting our message out but
also staying focused because what the person behind me is uttering
is complete nonsense. If people were to bum rush this guy, that
creates a situation, and it doesn’t accomplish anything.’

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