The Fracas at Washington Square Park



2 Washington Pl, New York, NY

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village

The late great comic Bill Hicks once said, famously, apropos the first gulf war: “I find myself in the unenviable position of being for the war — but against the troops.”

Nobody that I’ve heard has come up with a similar corker this time around, a line which can sum up the personal confusion and official hypocrisy so succinctly.

There were some placards on Saturday in New York City that were charming in their way — “Just Another Dyke Minister Against the War” — but most of the declarations were pretty annoying. The guy in a smart leather jacket carrying a “Bush = Hitler” sign and talking feverishly into his cell phone seemed like easy fodder for some smug cartoonist, and tired puns on “Bush” and “Dick” abounded.

Walking down Broadway it was nice to see a topless woman with very shapely breasts cheering us on in our march against the war. I know the hippies alienated the working class with their bourgeois individualism and sold out the revolution, but breasts are breasts.

Half a block away a crowd had gathered around some old geezers in berets who’d unfurled a dark velvety banner. These were the remnants of the Lincoln Brigade, who’d fought Franco in Spain. They were doing interviews and basking in applause. I thought about what I’d read by Orwell and others about the Spanish Civil War, what a tangle of interests it was, how the Soviet Union betrayed the cause. But these guys had risked their lives to fight fascism without Bill O’Reilly or Ted Koppel rooting them on. I clapped heartily.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder around 28th Street. It was a former writing student. We walked together in the sunshine and talked about the difficulty of “finding a voice.” I looked around at all the signs, the protesters, the flag-wrapped mad dogs on the sidewalk spewing bile at us. Everyone had found a voice, it seemed, though it might not be their own.

Will you can it with your bourgeois individualist bullshit? I said to myself.

I feel bad for the poor kid from Texas who just wanted a college education and now is sitting in an Iraqi POW camp. I feel bad for the poor kid from Basra who’s maybe dying of some preventable disease that won’t be prevented without medicine and running water. I feel bad for the 99% of the world that is fucked by the other 1%. I feel bad for me. I don’t understand the people who say that now that war has started you have to shut your trap. By that logic we’d still be in Vietnam. This is not a bar brawl whereby even if your friend is an asshole and started the whole thing you have to back him up.

I wonder about all those polls showing that most Americans support the war, too. Polls have always been skewed, and now we have the added bonus of Ashcroft-paranoia. Some stranger calls you up for your opinion, maybe you say what you think will most reduce your chance of being audited by the IRS next year.

We all got jammed up down at the Washington Square arch. It was a three-way stand-off with the media trucks, the cops and the protesters. The cops kept urging us to disperse, first with megaphones, then with their bodies. Some of the protesters had formed a phalanx which the cops tried to split with a slowly moving van. The protesters wouldn’t budge and the van backed up. There was some fracas it was hard to see in the center of the crowd. People started chanting at the cops “Arrest Bush!” and “You Work for Us!”

The first sentiment I agreed with, but the second rankled. For one thing, the cops don’t work for us. They are simply paid by us. When I was in a revolutionary socialist group in college it was patiently explained to me that though the army, made up of poverty conscripts, could be won over to the revolution, the cops, who are maybe the closest thing the ruling class has to a Republican Guard, could not. I’m a little more confused about the world than I was back then, but I see the point. For another thing, there was something in that latter chant — “You Work for Us” — that reminded me of that story about Harvard kids screaming “That’s all right, That’s okay, You’ll all work for us someday” at superior non-Ivy League sports teams.

The Fox News types have been berating anti-war activists, saying they are missing the complexity of the situation. That you can’t simply be against war. They say it like it’s being against air, which I guess it is to them. But the situation is complex. It’s the Bush administration who have over-simplified, reducing the geo-political scene to schoolyard logic. “I am bigger and I will take that ball now.”

A man stood in the center of the anti-war throng with a pro-war sign. He posed for the television cameras while protesters screamed at him and got up in his face. A woman shouted that he was probably CIA. The sign did look a little weird, as though trying very hard to look home-made. Others begged the crowd to let him have his say. Then someone ripped the sign out of his hand. The camera people backed off. They had their shot.

That guy with the leather jacket appeared again. He had a new “No blood for Oil” sign, one of the mass-produced kind. He was jacked up and he kept running off to tell others not to disperse, to come back to the group, that we had to stick together.

“Who’s he?” a woman asked her friend.

“I don’t know,” said the friend. “I think he’s the stick-together guy.”


The picture on this page is a 360 panoramic images, the debut of this type of photography on this web site. If you are not on a fast connection, it may take a little while to load.
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