400,000 People March In The Streets 

[Marching up 7th Avenue]  
We're finally marching up 7th Avenue, with thousands of people filling the street and slowly working their way north.  


[People on rooftop]  
At this corner building people cheered us from the rooftop and fire escape. The crowd roared its approval.  


[Marchers carrying coffins]  
Somber-faced protesters carried dozens of flag-draped coffins along the route, representing the hundreds of Americans killed during Bush administration misadventures.  


[Street scene]  
Street corner scene along the route.  


[Anti-Bush billboard]  
A huge and unambiguous billboard energized the crowd as we plodded northward.  


[Marchers waving signs]  
Near the Garden, we passed a hotel marquee with a few photographers standing on top; the crowd responded with shouts and banner-waving.  

The route for the march had been approved by the city government: we were to head north on 7th Avenue from 14th Street to Madison Square Garden, turn right on 34th Street, after two blocks turn right on 5th Avenue, head south on 5th Avenue till the intersection with Broadway at 23rd Street, then walk south on Broadway to the end of the march at Union Square (which runs from 14th to 17th Streets).

The march organizers had expected 250,000 people but I heard rumors during the march that there were 400,000 people. After the march, a New York Times article tossed out the number 500,000. Regardless of the numbers, it was a massive outpouring of concerned citizenry. At the start, there were so many people pouring on to 7th Avenue that the march route became hopelessly clogged. We were supposed to step off at noon, but where I was at 16th Street, the jam-packed crowd didn't start to creep forward until 2:00 p.m. It had taken that long for the crowd in front of us to move out of the way. I later read that people at the start of the procession had already reached the end point at Union Square before people at the end of the procession had even started to move.

It was a warm day, and before the crowd could move, it was uncomfortable standing in the hot sun practically shoulder-to-shoulder with other marchers. For the most part, the marchers seemed to be rather well-heeled and polite, and frankly, there wasn't much excitement while we tarried. But people were very patient and orderly, and everybody stood around until we slowly started moving. Once we started moving up 7th Avenue, the crowd became more dynamic and interactive.

In a few places, there were well-wishers on rooftops or fire escapes, sometimes with anti-Bush signs. Whenever they cheered the crowd, the crowd would respond with a resounding roar/yell/whistle/clap—all the noises a crowd could make, all going at once. Passing one tall apartment building, a resident tossed out handfuls of ticker tape which drifted down on to the crowd, eliciting cheers of approval (it's a real thrill to walk in a ticker tape parade!).

Now and then, someone in the crowd would start a chant, and people would pick up on it and start shouting along with the chant. The most popular chant was "No More Bush!", which was easy to follow and had a good marching cadence. It was amazingly loud being inside a mass of thousands of people, all shouting "No More Bush!" at the top of their lungs. Sometimes people would start a more complicated chant, where the chanter and the marchers would have to interact. These chants didn't build up as loudly since it was hard for the crowd to hear the chanter to know when they should respond and what they should say.

At one point, I passed a slower group of marchers who turned out to be Communist Party members trying to lead the crowd with chants shouted through an electronic megaphone. To tell the truth, the megaphone was so loud it was annoying and even painful, so I quickly walked ahead. They weren't having much luck inciting the crowd, either.

At the beginning of the march just before we stepped off, there was a girl who was so pumped-up with excitement that she climbed up on some barricades and attempted to lead the crowd in chant after chant, like a cheerleader. It was funny after a while because she ran out of easy chants and had to resort to sillier and more hyperbolic chants that petered out quickly or didn't even catch-on with the crowd. But her enthusiasm was genuine and the good-natured crowd appreciated her efforts.

During the march, I saw dozens of marchers carrying flag-draped coffins, representing the people who have died as a result of Bush administration misadventures. At the time of the protest march, the body count for the war in Iraq was approaching 1,000, at least for American deaths. On top of that, there had been several thousand Iraqi deaths and many thousands of injuries on all sides. It turned out the coffins were just replicas made of cardboard, but the people carrying the coffins were very somber—carrying a coffin, even of cardboard, is definitely a grim and discomforting task.

