fortress on 8th Avenue

It was disturbingly quiet early this afternoon on 8th Avenue. It's Republican week in New York, and while the broad northbound artery is usually one of the busiest in the city, at least 11 blocks of it are totally closed to vehicle traffic from late last Friday night until midnight this Thursday.

Even pedestrians are unable to go above 30th Street unless they live or work in those blocks and are carrying photo identification. The only solution is a long detour to 9th Avenue on the west or 6th on the east, and then a resumption of the route north.

The avenue belonged to the police. I had only gone out to pick up something for lunch, but I counted 61 officers between 23rd and 24th Streets (even before I saw a few dozen more headed up toward midtown on bicycles). I don't think one of them managed to look anything but bored. It's a terrible indictment of an entire class of civil servants, but I don't believe cities are their thing.

Now I was drawn north, probably by the magnet of the empty street and the site of the temporary cross-avenue pedestrian press bridge visible way up on 33rd Street.

The designated block-long pen of the designated protest area, or "Free Speech Zone," looked almost empty; inside the total enclosure of the police barricade there were probably less than a hundred Postal Service workers harangueing their Republican targets insulated within Madison Square Garden two blocks north:


It's probably not a surprise that there are so few protesters in the "approved" area today, since August 31 has been designated a day of non-violent civil disobedience and direct action. That sort of thing doesn't work very well if the venue is more or less sponsored by the target.

[Note: see links on the previous post to check for news on today's protests]

"WELCOME." I turned back at 30th Street, one block below the southern extremity of the Garden. This image shows the increasingly forbidding barricades and walls* found as you go north (if anyone not authorized actually could go north these days):


Past a few virtually empty shops running down from the southwest corner on this deserted avenue and only about eight feet from the metal barricades of the pen shown in the first photograph, I spotted this entrepreneurial tavern owner's sign, "Happy Hour, 12 - 6." Somebody wasn't going to miss a business opportunity even in the midst of this blockade; I hope our publican is able to attract a larger trade during the remainder of the Convention. The suited gentleman with the cigar, perched on a stool in front of the door, was only part of the small crowd bemused by the energy of the people in the blue t-shirts:


* On The Daily Show tonight Rob Corddry referred to the barriers as "concrete liberty hurdles" and Ed Helms later explained, "Not even the appearance of martial law will stop [the Republican delegates]."

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Published on August 31, 2004 4:15 PM.

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