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Published: September 7th 2004
Wednesday, September 1st was a day of recovery for many of the activists who had descended upon Manhattan, and I suspect the NYPD was also a bit restive. After spending twelve hours on the streets photographing in 90 degree heat, I had no energy to get up six hours later to photograph the "pink slip line" that was scheduled to wrap around Madison Square Garden at 8 AM, symbolically representing the millions of people who have lost their jobs during the Bush administration.
Instead, I stayed uptown, working on blogs and uploading pictures to the web. It was not until early afternoon that ventured downtown to the World Trade Center site, where the War Resisters League was supposed to be kicking off a march to Madison Square Garden at 3 PM. But when I arried at Ground Zero there were neither protesters nor police in evidence (discounting the odd handful on every corner), and so I walked around for a few minutes, looking for a story. I spied another photographer that I had seen earlier in the week, and so I approached her and asked, "Have you seen the march?"
We talked for a few minutes and decided to head off together for the local high school, from which a students' march to Ground Zero was supposed to have kicked off at 3 o'clock. Halfway to the school we met the students coming down the sidewalk under a banner that read, "Our Grief Is Not Your Photo Op," (actually, it was), and we joined the buzz of media at the front of the march, all shepherded along by police officers on motor scooters. the students' high school had been shut down in the wake of 9/11, and they were outraged that the GOP had come to town in an apparent effort to capitalize upon their tragedy. Along the way I talked with my fellow photographer, and we both agreed that the police would be stupid to try to arrest a hundred high school students in front of Ground Zero, but given the draconian policies regarding political protests there, it might just be possible. Once we got there though, all we saw were a handful of possible GOP delegates and several squads of police officers, some prepared to protect Ground Zero with submachine guns and assault rifles.
But the police abstained from arresting anyone, and after a few more minutes my photographer friend and I decided to head uptown and find the "Grandmothers Against the War" vigil in front of Rockefeller Center. We arrived a few minutes early and circled around the block before meeting up with the first of the grandmothers who held up her sign on Fifth Avenue, just across the street from a bank of American flags flapping in the wind. Joan had started the vigil back in Novemeber, 2003 in fronto fht eEleanor Roosevelt statue in Central Park, and the response had been so phenomenal that she and many others had decided to come out weekly in front of Rockefeller Center, "because every tourist comes here." The response had been surprisingly positive, "We get thumbs up and peace signs. Sometimes people applaud, and a few say 'Thank you!'"
An Australian couple passing by expressed their support for the grandmothers, and I couldn't help but ask them of their opinion of George Bush, "Oh," Sandy told me, "we don't care for him." She and Jimmy also found the "unprecedented police presence" to be "annoying."
Figuring that we had exhausted the photo opportunities with the grannies, we headed down to the southern tip of Manhattan for another rally. The crowd down at Battery Park was decidedly younger and less inhibited than the grandmothers for peace at Rockefeller Center. Sure, holding a sign for peace is all well and good, but if you really want to show your devotion to the movement, why not take it all off as part of the Axis of Eve, a mass flashing event? Well, maybe not ALL of it, because, after all, there are nudity laws, so why not buy a pair of anti-GOP panties, and maybe a tank top for good measure, to really express your individuality as part of a mass flashing.
I thought the Axis of Eve would be a girls-only gig, but it turned out there were a few guys crowding into the ranks, too. I know one guy wasn't there looking for a date, as he had labelled himself a "Queen" on his trench coat, but there were a couple of other guys out wearing lame white boxers. Frankly, I would have had a little more respect for them if they had had the balls to slip into a skimpy pink g-string. And in a sad commentary upon sexual politics, hundreds of Eve participants were submitting themselves to the commands of a guy with a baton and a whistle. Wasn't there a single former cheerleader in the group who could get everyone lined up? Was the guy in charge fulfilling some adolescent fantasy by ordering hundreds of women to parade in front of them in their panties?
Having arrived just a few minutes before the kickoff, I had to shoulder my way through a crowd that was, not surprisingly, mostly guys. Who would have thought that so many men would voice their political dissent by watching hundreds of women parade around in their panties?
With a call of cadence, the girls were off, marching at least twenty yards before arriving at the end of their ad hoc parade ground, where they performed an anarchistic about face, returned to their original positions and chanted a few more anti-Bush slogans. A few women were daring enough to expose their breasts (oh my gosh!), to the delight of the numerous male photographers.
And while it was a great photo op, I thought that it was less than inspiring political theater. So a bunch of women showed up in public wearing their panties, so what? How is that any different from the cover of a laddies magazine or MTV? Were they liberating their bodies by covering them with political slogans? ("Lick Bush" on a pair of panties, "Weapons of Masss Destruction" across the chest of a tank top) How was that any different from the female body being used to sell cologne or automobiles?
Perhaps it was political and liberating because they said so. And the event was undeniably fun for both participants and spectators. But compared to writing a letter to congress or civil disobedience, I had to ask, "What's the point?"
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