Victory Lap

A spontaneous march reclaims the street halfway through Bush's speech

Thursday night's candlelight "convergence" in Union Square to say "NO!" to Bush was a curio box of dissent: part vigil, part soap box, part activist flea market, with a fire sale on anti-Bush t-shirts—three for $10 at the Not In Our Name shopping cart.

"Everybody’s just finding ways to say what they need to say," said Leslie Cagan, who came sporting an "I Love Girlie Men" sticker, a dig at Arnold’s fag baiting of the Kerry campaign. Cagan’s group, United for Peace and Justice, called for the no-permit gathering at Union Square to cap the week's protests, remembering the way people massed there after 9-11.

The cops arrayed in force around the perimeter seemed relaxed for once. And the crowd was a real mix, from pagan drummers and dancers and wailing sax players to office workers, even a few disaffected Republicans and "liberal-bias" journalists, who ditched their credentials to mingle with the 5,000 or so who jammed the square to register their dissent as George Bush delivered his acceptance speech.

Word began percolating for a march on Madison Square Garden. "Bush is speaking, they need us there," shouted one man, pointing out that the A.N.S.W.E.R. ideologues were finishing their rally in the protest pen at 30th Street, with no one to take their place. "You'll get arrested, don't fall into the trap," was the immediate retort.

But others took up the call, and soon a large crowd was massing at 15th Street, ready to move. Police initially agreed to allow people to walk side by side up Eighth Avenue—"nice and slow, we're gonna take a nice walk," a white shirt on a bullhorn announced. But when the cops pulled back the barricades at around 10:30 p.m., the crowd jubilantly swarmed into the street. "No More Bush!" they roared, about 2000-strong and marching at a fast clip, with scores of riot cops escorting them the whole way.

People whistled and hooted, blew conch horns and chanted, "The people united will never be defeated!" They waved signs with obscene slogans, and carried candles and Bush heads on sticks. They marched into the "designated protest pen" at 30th Street and filled most of the block before the cops threw up a row of barricades at 29th Street to divide the crowd, leaving a rowdy marching band and about 100 others behind a wall of police.

"Go on strike!" the crowd chanted, and eventually the cops allowed the two groups to unite—though not until 11:40 p.m., well after Bush had skipped town, and the bulk of the protest had petered out.

But for the people who took the streets of their own force, it was a victory march. "It's like everyone individually chose to come here, and now we had a voice," said Annie Yang, an HIV researcher from Brooklyn. It felt like people recovered some protest rights last night. Maybe next time the protest leaders will join in.

 
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