Hundreds of thousands took part in the “Say No to the Bush Agenda” march through the streets of Manhattan on Sunday.
For nearly five hours, protestors walked the 40-block route that took them past Madison Square Garden and the site of the RNC, making history as the largest protest ever held at a political convention.
While no official numbers were released, city officials and organizers acknowledged that the original estimate of 250,000 participants was extremely low.
Most have placed the actual number of participants at nearly half a million.
New York-based United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group of approximately 900 organizations, hosted the event and received compliments from the city’s Police Department and mayor, who described the march as “peaceful and organized.”
While a variety of special-interest groups took part and found platforms for their individual causes, the over-arching theme to the march focused on anti-war and anti-occupation sentiment.
Most participants carried signs with a variety of anti-Bush/anti-war slogans. Others took more creative routes to convey their message.
Members of the women’s group Code Pink donned pink slips, hats, shirts and boas and chanted, “Pink Slip Bush!” and, “They Say Code Orange, We Say Code Pink!” while the tongue-in-cheek Billionaires for Bush urged the “Little Ladies” to get back to the kitchen and “Leave politics to the menfolk!”
Other groups used more somber tactics, carrying flag-draped coffins in a funeral procession, while others staged mass “die-ins” to represent the nearly 1,000 American lives lost thus far in the Iraq War.
Film director Michael Moore and the Rev. Jesse Jackson were just two of the many celebrities who led delegations of protestors through the streets with chants of “No More Lies, No More War, No More Bush in 2004!”
Jackson rallied the crowds at the end of the march. “The poor are dying,” he yelled, into a bullhorn, “and the rich are lying. We need a plan to end the war in Iraq. We’ve lost the war, we’ve lost our money and we’ve lost our national allies.”
The city refused a permit for the event to end in a rally at Central Park, citing damage to the grass as a primary concern. But thousands of protestors “spontaneously” gathered on the Great Lawn throughout the afternoon and evening and continued the spirit of the day by waving banners, beating drums and joining in impromptu chants.
On Saturday, nearly 20,000 women took part in the “March for Women’s Lives” across the Brooklyn Bridge, organized by Planned Parenthood and a host of pro-choice organizations.
Despite the extreme heat and humidity, the marchers made their way across the half-mile bridge in a line that took over two hours to cross the East River.
A rally at New York City Hall following the walk featured remarks by actress Kathleen Turner, Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler and many others denouncing the anti-abortion platform of the RNC and “anti-women” policies of the Bush White House.
Protestors also gathered the same day at Ground Zero for a “Ring Out” made up of 2,000 participants ringing bells for nearly two hours to protest the appropriation of the Sept. 11 attacks for the politics of the convention and presidential race.
Saturday evening, Code Pink hosted “Women Against War: An Evening of Music and Inspiration” at Columbia University’s Riverside Church. Hundreds of guests filled the cathedral to capacity in order to hear Kelly Dougherty, an Iraq War veteran who co-founded the group Iraq Veterans Against War, as well as speakers Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Medea Benjamin, Code Pink and Global Exchange co-founder.
Praising those who planned on protesting the convention and denouncing the Bush Administration’s policies, Goodman said the weekend would make clear “who is concerned about killing innocent civilians and who is killing innocent civilians.”
Though expectations for violence dominated media coverage and city officials’ press conferences in the week leading up to the protests, few demonstrators ended up in police custody.
Police estimated that less than 300 people had been arrested in protest-related events during the weekend, with less than 20 arrested during the large March on Sunday when a papier-mâché dragon was set on fire outside Madison Square Garden.
The largest police action took place Friday night when over 250 of 5,000 cyclists who rode the streets as part of the weekly bike ride “Critical Mass” were arrested for traffic violations and disorderly conduct.
Laura McPhee is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer and women’s rights activist who teaches literature at IUPUI.