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Campaign 2004Newsweek  
More by the authorBiographyE-mail the Author
Lots of Protests, Little Violence
Our columnist finds aging anti-war activists, but no anarchists, at Sunday's massive protest in New York ahead of the Republican National Convention
By Gersh Kuntzman
Updated: 2:33 p.m. ET Aug. 30, 2004

Aug. 30 - I had to see these dangerous people for myself. After all, I'd been warned all week long by the New York media that my city was going to be taken over by bomb-throwing anarchists, domestic terrorists and assorted other loonies during the Republican National Convention.

The New York Daily News even put it on its front page: "Police Intelligence Warning: Anarchy Inc." According to the newspaper, "Police believe 50 of the country's leading anarchists will be in the city for the convention." Let's ignore for a second what it means to be a "leading anarchist," and focus on the real issue here: The paper—and others—spent last week dutifully disseminating the official New York Police Department line: That the hundreds of thousands of people gathering to protest Thursday's nomination of George W. Bush were going to be violent. One report even went so far as to say that members of the Weather Underground—which made a name for itself through bomb-throwing in the late 1960s and 1970s— were pouring into the city to wreck havoc again.

I was disturbed by these reports—not because I feared violence, but because I felt that the NYPD "anarchy warning" was designed simply to send a message to the rest of the country: That the hundreds of thousands of people who would be protesting the president are not "normal" Americans, but merely a rag-tag bunch of professional protesters from the outer edge of the fringe of our society.

So imagine my surprise when I got to Sunday's massive protest looking for some bomb-throwers only to find a group of graying peaceniks standing behind the banner: "Brooklyn Parents for Peace." (I guess the members of the Weather Underground took one look at the hazy, hot and humid forecast for the day and said, "Did you see the weather? Let's stay underground!") But surely there would be violence. The NYPD had said so. So what follows is a brief chronology of my attempt to find some violent protesters.

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11:30 a.m.
  My departure with Brooklyn Families for Peace is delayed briefly as we await a CNN camera crew that is filming a typical Brooklyn family that will march in the protest. The goal is to counter the prevailing notion that all protesters are somehow kooks, anarchists or tattoo models. While I appreciate CNN's effort, I find myself resenting its implication: That the normal family is the exception and the "kooks" are the rule.

Noon  We are crawling up Seventh Avenue at an L.A. freeway pace. In the next 90 minutes, I will progress exactly two blocks. For most of that time, I'm surrounded by drummers, this time leading a chant of "Hey hey, ho ho/George Bush has got to go." I can't get in the mood: Is dancing, drumming and wearing curse-covered t-shirts ("No More Bushit") the way to defeat a sitting president with a $200-million war chest?

1:50  p.m.  I've still only moved a half-block, but I find myself crammed next to the Commies: "Bush is no solution/Fight for Communist revolution," they chant. Some of the mainstream protesters boo, but the guy next to me—who actually does have an American flag—says, "Everyone can have his say here." I admire his principles, until he looks leeringly at a female protester in a tank top and says, "There is some fine freedom-loving flesh out here!"

2:00  p.m.  I haven't seen this many sweaty, hot, angry people complaining since the Olympic gymnastics finals, so I peel off onto W. 19th Street. Again, I am reminded how great New York can be. There can be 250,000 people marching up 7th Avenue, but a half-block away, you can get a seat at an empty café and eat eggs benedict in complete tranquility (and a bottomless coffee cup). Could I have done that in Chicago in '68?

2:30 p.m.  Looking for violence, I head to Central Park, which the Bloomberg administration had rejected as a protest site because all those marchers might have damaged the Great Lawn. The word on the street was that many of the protesters were going to head here anyway. When I get there, I find that a large protest area had been set up in front of Tavern on the Green—the ultimate Republican restaurant, with its oversized prices and overly ostentatious food—but no one is there save for one woman in a bikini top holding a sign reading "TX" with an arrow pointing crosstown. No one knows what she means, so I ask. "I'm pointing them the way back to Texas," she said. "The crack [cocaine] is much better there." Another powerful voice for American liberalism.

