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Published: August 28th 2004
"Dude, you're on TV!"
Thus said my fellow protestor Tom as we watched CNN Headline News at close to midnight. For a few fleeting seconds my face and wide-brimmed Tillie hat stoud head and shoulders above a crowd of thousands of people participating in the Pro-Choice March across the Brooklyn Bridge. The footage must have been taken early in the day, because by the end of the day I was considerably less enthusiatic after spending 12 hours on my feet in 90 degree heat with a camera bag over my shoulder, at which point my clothes were entirely soaked through with sweat and I was craving salt on anything, "I'll have an order of fries, please. They come with salt, right?"
I doubt that I will ever be able to forget the sublime joy of marching across the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of peaceful compatriots of a clear, sunny day, serenaded by the honks and cheers of passing cars and drivers. Even the police who were stationed every hundred yards were enjoying themselves when they could at least find a spot of shade, and found no excuse to use their tasers, billy clubs, pepper spray, riot helmets, guns, handcuffs, plastic ziptie handcuffs or boltcutters. Darn it all, we were just too peaceful.
We began our march in Brooklyn in a park at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge where we all generally milled around with our cameras. Everybody seemed to have a camera, and so we were all videotaping each other photographing each other admiring each other signs, and the officers of the New York Police Department 7760 Video Unit were taping it all from atop the roof of their van. As a photographer I'm particularly aware of cameras, any cameras, and so they jump out of the crowd to me. Perhaps there were as many cameras at the legendary marches of the 1960's, but I don't recall seeing them in such prolific quantities in the films and photographs of the period.
The march, while focusing upon reproductive freedom, was a family affair. Moms came out with grandmas, kids and fathers. Babies in strollers sported t-shirts that proclaimed they were already smarter than George W. Bush. One toddler wore a shirt that declared her to be a "baby by choice." A pregnant mother all ready to deliver had covered her belly with pro-choice stickers. And of course, there were the requisite topless riot grrls who had transformed peace stickers into pasties (there's always a couple of them at every march).
There were also the requisite counter-protestors, one of whom chanted in a shrill voice, "Save the dolphins! Save the dogs! But oh my God, don't save the babies!" I wanted to, but couldn't, cross the barricade and police line to ask her, "When was the last time you saved a child from neglect, poverty and abuse? How many unwanted children have YOU saved?" But the police were quite in diligent in seperating the couple of dozen counter-protestors from the thousand of protestors. As it was, at one point two almost-elderly men with pro-life signs slipped into the march and got all of 50 yards before several police officers excorted them back to their protest area.
As our feel good rally finished on the edge of City Hall Park though, I felt disheartened by the amount of trash that had been generated. The marchers had been eager to pick up their "I (heart) pro-choice NY" signs, and many of them had seemed equally eager to drop them on the side of the street once they walked to Manhattan. I was reminded of a right-wing radio diatribe against left-wing activists for the massive litter they created at their marches. Why is it that it's OK to leave tons of garbage on the ground at a pro-choice rally? Why do we only pick up after ourselves at Greenpeace rallies? Such unthoughtful actions are easily siezed upon and spun out of proportion by critics who would gladly ignore the message in favor of slamming the messenger. It is a failing on our part to provide such fodder for the pundits when we could easily pack out our trash and dispose of it properly.
After the march, I headed over to the Independent Media Center http://www.indymedia.org/
to pick up my press credentials, for what they'll be worth. I seriously doubt the riot police will honor my Indy Media credentials, and I now that I'll get a laugh if not the boot if I try to get into the Republican National Convention, but at least I'll be afforded the opportunity to slip backstage at some of the peace rallies. One of the greatest innovations I've seen since 9/11 is the emergence of the Indie Media network, a decentralized web-based collective of journalists who provide news coverage unfiltered by corporate bias (like me). Most of us are unpaid and sympathetic to the left-wing activists we run with in the streets. At least we're blatant about sympathies, which is more than can be said for the mainstream media, which seldom discloses their own vested interests.
In the early evening I headed over to the World Trade Center Site for RingOut, a bell-ringing commemoration of the lives lost on 9/11. Having only a rudimentary sense of navigation in Manhattan, I was guided to the WTC by the open space I could glimpse just down the street. The WTC was where there weren't buildings. It was probably fifteen years ago that I was last at the WTC, and I was in in typical teenager fashion suitably unimpressed with the view from the observation deck at the towers. It was almost inconceivable that fifteen years ago I had stood in the same spot awaiting my tour group in the shadow of the tallest building in the world, and now I was participating in a peace rally next to a gaping pit a hundred feet deep.
I met two "Grandmothers for Peace," holding a banner at the edge of the pit, and after photographing them I asked one of them if it was the first time she had participated in a peace action at the WTC. Sue replied that it was the first time she had been down to the site, even though she lives in Manhattan and works just blocks away on Wall Street. Like me, Sue could only barely reconcile the absence of the World Trade Center with the presene of them that she had known for so long.
Sue and I were but a few of the millions of people in the New York area who are outraged at the blatant opportunistic attempts of the RNC to capitalize upon the grief rendered by 9/11. Visceral calls for vengeance will not create a safer, more peaceful world for our children. Exploiting the fears of our nation will not create a more hopeful future. We must learn to consider how our actions in the present will affect the seventh generation to come, and when we do so, we may reach the conclusion that polluting our earth, profiting from war and exploiting people is not in our best interests.
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