NYC: August 2004 Archives

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]."


I was hoping for a leisurely stroll to the Greenmarket in Union Square this afternoon, but seconds after I left the front door of the building I realized this wasn't going to be the usual hunter/gathering experience.

Late this morning the guys returning one of our heavy air conditioners from the repair shop called from their truck to tell us the police weren't allowing them to stop their van in front of our building. Eventually they found a parking place four blocks away and managed to wheel the unit here on a handtruck.

As I found when I stepped into 23rd Street myself later in the day, what they had described was only part of the story. Dozens of police scooters were lined up on the sidewalk only yards from our front door (only by some weird coincidence, I'm sure, exactly in front of the national headquarters of the Communist Party). Just as I had registered the presence of this unusual sidewalk furniture, with the roar of much larger engines a formation of eight motorcyle cops swept down the street toward 8th Avenue.

Then I noticed for the first time the flashing lights visible on all kinds of stationary or moving police and rescue vehicles, all within sight of where I stood.

The street itself was lined with traffic cones where normally vehicles would be parked on both sides, and the center two lanes were also deliniated by lines of cones. Vehicles were prohibited in that area. Regular traffic, including the large articulated buses, was barely crawling along in a single lane in each direction on what had been designed as a six-lane crosstown thoroughfare.

When I walked down 7th Avenue, where "stopping" was also proscribed for the entire week, according to the posted signs, I saw a number of delivery guys sweating in the heat while they hauled goods by hand or handtruck from wherever they had been able to park their vehicles.

At every single intersection I passed as I headed downtown I spotted between four and six city cops. I feigned naivety and asked one open-faced patrolman the question I knew from experience would not get a real answer: Is there some event going on today? He said no, but volunteered, "this is just a security lock zone."


20th Street, the residential street occupied by the headquarters of the Police Department's 10th Precinct, the building itself only about the size of two townhouses and hardly the only feature of the block, was closed to traffic altogether. There were checkpoints at either end of the block.

As I started to step across 19th street a large unmarked black Chevrolet rushed by, its siren doing the familiar New York police or ambulance vehicle "pop pop" employed for anything less than an emergency mission.

When I got to Union Square at first I couldn't see the usual mass of farmers' trucks and stands, there were so many emergency vehicles ringing the Park. I scolded myself for not checking online to see whether the Monday market had been cancelled for our Republican emergency, but then I realized everything was there as usual inside the ring of "security." The entire Park area was swarming with police; there were easily more than a hundred in plain sight.

I hurried through my shopping, taking no pleasure in the business, and, anxious to avoid more depressing encounters with armed aliens, made the unusual decision to return home by Subway rather than on foot.

Big mistake. At first I was too bummed out by what I had been seeing in the street to notice the police presence underground. I was also sweating from the heat and humidity and concerned with avoiding what looked like an imminent thunderstorm, But when I transferred from the L at 8th Avenue I was shocked to see police everywhere. Since I had the time while I waited for the E train, I was able to see that there was precisely one cop on the platform for every two cars, and that these guards seemd to be charged with, among other duties, ducking their heads into each car while the doors remained open in the station. The pattern was repeated at the station on 23rd Street, where I was delighted to be able to exit for home.

It's now late in the evening, six hours after I wrote the paragraphs above. I still haven't run across any terrorists (at least of the private variety), but I just got off the number 1 train at the 23rd Street station down the block from our apartment and I immediately counted 23 police at the street level of the intersection. When I got home our doorman told me that one of my neighbors had just told him there were 30, so it seems I'm not the only one noticing these pod people spread around the city.

I'm convinced that what we're seeing is only the beginning. This kind of governmental response to imagined or real civil threats is both cynical and ineffective, the proper application of the adjectives depending on which alarmists and which planners they are attached to, but the thing will feed on itself; in a climate of fear fed by ignorance we're already seeing that there is no effective way to object to increasing the government's control over our daily lives and our liberties when it invokes the spectre of terror.

