Among the few hundred thousand people who took to the streets of New York on February 15 to protest an invasion of Iraq were the current group of Nation interns. When they weren’t busy passing out Nation buttons, distributing free copies of a special antiwar issue of the mag or chanting and marching, they wrote the following “postcards” about what they saw.
The crowds that gathered at Central Park South shortly before noon didn’t need a march permit from the city. They marched anyway. Accompanied by the tunes of a Dixieland brass band, high-spirited protesters headed eastward from the park, on their way to a rally near the United Nations. On East 59th Street, cars were islands in the crowd, which had spilled off the sidewalks and into the streets. “Whose streets? Our streets!” was a favorite chant. Some cars honked in support, others in annoyance. One man in a minivan shook hands with protesters as they passed by. The massive crowd confused police, who at first tried to keep marchers on the sidewalks but then began to block off streets, setting up crowd-control barricades right in the midst of the moving masses. Many marchers were vocally displeased when they reached First Avenue, where pens had been set up to contain the rally. Protesters were in no mood to be penned in–and, in the face of an overwhelming mass of people, even the police seemed only half-committed to the idea. In the upper 60s, crowds on First Avenue continually circumvented the pens. “They are trying to control us, man,” muttered one protester as he moved aside a metal barricade and continued to walk southward, in the direction of the UN. Many others followed, and the spirit of the crowd rose again as people moved forward in the bitter-cold afternoon. Later, as the protest was nearing its conclusion, two police officers guarded a 59th Street Bridge off-ramp. The ramp had been closed to traffic, and departing groups started to walk up it. “People,” yelled one of the officers, “you can’t walk on the bridge.” The walkers ignored him. With a laugh that sounded both exasperated and resigned, he asked his companion, “What can you do?” It was clearly a rhetorical question.
As the march headed east along 59th, the mood was festive. Members of THAW (Theatre Against War) and the Bread and Puppet collective paraded in colorful costumes and carried dramatic puppets. A brass band played “Freedom Time” and “A Love Supreme,” while a rhythm section on wheels set a driving beat. Marchers chanted slogans and held banners and signs, many of which used humor to lampoon the Bush Administration. Among them were “Old Europe we thank you” and “Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld: Axis of Weasel.”
There had been a fair degree of uncertainty about how the day would unfold as the city had granted permission for a rally only at 49th Street and First Avenue rather than for the march and rally that organizers had requested. However, by early afternoon, the massive turnout overwhelmed the police, who could not contain the sea of people flowing into the streets. On WBAI a police officer was quoted as saying that the marchers had won control of the streets; it was then that the cavalry was called in, with squads of police officers on horseback riding up Second Avenue to move the protesters back. They rode into the advancing march, preventing most from reaching the rally in front of the United Nations. Dozens of marchers were arrested. The police actions were in obvious contrast to the joyful spirit of the marchers and served as a reminder of the official crackdown on dissent occurring coast to coast. But, though the march was disrupted, the cry for peace and justice had already gotten out.