Maybe it was because the true haters all went to D.C. Maybe New Yorkers decided they already put up a big fuss against George Bush back in August, and what good did it do us, anyway? Or maybe it was just too darned cold.
But truth is, while there was a big inaugural ruckus down in Washington Thursday, on the streets of New York the lavish audacity of this lousy excuse for a president’s second coronation barely registered.
Amid the rushing commuters in Times Square, a hearty few shivered in anticipation of a group primal scream to help expiate their anger.
But by 5:30 p.m., there were just five of them; even the event’s organizer was MIA. “People are just going down too easy,” complained Sara Clarke, 23 of Queens. “All of my really committed friends went to D.C., but us working stiffs have to stay home.”
Jessica Rechtschaffer, a 35-year-old administrative assistant from Manhattan, agreed. “It’s very disappointing. I’m really surprised. There should be a giant primal scream blocking traffic to show our rage.” Rechtschaffer blamed apathy, burnout from the Republican National Convention, and New York’s fragmented activist community, where, she noted, “nobody really does anything unless a big group like United for Peace calls it, and then it’s just this big protest parade.”
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But soon a few more ardent Bush foes trickled in, including the event’s solo instigator, Nora Prentice, who whipped out a homemade anti-W sign with the word “SCREAM!” written in big magic-marker letters. The dozen protesters warmed up with some chants of “Not My President!” building up to a series of wolfish whoops and guttural roars.
“Aaaaarrgghh!” they anguished in unison, delighting a group of passing school children, though few New Yorkers seemed inclined to join in.
“I know I should care but I’m just not that political,” shrugged one guy downing a knish.
Still, the venting of rage served to warm the activists’ spirits. “This is great, this works, if every one of us brought five people we’d be really loud,” said Prentice, who came up with the idea for a collective moan on election night on her way home from Florida, after busting her ass to get out the vote for John Kerry.
“We should start a new group of Times Square screamers,” Prentice offered. “Every time something asinine happens, we should be out here screaming.”
“Then we’d be out here every day,” said Rechtschaffer, with a sigh.
So they let out another whoop, then headed south to Union Square, where about 75 people had joined a vigil organized by the pro-Palestinian group Women In Black. Many had been expecting to attend a “New York Secession” rally called by NOW, but the group cancelled due to lack of energy.
In deference to the day, the Women In Black expanded their weekly call for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine to include a demand to end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq, not to mention Bush’s occupation of the White House.
“It’s a disaster, but I also think the Republicans might self-destruct,” commented Temma Kaplan, hopefully.
A group of young protesters circled the southern portion of Union Square chanting “Money for the Tsunami, Not Bush’s Party!”
Yet aside from the blaring horns of passing cars responding to the “Honk If You Hate Bush” posters, the protest seemed strangely mute.
Still, those who weathered the cold insisted that even this small act of opposition was meaningful. “We need to remind the public that 51 percent is not a mandate,” said Ian Dutton, an airline pilot from Manhattan, who said he’d gotten snowed in Montreal and missed his flight to D.C. “We can’t afford to sit back and let Bush have his honeymoon.”
James Shaheen, publisher of the Buddhist review Tricycle, agreed. “People are so defeatist now, I think any kind of energy put into protest is a good thing. We need to stay visible. It’s small now, but as things get worse, more folks will join in.”