What are they protecting, our security or their own? How much longer do they expect us to believe this is all about our safety and not their power? I'm afraid that in the case of too many of us the answer may be "forever."

For more on the neighborhood, look to the second half of this post on Bloggy.

Whatever it was, Sunday's massive protest (and even less so those which preceded it and those which are still to follow this week) was not a rally for John kerry or the Democratic Party

Sure, come November 2nd these angry New Yorkers, and their equally pissed-off friends who travelled from all over the country to be here during the Republican Convention, will vote for Kerry - unless they are registered in states in no danger of attaching their electors to George W. Bush - but right now and almost certainly going forward into the next administration, and even the one which will follow that one, they are and will continue to be voting with their feet and their bodies against the bankrupt policies of what Gore Vidal has called ". . . the one political party in the United States, the Property Party, with two right wings, Republican and Democrat." Even if he should win this fall, Kerry should take little comfort in what is happening on the streets of New York right now; in the most fundamental way, it's not at all about the man whom many of us call "Bush light."

There were plenty of Kerry t-shirts out on the streets yesterday, but they were merely undershirts, covered with, heavily armored with, props and signage representing dramatic imagery and insistent demands which have almost nothing to do with Kerry or his campaign. Neither Kerry's name nor his policy plans were the cry of the day. In fact, the ideas and practices condemned by this crowd's signs and their chants are associated with the cautious Democratic standard-bearer almost as much as they are with the execrable Republican incumbent.

Should the junior senator from Massachusetts be promoted two months from now, he will find that the larger national constituency represented in microcosm by the anger and determination exhibited by hundreds of thousands taking to the streets up and down New York this week is not going to remain any quieter for Mr. Anybody-But-Bush than it would for his disastrous namesake.

escorting one of the coffins included in the "1000 Coffins Project"

Barry and I were out on the streets for over six hours today, and I don't have the energy right now to do justice to a proper report. The 51 images in this gallery will have to suffice, at least for now.

Our own experience was of a very energized but ultimately very mellow crowd, but we've been listening to since returning home around 6 o'clock, and all is not well out there in Republicanland. It seems that among the many people being swept up off the streets to avoid offending the sensibilities of Bloomberg's Convention guests are a number of queers who staged a kiss-in in front of the Central Library [CORRECTION: it's now reported that it happened at 46th and Broadway] and just about anyone not carrying red NYTimes goodybags as they emerged from matinees in the Times Square late this afternoon.

Don't trust the mainstream media for information. They're either totally ignoring what's really going on in New York today or else their corporately-financed prattle simply mouths the words packaged by Police Department public information sources. Do some homework; you'll be amazed at what you'll find.

the Church Ladies for Choice out in the noonday sun today

"March for Women's Lives" It was both a summons and an appellation today. Thousands of activists ended up with a rally at the edge of New York's elegant little City Hall after a march over the Brooklyn Bridge this afternoon.

The enthusiastic crowd was intent on ensuring that the issues of reproductive health remain part of the national political dialogue. The idea was to defend all of these (global family planning, real sex education, accessible, safe and legal abortion, birth control options, the right to privacy regarding sexuality, and equal access to health care) in the face of increasing onslaughts from a powerful and fanatical radical Right Wing.

The marchers were very serious, but even on one of the hottest afternoons of the summer style and humor marched along with them.

For a few images captured under a hot sun today, go to this gallery.


This is the image which accompanies the lead story on the CNN site at this moment. The headline on the front page? "New York stands guard." I see it as, "Republican Guards hold up New York." We are an occupied city tonight, as I listen to the sirens wailing up and down the avenues and helicopters scanning with high-powered searchlights as they whop, whop, whop overhead.

I'm punching this post into my blog as we're listening to a remarkable webstream reporting tonight's ongoing, historical Critical Mass through the streets of Manhattan, including live accounts by the cyclist participants. There are reports that scores of people have been arrested already - for bicycling while smiling. The police are funnelling them into police vans and buses, chasing away the public and prohibiting photographs.

In the end, 50,000 cops in one city are going to find something to keep them amused.

