NEW YORK — On the eve of the Republican National Convention in New York, thousands turned out on a scorching day to protest the policies of President George W. Bush and his administration.
The rally snaked its way through midtown Manhattan and past Madison Square Garden, where the Republicans will convene this week to nominate the 43rd president for re-election. Early estimates vary as to whether the protest attracted more than 400,000 people (as organizers told CNN) or approximately 100,000, as claimed by the New York Police Department. In either case, today's rally was the largest ever at an American political convention and one of the biggest protests in U.S. history aimed at a sitting president.
Despite concerns about security during the lead-up to the convention, the protest remained peaceful. By late afternoon, more than 130 arrests had been made, according to The New York Times, including more than 50 on charges of disorderly conduct for blocking traffic.
Celebrated liberals such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, filmmaker Michael Moore and even Triumph the Insult Comic Dog led protesters of many ages, races and nationalities up Seventh Avenue to — as one popular flag put it — "Say No to the Bush Agenda."
Thousands of signs and chants gave voice to nearly as many complaints about policy issues of the Bush presidency, from health care and social security to gay marriage and the environment — although the two primary hotbeds in the minds of protesters were Iraq and the displeasure of New Yorkers with the Republican Party.
Nearly all those gathered decried the President's reasoning for beginning the war in Iraq. One particularly moving action, organized by the One Thousand Coffins group, saw protesters acting as pallbearers, carrying caskets draped in American flags and black cloths, one for each member of the armed forces killed during the war. Anti-war groups, some made up of grandparents and grandchildren — from as far away as Washington's San Juan County, Columbia, South Carolina and Kalamazoo, Michigan — descended upon Manhattan to chant "not in our name." The flags of many nations — from staunch American allies such as Ireland and the Philippines to countries, like Venezuela and (yes) Iraq, less supportive of the president's policies — were interspersed with signs protesting America's military presence.
Meanwhile, the anger of many New Yorkers wasn't just directed at the president, but at the entire Republican Party, for choosing the liberal-leaning Big Apple as the site of their national convention. (This is the first time that New York has played host to the Republicans.) "Go home!," roared the not-so-welcoming hosts as they walked past the Garden, booing loudly at an LED screen on the corner of Seventh Avenue and West 34th Street, which was broadcasting Fox News' pre-convention coverage. The few groups of Republicans who braved getting into a debate with the hometown crowd were made inaudible by chants of "Shame, shame, shame."
Having been turned down earlier this week by city officials and local courts to continue the rally in Central Park, march leaders steered the long procession downtown toward Union Square. There, the crowd was encouraged by volunteers from organizing group United for Peace & Justice to dissipate into the late-afternoon twilight. But many proceeded up to Central Park's Great Lawn to continue the day's festivities. Considering the many squabbles that took place in the weeks before the rally, the NYPD was prepared for a confrontation with demonstrators. But as the sun set over Manhattan, thousands of protesters peacefully mixed with the early evening softball games.