I saw two people dressed like the Statue of Liberty. One was a rather attractive young woman who seemed to be on stilts, since she towered above the crowd. The other was a radical and vocal young man with his face painted to look like a skull. As he marched along, he would shout slogans and chants to the crowd, which readily responded.

There were a few marching bands playing music as they marched along, but they weren't the kind of uniformed bands you'd find in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. One band was a kinky freak band of wild-looking people; another band had costumed cheerleaders shouting anti-Bush slogans. Early on, I saw a band of young musicians that reminded me of the rag-tag fife and drum corps in the painting "The Spirit of '76". The gay and lesbian contingent had a rather polished band; they clearly had practiced and everyone played in-tune. At one point, I passed a group of bell-ringers near the sidewalk, ringing their bells for one reason or another.

Throughout the march, people threaded their way through the crowd handing out literature—radical tracts, rally information, anti-war newspapers, even a few commercial ads. If given a choice, I would usually decline the literature, but sometimes you didn't have a choice—they would just thrust it into your hand. I would cram the paper into my tote bag and keep walking. Later on, I skimmed through the stuff before tossing it, and most of it was a little weird. People in various groups wind up focusing so intently on one issue that it becomes a cross they bear on a holy crusade. Then they hand out their strident literature to "ordinary folks" like me, who no doubt find it difficult to relate to the rantings and ravings.

During the early afternoon, we were still struggling to make headway up 7th Avenue, but it was slow going. For long periods of time we never moved at all, and the jam-packed crowd stood around waiting to move forward, en masse, a few feet or just another step. We had already waited two hours to step off from the assembly area, and after another hour or two of creeping up 7th Avenue, some people were getting impatient and were pushing their way forward through the crowd. Although this was annoying, nobody in the crowd said anything because the rule of the day was to be patient and accommodating.

"New York City's Finest" Do Their Duty 

There was a very large police presence in the city, but from what I saw, they seemed to be passive observers. There were police standing around inside Penn Station, police standing around on the subway platforms, police on the streets along the protest march route, and lots of police around Madison Square Garden.

I thought the police were generally quite impressive—serious and professional, fully equipped, and very well dressed (neat and clean and crisp). They were ready for action and had a vigilant no-nonsense attitude, but they also seemed restrained and weren't looking for a fight.

I saw some police with riot helmets, but only a few and only at one location (where a riot seemed unlikely). Almost all the police I saw were on foot, and I didn't see any mounted police at all (on horseback). I saw some on motorcycles, some on motor scooters, and a few driving those little golf-cart-like mini-cruisers. I saw quite a few police on bicycles, although that's got to be a dangerous occupation since city drivers are notoriously ruthless and unaccommodating. Surprisingly, I don't remember seeing any police cars at all, but then again, there was no traffic in this part of the city due to the protest march.

While the protesters were still forming up in the assembly area, I saw two police helicopters patrolling overhead, one quite low mostly above 7th Avenue, the another higher up and roving widely. The police were also patrolling from above using the Fuji blimp, which had an extra sign on it indicating "NYPD". The low helicopter would sometimes hover over the crowd, and you could be pretty sure they were scanning the crowd with cameras. In fact, when the helicopter hovered, the crowd would react by shouting, waving, and hoisting and displaying all their signs.

I only saw police activity twice, both times exceedingly minor. One time, a woman tried to climb over the crowd control fence along 7th Avenue. A policeman asked her not to climb over and she complied. The other time, some people tried to unlink sections of the fence to pass through the gap, and another policeman told them to stop (the fence is supposed to be a "do not cross" line).

I later read that there were a few incidents during the march and some people were arrested. At one point while we were walking up 7th Avenue, I saw some smoke in the distance, but nobody knew what it meant. Later, I read that protesters had set fire to a large paper dragon in front of Madison Square Garden, and this resulted in some arrests (though no damage or injuries).


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