Cindy Sheehan may be the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement. But that didn’t stop members of the New York Police Department from marching into the crowd of about 150 people gathered in Union Square Monday to hear her speak and yanking away the microphone.
The NYPD pulled the plug just as Sheehan was calling on the audience not to lose heart in the fight to end the war in Iraq.
“We get up every morning, and every morning we see this enormous mountain in front of us,” said Sheehan, speaking on behalf of the other parents and family members of fallen soldiers who have taken up the crusade to bring the troops home.
“We can’t go through it, we can’t go under it, so we have to go over it,” she continued, just as the cops rushed the makeshift podium.
Police dragged away Paul Zulkowitz, a.k.a. Zool, an organizer with “Camp Casey NYC,” the small encampment that he and other activists set up a month ago in Union Square in solidarity with Sheehan’s vigil outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. The New York branch existed much to the ire of the city’s Parks Department. Today, Zulkowitz was arrested for failing to obtain a sound permit—a charge that normally warrants no more than a summons.
Moments earlier, Zulkowitz had been chastising Parks officials for refusing to grant a permit to the encampment, and accusing the police of trying to harass the antiwar protest away. Contrasting the liberal Big Apple with the hostile environs Sheehan faced in Crawford, Zulkowitz told the crowd: “You would think that here in New York City, at Union Square—our Hyde Park—you would think that we would little difficulty having a 24-hour vigil to oppose the war. In fact, we’ve had two arrests and eight summonses and endless harassment from the police for doing what we do.”
As the activists hustled away Sheehan and the other family members on the Bring Them Home Now tour, an enraged crowd of about 50 people stormed after the police, chanting, “Shame! Shame!” Meanwhile Iraq war veteran and now peace activist Jeff Key played “God Bless America” on his trumpet.
“Since when can’t you talk out here in Union Square?” demanded an Upper West Side social worker who identified herself as Quha, who said she’d taken her lunch break to hear Sheehan because she has a 20-year-old son who is considering enlisting. “I’ve seen everyone and their mother come out and speak nonsense out here in this park, and for them to shut down Cindy Sheehan is just not right.”
“They came in like gangbusters. It was really ridiculous,” said Margaret Rapp, a retired teacher from Inwood who added that she planned to file a complaint after an officer forcibly shoved her in the chest. A mother of a 19-year-old, she said she’d come to hear Sheehan because she lost her fiancee during the Vietnam War. “This is very close to home. There is a chord that Cindy hits among people that have lost people in this war and other wars, or who have draft age children like me. We’re scared to death.”
Inspector Michael McEnroy, commander of the 13th Precinct, insisted the shutdown order had nothing to do with the content of Sheehan’s speech, but was instead about the “provocation” caused by Zulkowitz. “This has been going on for much longer than today,” McEnroy said, adding of Sheehan, “I don’t even know the woman.” That last part prompted one pissed-off onlooker to shoot back: “Haven’t you watched the news or read a paper in the last three months? ”
Sheehan has been touring the country for the last month with members of Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak out, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. They will be speaking tonight at 6:30 at St. John the Divine (Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street), part of the lead up to Saturday’s big anti-war march in Washington, D.C.
Yet for all their fussing over sound permits, the police evidently weren’t troubled the young folkie who set up his own mic and portable amp shortly after Sheehan and her entourage had left, then launched into a round of Dylanesque protest songs.
Sheehan’s mic wasn’t that much louder, leaving one to wonder whether the cops’ hasty halt to the speakout was perhaps motivated more by the crowd she drew and the radical posturing voiced by some of the speakers leading up to her—including Dustin Langley of the Troops Out Nowcoalition, who urged the anti-warriors milling in the bright sun to “open a new front of resistance right here. Bring Falluja to New York and shut it down!”