NYC march demonstrates democracy in action
New York City -- Line up all the fans from the K-State football stadium on a fall Saturday, add the KU crowd, and top it off with the Nebraska faithful. Pour in more people from Manhattan, Lawrence and Lincoln, and set them off down the street. Then pull up a lawn chair, apply the sunscreen and watch them march past -- in their opinionated, colorful glory.
The pre-Republican National Convention protest Sunday had all the characters, political showmanship, humor and music of a parade down Fourth Street in Tonganoxie.
The Rude Mechanical Orchestra -- trombones, tubas et al dressed in white and silver -- merged for a time with the blue jump-suited Massachusetts Revolutionary Drum Corps for a frenetic, rolling tune that kept the folks on 17th Street dancing while they waited to merge with the slow-moving stream of people.
George W. Bush masks ducked in and out of view. Papier-mache caricatures held high bobbed along the street alongside, broadcasting complaints and calls to action alongside blockwide banners and hand-held megaphones.
Some might argue that this was merely a mass of Democratic Party operatives, anarchists and rabble-rousers. Strip away the hand-lettered posters and T-shirts, however, and you'd be hard-pressed to distinguish the vast majority of the participants -- 90 percent, or more from my observations -- from your local school board members, your neighbors and your relatives; they're average Americans. (This being New York, one of the most diverse and inclusive cities on the planet, there will always be the odd 10 percent or so with unique fashion sense, piercings, tattoos, etc.)
Hippies and peace symbols were there, to be sure, but so were teachers, doctors, lawyers and clerics. For more than four hours, grandmothers, babies and 20-somethings walked the two-mile parade route, which at one point, was solid people from the starting point on Seventh Avenue to the finish on Broadway.
People in Kansas still might ask what the big deal is. My mom asked why people would protest the convention. My brother and another friend asked what I was protesting.
Pick a cause, and people had an opinion.
The people carrying coffin-shaped boxes wrapped in flags disturbed me in a way that resonated with my ongoing struggles to reconcile the United States' policies since 9/11. They are reminders of the tremendous individual human costs, the thousands of parents, siblings, children, friends killed in war since 2002.
I've also been concerned about the erosion of our country's international stature caused by unilateral actions and an unwillingness to take the time needed to work through international bodies.
One sign summed this up: "I'm tired of being ashamed of my government's arrogance."
Dissatisfaction and anger at the president were common denominators among marchers, regardless of their political or personal reasons for being in New York, as was the desire to vote him out of office.
Despite the presence of Socialists and (gasp) Communists, there was definitely a marketplace not only of ideas (free newspapers, leaflets), but also of clothing, books, decals -- anything with a slogan on it. One protester jokingly mused, "I only came here to get a T-shirt."
Neither President Bush, nor Vice President Cheney -- the objects of much vituperative rhetoric -- was in attendance, so people directed some of their anger at Madison Square Garden, where the main convention events are scheduled.
The march was a media frenzy, and protesters were savvy with catchy designs, witticisms -- "This Prez is not so swift," read one placard -- and Web sites.
Cameras documented every step, and roving radio reporters and camera crews picked out the flashiest, the most passionate. At one point I counted eight helicopters and a blimp in the air. (No one interviewed me, though my lack of any political slogan other than the poppy I bought from a VFW member might have limited my appeal.)
It's unlikely the Republicans will listen to the protesters. They promised, after all, to pin blame on the Democrats for anything illegal or bizarre. It's unlikely many of the protesters will spend much time studying any changes to the Republican Party platform.
That is unfortunate. I have an opinion already, but during the coming months I'll read about the candidates and issues before I make my final decision. I'll try to carry on the dialogue, at least internally, magnified by the political conventions and Sunday's example.
The vibrant cacophony, which could have been chaotic and ugly, was instead peaceful and powerful. In the five hours I waited and marched, people were patient and respectful of one another and the city. The police returned the favor. Sunday's march is an example of how great our democracy is, how people can make themselves heard in the political process through creativity and constructive assembly.
These Americans and their experiences are the threads we weave together, along with the thoughts, actions and ideas of Republicans and other politically active groups, to form our red, white and blue country.
At the end of the day, the most powerful sign I saw said this: "Registered to vote." I'm registered to vote. I intend to vote. I encourage you to do the same.
-- You can reach Matthew Friedrichs at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friedrichs is a former sportswriter for The Mirror who now works for espn.com.
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