NEW YORK, AP
They carried fake flag-draped coffins and fly swatters with U.S. President George W. Bush’s image. They chanted slogans like “Four more months” and “No more years.” They accused the White House of waging an unjust war in Iraq, carrying signs proclaiming “Support our troops — send them home.”
Tens of thousands of protesters made a sweaty but jubilant five-hour march through the streets of Manhattan on the eve of the Republican National Convention on Sunday for a demonstration that wound up being largely peaceful despite fears of violent skirmishes with police.
Police gave no official crowd estimate, though one law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the crowd at 125,000; organizers claimed it was more than 500,000. By either count, experts said the crowd easily outnumbered any convention demonstration in U.S. history.
Altogether more than 200 people were arrested, many of them outside the march area in Times Square. Earlier in the day, police detained about 50 protesters on bicycles who stopped near the parade route and were carted away in an off-duty city bus. Some of the worst unrest during the march occurred when someone set a float on fire, but the blaze was almost immediately extinguished.
In Times Square, demonstrators heckled Republican delegates on their way to Broadway plays. At the Majestic Theater on 44th Street, protesters chanted at delegates waiting to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” and the delegates simply replied with their own chant — “Four more years!”
The demonstrators in the march carried signs and chanted slogans supporting a host of political positions, virtually all of them in opposition to Bush.
“I can’t think of the last time I hated a president so much,” said marcher Mindy Rhindruss, a researcher from Queens. “He wants to destroy everything that’s American — my right to my vote, my voice.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, left-wing film producer Michael Moore and other liberal notables joined the demonstrators, stopping to deliver speeches along the way.
“Help is on the way. Hope is in the air,” Jackson declared.
Experts said the crowd was by far the biggest for a political convention, including the notorious 1968 Democratic gathering in Chicago.
“From what I can tell so far this was much larger and much less violent,” said Sidney Tarrow, a professor of government and sociology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New Year.
The horseshoe-shaped parade route began in lower Manhattan and made its way past Madison Square Garden, where Bush will receive the Republican nomination on Thursday.
Protest organizers had originally hoped to end their march with a rally on Central Park’s Great Lawn, but city officials nixed the plan — citing possible damage to the swath of Kentucky bluegrass — and a judge backed them up.
So the march ended at Union Square instead. A few thousand protesters continued to Central Park for more chanting, sign-waving and drumming, but neither they nor the police seemed to think much of it.
“It’s just a bunch of people enjoying the park,” said Ed Delatorre, a deputy police chief.
The day attracted political activists from across the ideological spectrum. On the Great Lawn, members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade mingled with mainstream Democrats, while Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik gave an impromptu news conference.
“It was fabulous, a fabulous day,” said Leslie Cagan, the leader of United for Peace and Justice, which organized the protest.