Bloomberg and Kelly are doing Bush's work. Nothing could be more effective in radicalizing and provoking orderly protests than this outrageous over-reaction.

UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that nearly 250 bicyclists were arrested. This is insane!

One scene in the play we saw last night accounted for what I'll say was the scariest evening I've ever spent in a theatre. While I think it's generally billed as comedy (well maybe political satire) don't underestimate its seriousness. Yes it's hysterically funny and the players are really impressive, but there's much, much more in store for the brave souls who make it to a venue revealed (eventually) only to those who reserve tickets. Performances run through next Saturday.

I don't come across too many playwrights working with the kind of political material I find inside my own head. Barry writes, "I love a play where "moderate" is an insult."

Many, many thanks to the anonymous crew responsible.

protesting in the altogether

It's AIDS, stupid!

ACT UP pulled off a classic action this afternoon across from Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican National Convention, scheduled to open formally on Monday.

In the spirit and the extremity of these strange times, the boys and girls did it while entirely naked, and a beautiful sight they were.

Excerpt from the ACT UP New York/ACT UP Philladelphia press release:

A dozen activists stopped traffic in front of Madison Square Garden and
stripped naked, exposing the fact that when it comes to AIDS, "the emperor
Bush has no clothes." Slogans were painted on their bodies that read "Drop
The Dept" and "Stop AIDS Now," while [two other activists] held a banner
with the same message - another was dropped over one of the trailers parked

We were protesting the Bush administration's refusal to agree with the
proposal of other G7 nations to cancel 100% of the debt of poor nations -
money that could be used to fight AIDS.

While Bush has promised $15 billion over 5 years to fight Global AIDS, poor
nations pay that amount each year in debt payments. Cancelling the debt
would have significant impact on money spent toward health care and other
desperately needed social programs.

After blocking traffic for 15 minutes, the naked activists were arrested and
taken into custody.

[image from Bloggy, via NY1, may be supplemented later]

UPDATE: As I had anticipated earlier today, I now have a photo of at least partial images of the action's neatly-lettered text messages, "DROP the DEBT" and "STOP AIDS:"


[second image from Health Global Access Project (GAP), via James Wentzy; there's much more on their site]

"life could be beautiful"

I really like him. Those who know William K. Dobbs know that's not so easy to say, but now that he's become the subject a modest but delightful profile in the NYTimes, written by Michael Brick, it may be easier for me to explain why.

Sure, from the very first time I heard him speak in front of an ACT UP meeting in the late 80's I've always respected him, as virtually without equal among some really tough competition, even if early on that also meant hoping I could stay out of the line of his fire, the kind of fire usually associated with biblical prophets. In the years since however I've managed to overcome some of my timidity and the rewards of knowing him just a bit better include (and he'd laugh at me for this) real affection.

He was admired for his mind and his integrity throughout the activist community from the very beginning, but he could be intimidating. His devotion to principle was uncompromising. We may have been wrong, but most of us had the strong impression that he would not be easy to know personally. Saints can be extremely tough to live with.

Dobbs stayed around. Within the AIDS and Queer movements the authority of his stentorian voice and his facile pen represented a strong focus and a highly-intelligent conscience within groups with many rivals for those roles, but few equal to or even faintly resembling Bill. I think we were all fascinated with our mysterious intellectual Clark Kent. There were certainly many crushes.

Today Brick describes Dobbs as "a main organizer and the official spokesman of United for Peace and Justice." How did he get to opposition to the Iraq war, the Bush administration and eventually both major political parties from the more narrow focus of his earlier activism? It's not a big step for for many of us, but here's Dobbs's account:

"Gay is the lens that I look at life through," he said, sitting recently in a diner near Madison Square Garden, the convention site. "Is there a connection between that and antiwar work? I feel a connection, but it's not easy to articulate. It's about power. It's a visceral need to stop war based on the lessons I've learned as a gay man."

. . . .

