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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The streets may be upstaging the speeches. As the Republicans hoot and holler for their heroes inside the hermetically sealed bubble that Madison Square Garden has become, the streets outside the Garden have been transformed into the people's platform.

According to many pre-convention reports, yesterday was supposed to be an official day to "fuck shit up!" here in New York City. The planned actions, mostly from a, um, 'secret' group (with a website and a PR machine, natch) known as A31, were designated as peaceful acts of civil disobedience, and for the most part that's exactly what they were. But nearly 1,000 protestors, about the same number of soldiers killed in Iraq fittingly enough, we're still handcuffed and bused off to a holding warehouse on Manhattan's West side yesterday, bringing the total arrests thus far to just over 1,500.

Many will try to link these disruptive antics to the Democratic party and the Kerry campaign, some already have. Even more will disparage the protestors as nothing more than opportunistic anarchists who are trying to use the chaos as an excuse to hurl a brick through a Starbucks window. But I have yet to hear about or see one smashed window yet and I thankfully haven't seen a single molotov cocktail. Most of the offenders have been rounded up on charges such as "illegally" stepping off the sidewalk or hanging a banner in a public square. The majority of the masses raising their voices are mothers, families, poor people, women's rights advocates, AIDS awareness groups, gay rights advocates and the unemployed. These are not radicals and anarchists, these are Americans.

In addition to the numerous large marches and demonstrations, some protestors have taken it upon themselves to get directly in the faces of the Republican delegates as they attempt to tour the city. From Broadway shows to fat-cat dinners and parties, protestors have shadowed the delegates at every turn. Naturally, many people have condemned these actions as rude and unnecessary. But while I don't condone jabbing a finger in someone's face, no matter how ignorant their political views may be, these actions are actually an exaggerated extension of what many Americans feel, not just the antics of some crazy hippies. Native New Yorkers, in particular, feel as though their city has been overrun by people who typically do nothing but deride them all as sinners and godless heathens. Inside the Garden, the Bush faithful have a chance to push their beliefs on the American public. Outside the Garden, the rest of us are utilizing our only chance to let them know we disagree.

Amazingly, most of the delegates who come in contact with the angry mobs are surprised at the reception they've received. Many of these people seem to be completely unaware that there are regular Americans who disagree with their policies and beliefs. They're totally confounded by the notion that anyone would disagree with the president. For me, this uninformed reaction alone validates the in-your-face tactics being employed by some protestors. If the Republicans barricade themselves inside the protective bubble of Madison Square Garden and their only view of the outside world comes from FOX News, they may actually continue to think that the majority of Americans agree with them. If anything, maybe they'll start to realize that's not true. Besides, they're the ones who chose to stage their convention in the liberal stronghold of New York. They made their bed, now they have to get harassed in it.

"I gotta get out of here, I'm so alone. Don't you know that I gotta get outta here? 'cause New York's not my home." - Jim Croce, "New York's Not My Home"

For the third day in a row, anti-Republican protestors were able to infiltrate the blanket security around Madison Square Garden and get inside the world's most famous arena to voice their dissent. Today, just after the Bush twins bombed for a second day in a row, a group of anti-Bush activists from the group Act Up!, shed their Republican disguises and stood up to shout down chief-of-staff Andrew Card, who had just taken the podium. The 11 intrepid protestors were quickly hauled off the floor, hands twisted behind backs, as delegates cheered.

Yesterday, Medea Benjamin of the peace group Code Pink, got within steps of vice president Cheney to unveil a banner for him to read: "Be Pro Life, Stop the Killing in Iraq." On Monday, Thomas Frampton, a 21-year-old straight-A student from Yale, slipped security to get inside the arena, ten feet from Mr. Cheney, to bellow anti-war slogans in the vice president's face.

Let's see, three infiltrations in three days inside what has been touted as the most impressive display of security in recent memory. And here I thought the Republicans were making us safer.

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