"We Thought They Were Window Washers"

PLAZA HOTEL, 6 a.m.--The half dozen activists, students, and professionals in their 20s who pulled off one of the largest-scale, Seattle-style stunts this RNC has yet seen were making a statement, according to their press release, about the Bush administration's "miscalculation, arrogance and deception." Terra Lawson-Remer, 26, the action's organizer, said in a statement, "We can’t stand idly by while the Bush Administration drives this country over a precipice.”

But the real statement they made was more about the frightening state of security in the city.

Lawson-Remer is currently in a JD/PhD program at NYU, an experienced activist who was arrested at the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, and she's been planning this action for several months. Nevertheless, for the nearly four hours that she and her colleague were dangling from the ornate rooftop of the Plaza in their rock-climbing gear, the many observers on the ground wondered if they would actually pull the feat off. Several members of the media and independent documentary teams had been tipped off to the action and were loitering in front of the Plaza, not inconspicuously, with telephoto lenses and video cameras with tripods, from at least 6 a.m. on. CBS's "The Early Show" was filming live across the street. The climbers were intermittently visible to anyone who cared to look up as they fussed with the elaborate rigging that would get their banner unfurled. Lawson-Remer was wearing a bright red helmet.

Yet, astonishingly, no security or police presence was felt until broad daylight, about 10 minutes after 9 a.m. At that time a small group of hotel employees had gathered outside along with passersby. Several members of the hotel security staff were running around with walkie-talkies. They appeared not to know how many climbers were on the roof (two climbers, at least two others on the top parapets). "I'd like to know how they got in there!" said a Parks Department employee. "Doesn't say much about security!" One man in a Plaza uniform jacket was overheard saying, "At first we thought they were our window washers."

After that things happened quickly. At 9:26 the first police Emergency Service Unit arrived, with equipment for climbing. Five undercover officers unfurled a POLICE DO NOT CROSS line around the perimeter of the hotel. There were a total of five police vehicles at the scene. At 9:42 the banner unfurled to a smattering of applause from the crowd, and a little puzzlement at the message. "It's ambiguous," said a bystander. "If they were going to go to all that trouble they could have said something stronger."

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