Take Your Pick: A Rally or a Movie Today?



e 53rd St. and 2nd Ave., ny, ny 10022

Neighborhood: Midtown

On Saturday, February 15th, I woke up at my usual time, and as I pattered around the apartment, I glanced out of my window to check the weather. It was bleak, only twenty-five degrees, with blistering winds, and on 47th Street there were at least twenty police vehicles lining the sidewalks. I started to pick up the sounds around me, sirens and short bursts of loudspeakers.

I looked at the time, 11:15 a.m., and decided that rather than stay home and suffer through the rally noise I may as well walk over and take a look. I called up a friend who I knew was going to participate, and made an appointment to meet at noon on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 51st Street. I stood on the corner waiting, and while my toes went numb and the skin on the back of my hands became red, I read the signs floating past me as rallyers marched uptown, toward the epicenter: “Drop Bush Not Bombs,” “No War For Oil,” “El Mundo dice No a la Guerra!,” “UN phone #s – 1800-defunct,” “Food Not War,” “Women For Afghan Women.”

Here is where I became a little confused. I expected a lot of peace signage, and here I was reading about all these different plights. Fair enough, let’s help Afghan women, but wasn’t this march about not sending American troops into Iraq? I became even more confused when I saw a group of African-Americans waving “Stop War and Racism” posters with pictures of black people, and pro-Palestinians with “Israeli terrorists out of Palestine” signs. There sure were a lot of agendas this morning.

My friend called and said she was blocked in a throng of people up on 3rd Avenue and 53rd Street. As I impatiently made my way among the snail-paced demonstrators, I picked up the strident cry of a woman behind me: ” Buy your official rally buttons for $2, buy them right here.” In Italy, where I am from, she would have made the fish vendors in the market envious.

I got up to 53rd but the police had blocked off access to 3rd Avenue. A policeman came up to me and a couple of other women and patiently explained that we couldn’t stand there. We needed to go down through the subway passage and come out on the other side. When I emerged onto 3rd Avenue, I was unprepared for the quantity of bodies. I decided to stay in the relative haven of the subway entrance, leaning against the rail at the end of the escalator.

Very different groups of people passed by: young white girls with carefully arranged dreadlocks stuffed under knit caps, bemused white-haired men in raincoats with the morning newspaper tucked under their armpits, clusters of closely cropped gray-haired women with whiskers on their chins and teenage sons trailing behind them asking questions, young bohemian-chic parents with babies on their shoulders, two boys with Mohawk hairdos (a pink one and a yellow one) and plaid pants (punk chic). A young chubby man, probably in his late twenties, jumped up on the back of a parked police car and tried to incite a round of “woohoos,” which unfortunately was echoed by only one friend. Better luck for the boys chanting “one, two, three, four, we don’t want your bloody war.” It did rhyme after all, and had a pleasant cadence. Another chant that I didn’t understand, however, was “free 53rd, free 53rd,” though I suppose that demanding access to that particular street would in some way demonstrate how strong and successful the will of the people could be when they got together.

I also saw a lot of anti-Bush signs, twice as many as those calling for peace. A black girl carried a “Bush is a Terrorist” sign, and a white boy had a picture of the President’s face within a star with the word “cowboy” printed below. Yes, President Bush, these people do not like you. There were effigies of you and of your advisors, and I must commend their designers, since they were rather better made than the ones we see on television floating on the streets of Iraq.

It was all very entertaining and I clearly was not the only one who thought so. A couple on a stroll munched M&Ms as they watched. A group of teenagers alighted from the subway escalator, took in the scene and one finally said “Yeah, this is where the party starts,” as he turned on his boom box. Other kids were more serious as they purposefully made their way through the crowds with furrowed brows and worried expressions. They were on cell-phones, intent on finding their friends.

The march was so orderly that the large number of police officers seemed unnecessary, though the police did cut a nice picture – particularly the infantry division on their gorgeous steeds. In my opinion, however, they were outshone by the beautiful, tall Latin-American girl, dressed in tight orange jeans and a little black sweater, being led away with her hands held back by plastic handcuffs. A sexy mixture of bondage and righteousness.

I headed home after two hours, thoroughly frozen and bored. On my way back I observed street vendors and a few Rastafarian guys selling blue T-shirts, posters and scarves with the 2003 Peace Rally date on it. This post-concert-type paraphernalia was somehow fitting.

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