Mr. Dobbs says he is motivated to protest by the cruelty of fate, the nature of power and the virtue of free expression. "Life could be beautiful, but it won't," he says, paraphrasing Lily Tomlin. "What's wrong with the world?"

OK, but like Bill himself, we're still going to keep trying to make a difference. Let's get out there this weekend (and stay out there for as long as it takes), let's make it very colorful and let's keep it very safe.

[image from the NYTimes]


Area frozen!

We arrived back at the apartment tonight at midnight after an evening in Williamsburg and the first thing we spotted as we exited our friend's car was this sign.

How much of New York are the Republicans going to need? Even as of this morning we were still being told that few streets other than those immediately surrounding Madison Square Garden (which occupies the two blocks between 31st and 33rd Streets) would be impacted by police security measures for the Republican Convention. In fact, even the closing of 8th Avenue from 23rd Street to 34th Street was to be effective only during the hours the Convention was in session.

These signs are posted every few feet on both sides of the broad crosstown course of 23rd Street, at least along the block where we live, between 7th and 8th Avenue (I haven't yet looked further afield; maybe tomorrow).

Are we going to find a military staging area set up outside our windows on Saturday morning?

The judge has just said no to the coalition, United for Peace and Justice, but no judge can tell individual free Americans and their friends to stay out of Central Park on a Sunday afternoon.

It's still our park, not Bloomberg's, and we're going to be there four days from now.

At the end of the march up 7th Avenue, after the crowd passes the site of the Convention, the police may be successful in dispersing half a million people in every direction. Tens and hundreds at a time may be diverted east and west as they arrive at 34th Street, but everyone knows Central Park is the destination. Half a million people will end up in the Park, but now half a million people will have to obstruct more than just one avenue as they make their way north to our great public Commons.

What cannot be known is whether and to what extent this passage will be accomplished without police violence. While it would be of no comfort to liberty, to the movement or to individuals who might feel it physically, any violence will be the fault of one incredibly myopic mayor.

The war has finally come home, but the enemy isn't in Iraq.


Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann wrote in her ruling that the protesters' group, United for Peace and Justice, was "guilty of inexcusable and inequitable delay" in bringing its case against the city, according to The Associated Press.
In fact, UfPJ applied to the City for the Central Park permit early last year, but received no reply until this past July.

"A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT" - Benjamin Franklin

The Mayor is playing with fire.

Michael Bloomberg has dug in his heels, insisting that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and their guests will not be given a safe or appropriate venue for a protest rally scheduled for less than two weeks from today. Americans don't need a "free speech zone" to assemble or speak freely, but everyone would be better off if the police weren't positioned out there as an enemy army on a quiet Sunday in August.

I'd like to think that the Mayor will come to his senses and, contriving to show that he is fair, find some way to recognize that for a group of the size anticipated that day only an assembly in Central Park can protect liberties he has sworn to protect.

Make no mistake, there will be a march, and its route has been "approved" by the Mayor and the Police Department. But at this point in time, as indicated by the map on the site of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ, facilitators for the coalition organizing the August 29 march and rally), the route of the march begins at 23rd Street and 7th Avenue, above a huge asembly area, and ends at Madison Square Garden, the site of the Republican Party's own rally.

This means that although it was never intended that it would stop with 34th Street, at the moment the march route "sanctioned" by the police is only ten or eleven blocks long, enough room for only a few thousand people. Members of the coalition say they will procede to Central Park. The City authorities say they will not be permitted to do so. Those worthies are led by a Republican mayor who wants to "make nice" for the Republican Convention, and he says he won't budge in his opposition to un-Republicans' right to dissent.

In fact, yesterday Bloomberg declared,

"People who avail themselves of the opportunity to express themselves ... they will not abuse that privilege," he said at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Because if we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that."
He seems to have learned well from the scoundrels in Washington who have already converted fundamental Constitutional rights into privileges available only at an executive's discretion.

But since very few in New York are going to roll over for Bloomberg or the Republican carpetbaggers for whose patronage he has paid so dearly, the Mayor and his friends are playing a very dangerous game.

