New York Public Library Order Display

by

09/01/2005

E 42nd St & 5th Ave, New York, NY 10017

Neighborhood: Midtown

I work in the New York Public Library in the Wertheim Study. Tuesday, August 29th, 2004 I decided to work there and show up at the demonstration against the Republican National Convention to meet at the front steps of the library. Not only did we opposed the war in Iraq, as an expression of an attempt at submission, the Republicans were to hold their most important meeting and bring all their followers to New York City: an allegorical slap in the face.

That day, I thought of working in the library and showing up at the front steps where demonstrators will gather at 6pm. I got involved in my work, reading about globalization when I realized that it was 6:20pm. I decided to go downstairs and somehow participate in the demonstration. Since I study public space and I am quite interested in the transformation of public space while terrorism and other ideologies run rampant, my interest was manifold. Was it not only to participate in the demonstration but also to observe the way the space was going to be monitored, how state of the art surveillance and crowd control would shape the situation. I was interested in the choreography of conflict between the police and the demonstrators. That dance of control and yes, maybe I would get to photograph some dramatic moments.

As I went downstairs with lots of anticipation, I expected a large crowd congregated on the steps. People chanting slogans against the Bush agenda and what an additional 4 years of Republican government might mean: a very gray and dark cloud over the United States, even darker than the one generated by the collapse of the Twin Towers. When I went outside, the steps were empty. They were cleared from all people. Instead, only different kinds of state forces were lined up on the steps. Different lines of order, subsequently guarded each line of steps of the library, the “public” library. The hygienic sense of order lined up the space with all kinds of force, cleaning the streets from undesirable demonstrators.

The first row from the entrance door to the library was made up of policemen. There was the emptiness of the esplanade between the first set of steps and the second where another line of riot police provided the backdrop to the display of a yet third and fourth line of mountain bike police, and beautifully arranged motorbike police set at the ends of the steps, towards each extreme, respectively. On the street between the sidewalks on 5th Ave the mounted police and vans were conveniently located, ready. T he steps set the stage, the spectacle was choreographed like a Broadway play, and the actors stood proud and accomplished. There were no demonstrators. They were cleaned from the sidewalks, pushed to the corner where police was busy pushing them even further away. Running towards the steps riot police passed the red mobile fence to other riot police already in place, lined up at the top of the first set of steps.

They had the situation under control and to a certain extent I wondered: were the demonstrators to help polish and refine the police skills on how to control crowds and establish order? Their sense of satisfaction was obvious, their preemptive strategy worked since they knew, as it was posted in the website of anti-republican demonstration organizers, the date, time and location of the demonstrators’ events.

Everything worked as planned. I, in the meantime, was accompanied by one of the workers of the library, right outside the main entrance, observing how power is really displayed. We were perplexed and surprised that they allowed us to stay there, looking and taking pictures, for as long as we did. We were just a few observers. We were not a threat since everybody was taking pictures: bystanders, tourists, demonstrators, and the police itself. Guy Debord’s society of the spectacle was in full display for and by everyone. The dance of power was not as captivating as what someone could imagine. Actually, it was very boring because, nothing, absolutely nothing worth participating was happening, the event was sealed off, packaged and out of reach. There was only a lousy and not so convincing facade of fear: hermetic. Repression though, the anticipation and suspicion of what might happen was stronger but all the same, vacuous.

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