Over 500,000 call for regime change

NEW YORK – On the eve of the Republican National Convention, before the first lie could come out of the speakers’ mouths, over half a million people took to the streets here Aug. 29 to condemn the policies of the Bush administration. The varied contingents seemed to merge into one massive people’s contingent with the same message — defeat Bush.

The march was initiated by the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition. Leslie Cagan, UFPJ national coordinator, said the protesters were gathered to counter the Republican message of “war, greed and hatred.”

While Republicans tried to heckle the river of humanity that flowed past Madison Square Garden by shouting “Four more years” the huge crowd answered back, “Four more months!”

The militant spirit and unity of the marchers to reject the Bush agenda was also apparent as marchers booed while passing a giant television screen broadcasting Fox News then cheered as the screen showed a news report with Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic Party presidential candidate.

The huge march was not the only protest aimed at countering the right-wing propaganda emanating from the GOP convention. Numerous marches, rallies, acts of civil disobedience, conferences and cultural activities on issues of unemployment, health care, peace, education, civil, labor and women’s rights — to name a few — took place across the city Aug. 28-Sept. 1.

At press time, 100,000 union workers and their supporters were rallying at a protest organized by the NYC Central Labor Council for good jobs and health care.

Motivated by many concerns, the protesters’ anger was directed mainly at Bush’s war on Iraq, pro-rich and pro-corporate policies, and attacks on democracy.

Looking to use the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks for political gain, GOP con-vention speakers heaped praise on NYC’s emergency workers. Yet, Mike Potter, a retired firefighter from Newburgh, N.Y., told the World that, while Bush and the GOP praised firefighters and police for their heroism on Sept. 11, the administration’s policies and budget cuts hurt first responders. Firefighters and police are picketing at the convention because Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg refuses to sign decent union contracts.

At a press conference, New York City Council member Margarita López blasted the Bush administration for lying to the American people about Iraq. It’s “the same way they lied to us,” when they told New Yorkers not to worry about toxic contaminants in the air in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. López’ district lies within blocks of where the Twin Towers stood.

Terry Rockefeller, of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, assailed Bush’s war policies saying they are causing more grief and terror. She said of the 1,000 U.S. soldiers and 20,000 Iraqi civilians who have died, their “families are grieving, just like mine is still grieving.” Rockefeller’s sister died in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Kelly Dougherty, a founding member of the new organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, demanded the return of all troops from Iraq and criticized the administration’s cuts in veterans benefits. She said that the soldiers “are abandoned once they get home” and called U.S. foreign policy “imperialistic and war-mongering.” Dougherty served in Iraq in a National Guard military police unit.

Demonstrators poured into New York from throughout the country, including from Bush’s own state of Texas. Among them was Marian Avalos of Dallas, one of a group of 50 who came with North Texas for Justice and Peace. The group formed right after Sept. 11 to “promote peaceful solutions through justice, not war” and to fight against racist attacks and protect civil liberties, she said.

While for the most part the demonstrators were peaceful and disciplined, the police had arrested 1,500 persons at press time. Some of those arrested were engaged in provocative activities, but others were arrested for peaceful protests.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has criticized the police for “a change in tactics” after the Sunday UFJP march. Donna Lieberman, NYCLU director, said in a statement that her group’s observers “reported heavy handed actions” by the police.

Arnold Karr, from Columbia, S.C., told this reporter “three friends got swept-up” in sweeping police arrests in Time Square. Karr, a member of Carolina Peace Resource Center, said his friends were “just watching what was happening” without taking part.

The author can be reached at jacruz@pww.org.click here for Spanish text