Already in March, in testimony before the City Council Public Safety Committee, the Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said that he expects 1000 arrests per day before and during the Convention, and that his office would be hard-pressed to handle the dramatic increase.

The police are studying a specially-published guidebook on dealing with "dangerous" demonstrators, and they have been infiltrating the meetings of protesters and march and rally planners.

Only some demonstrators planning to appear August 29th will be aware that a little-reported exceptional court ruling will allow Morgenthau's office to introduce previously court-sealed records of prior arrests for civil disobedience in order to award harsher penalties to those arraigned for activity during the Convention.

For many weeks, beginning even before the Democratic Convention in Boston, the FBI has been terrorizing dissent through its questioning of potential political demonstrators, and their friends and their families, about their plans to protest, issuing subpoenas in some cases.

All of these statements and activities have a chilling effect on legitimate expressions of dissent, but they also have the effect of radicalizing both the police and demonstrators who will not be easily discouraged.

Public authorities charged with protecting life and property have assembled the ingredients for an extremely volatile situation. If there is a disaster twelve days from now, does the Mayor think anyone will be served - other than a radical Right which, having picked this town for the site of its celebrations in order to profit from New York's 9/11 grief, now somewhat disabused of the expectation that plan would work, may see advantage only in scenes of rioting or police confrontations?

Is provoking these confrontations, and possibly much more serious consequences, really part of someone's plan? Is Bloomberg's and his Party's current course in New York, and the outrageous activity of the police and the FBI, a way of keeping down the numbers of protesters, of making sure that nobody comes out on the day of the march and rally except the most radical? There seems to be no other explanation for these absurd restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.

Finally, if it already seems like the streets of New York on August 29th may end up looking and feeling something like many German cities did in the early 1930's, then we won't be surprised when the contemporary equivalent of fascist Brownshirts arrive that weekend to engage the protesters.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

New York has no great square. Virtually every other city in the world has a major, central, open plaza which functions as the heart and soul of its people, and which has occasionally been the site of the greatest popular assemblies in its history, both glorious and mourned, but New York was historically always too busy or too greedy (ok, to put a good light on it, maybe just not autocratic enough?) to set aside a large piece of real estate just because it might come in handy. Times "Square" is only an intersection, after all. We do have Central Park however, and Central Park is our great Commons. It must be permitted to function as such on August 29th, and for the safety of every man, woman and child who will be out that day, and for the sake of their freedoms, Bloomberg and the Parks and Police departments must do what they can to make it go smoothly.

Those of us who will be there speaking with our bodies and our words will do our part.

We just want to show that we are still here; we must show that we are still here. Bill Dobbs, media spokesman for UFPJ, describes August 29th as one of only two opportunities we will have to say what we think of George W. Bush. We cannot miss either of them.

You can make a difference even before August 29

Bloomberg can't be suicidal. He may still listen to reason. Let him know how you feel about the rights of speech and assembly.

NOT IN OUR NAME reminds us, "It's not about the grass" (actually that was originally Dobbs's call) and suggests we "politely" protest the city's denial of a permit for the rally in Central Park on August 29 by emailing Mayor Bloomberg or by calling his office at 212-788-3000, and send a fax to 212-788-2460. Also let the Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, know how you feel by calling his office at 212-360-1305.

Leon Golub Disappear You acrylic on linen 77" x 165.9"

An artist who created "heroic-scale figures," but also a man of heroic-scale human commitment, Leon Golub died on Sunday. Holland Cotter memorializes him in today's NYTimes.

Leon Golub, an American painter of expressionistic, heroic-scale figures that reflect dire modern political conditions, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 82 and lived in Manhattan.

. . . .

His [work] was firmly rooted in a critically engaged version of Western humanism and in the tradition of history painting.

His subject was Man with a capital M - as a symbol of social and spiritual ambition, often irrational and destructive, depicted in paintings of monumental scale.

The work won't disappear.

Leon Golub Dream Song Oil stick and ink on Bristol 10" x 8"

[images from artnet]

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