Fifty feet away from her, Republicans wait for their SUVs and eye her warily across what had become a re-militarized zone filled with policemen milling around waiting for violence. I can't help but notice the GOP delegates; they stand out like Mormons at a Nelly concert.

"I like free speech, of course," says Kathy King, the wife of a Texas delegate. "But I don't see the use of protesting at our convention. I didn't protest at theirs." I suggest to her that she could have—and, indeed, should have—but she reminds me that protesting is not patriotic.

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Further along in the park, a bunch of people in red shirts—perhaps from the Red states?—are screaming about something. It turns out to be a softball game. Good thing, too; if they start chanting for Democrats instead of for a double, Bloomberg would have thrown them out of the park for disturbing the grass.

2:50 p.m.  Heading back downtown, I come across the new "Cost of Iraq War" billboard in Times Square. It's situated directly above a nearly naked  (but for sneakers and a necklace) picture of a crouching Kimora Lee promoting either a sexual position or her line of sneakers. The "cost" clock is up to $135 billion, which makes  me wonder, which is more obscene—the naked model or the cost clock?  

3:10  p.m.  Outside the Ford Center, I encounter a genuine Texan. How can I tell? Let's see, a very big man with boots, a huge steel belt-buckle and an American flag shirt (is that respectful? I mean, when he sweats, his armpits stink up the flag). I ask him what he thinks of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people had braved the weather (and, possibly, the Weather Underground) to send a message to the president. "I don't think much of it, frankly," says delegate Richard Whitmore, using a tone that suggested that a march of this size is a fairly common event. "Besides, my research tells me that a lot of it is rent-a-rebels, you know, paid protesters." (Note to self: Next time there's a protest, make sure to hook up with Communists for Kerry. I hear they not only pay well, but you get regular breaks!)

3:30  p.m.  Rudy Giuliani welcomes delegates to the Broadway show,  "42nd Street."  I'm happy to see him. After all, Giuliani is this convention's lone celebrity (yes, I hate to tell you, but, Bo Derek, Aaron "The Bachelor" Buerge and a few dozen country-and-western stars don't count). Even two years out of office,  the former New York mayor still has energy to burn—and, of course, I'm not only talking about his massive Cadillac Escalade that is double-parked and idling (in violation of city law!) in front of the theater.  I had to be there. After all, the papers said a larger than life character like Rudy would certainly attract violent protesters.

"42nd Street" is a wonderful musical—if you like tired, cliched, shopworn, tripe. But that's what the convention organizers wanted. Other delegates saw plays that ran the full gamut of American entertainment from A-B, such as "Phantom of the Opera, " "Beauty and the Beast" and "Wonderful Town." Other edgy shows, like the Pulitzer Prize-winning "I am My Own Wife" didn't even bother to stay open this week. Initially, delegates were offered cheap tickets to "Naked Boys Singing," a musical whose title slipped past the GOP's decency committee (what part of "naked" and "boys" got past the gay marriage police?). Eventually, someone figured it out and the GOP bailed.

Inside the theater, drinks are free (underwritten by the supposedly liberal New York Times, which also gave delegates a goody bag containing maps, a t-shirt and two different breath mints. Clearly, the Times wants the Republican visitors to offend us only with their politics, not their halitosis).

Giuliani does not disappoint the faithful, garnering thunderous applause (from a bunch of Texans, no less), leading me to temporarily believe that Middle America doesn't really hate New York—as long as it's run by a Republican. But it's all hypocrisy. The Daily News's famous 1975 headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead" more accurately captures the GOP sentiment towards The Big Apple.

Outside, after Giuliani's welcoming remarks, I ask "America's Mayor" how he could admire President Bush when he disagrees with him on so many issues (abortion, gay rights, science) and he gives me what has become the classic, "9/11 changed me" defense: "George Bush did what had to be done: he put us on offense against terror and not just on defense. He has provided consistent leadership, and that's what we need in a time like this. He made up his mind and he stuck with it—and I know he's taken a lot of grief for it."

Rudy finishes talking and jumps back in the Escalade. I put on my Mets cap and walk off  again in search of violence. The closest I come is a Yankee fan.

"Mets suck!" he yells. Boy, what a violent town!

Gersh Kuntzman is also a reporter for The New York Post. His website is at

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.


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