Streets of Rage

How George Bush and his Republicans mobilized half a million people

He was in a mechanized infantry division that took part in the invasion of Iraq. His unit fired armor-piercing shells composed of depleted uranium. When he returned to Iraq last December as part of a peace delegation, he visited hospitals filled with children suffering from cancer. "They believe it is from those shells we fired," he said last week. "That affected me very strongly. In Iraq, people asked me, 'If American citizens were treated the way we are being treated, would they stand for it?' I had to say, 'No, they wouldn't stand for it.' "

The war has become even more personal for McPhearson, since his own son, who is 19 and in the Navy, is expected to be deployed there soon. "I understand what soldiers there are going through," he said. "They are young, they don't speak the language, and people are shooting at you. And you're scared. But I met fathers of children who had been killed by our soldiers—not on purpose, they had just been in the line of fire. All I could do was apologize. And I said I would come back here and do whatever I could."

As they marched on Sunday, Vietnam veteran George McAnanama led them in cadence:

Sequined protester aboard Staten Island Ferry
photo: Cary Conover
Sequined protester aboard Staten Island Ferry

Bush and Cheney talk that talk

But we know they're chicken hawks.

If they think they're so damn right

Let these rich boys go and fight.

A block or two behind the vets marched a contingent decked out in pink costumes and carrying pink signs. The group calling itself Code Pink is another Bush-spurred creation, its name intended as a feminist counterpoint to the yellow, orange, and red terror alerts. In the days leading up to the convention, Code Pink's cadre provided a steady, humorous chiding to the convention's pro-war organizers. They donned Statue of Liberty crowns and draped themselves in pink gowns, standing in front of the public library on 42nd Street, holding letters spelling out "Give Bush a Pink Slip."

They were there when Mayor Bloomberg tried to take the media's focus off of his refusal to allow demonstrators to use Central Park, handing out "Peaceful Protester" buttons. The Code Pink activists unfurled a 40-foot-long banner from a nearby hotel, calling on him to yield. Bloomberg didn't appreciate the joke, and four members were arrested.

Still, the color-coded protests attracted the attention of 14-year-old Citalic Jeffers, of Queens, who found the group on the Internet and, despite her mother's worries, started participating in its events. "So many issues are bigger than 'who's sleeping with who,' " the teenager explained as she took part in her first demonstration on Thursday in Foley Square across from State Supreme Court.

There was another rookie protester in the square that afternoon, also wearing a paper pink crown. But Ann Wright had to quit her job to participate. Wright, 58, a 17-year diplomat, provided one of the early speed bumps to the president on the way to invading Iraq when she publicly resigned her position in the State Department in protest of Bush's war plans.

She gave her reasons in a letter to her boss, Secretary of State Powell. "I believe the administration's policies are making the world a more dangerous, not a safer place," she wrote.

A former Army colonel who served in Grenada and elsewhere, Wright got a law degree and a master's in national security affairs and joined the foreign service in 1987. She held postings in Afghanistan, Somalia, Nicaragua, and Uzbekistan.

"When Bush refused to pursue diplomatic means of conflict resolution and didn't pay attention to the weapons inspectors, that was my tipping point," she explained at the protest. She flew from her home in Honolulu to give her rap to delegates at the Democratic convention, and she came here to take part in the demonstrations. In a way, she was making up for lost time since she'd long been prohibited from participating in protests. Sunday, she marched the entire 2.2-mile-long route under the broiling sun, in a Veterans for Peace T-shirt. At the end, a reporter asked if she was tired. "I'm ready to march another 30 miles," she said.

Paper dragon burns during Sunday’s march
photo: Shiho Fukada
When Karl Rove and Bush's other brains decided to hold the Republican National Convention in New York City, they must have hoped not only that the event would showcase their tough-guy president against a backdrop of terrorist atrocity, but that just maybe it would also inspire a Chicago '68-style maelstrom. Such a riot would hopefully be captured on national television and inextricably linked to the campaign of Democrat John Kerry.

They may still get their wish. In the days leading up to the convention, there was plenty of hot rhetoric. "There's one group that always shows up at demonstrations, committing acts of violence," shouted Dustin Langley, a member of ANSWER—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism—at one of dozens of press conferences held on the steps of City Hall last week. "There's one right now," he said, pointing a finger at a cop strolling the plaza. "The NYPD. Let's identify the real thugs, the real terrorists!" he shouted, to the applause of supporters on the stairs.

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