by Haider Rizvi
(IPS) NEW YORK -- Despite fears of mass arrests and terror alerts issued by the authorities, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets here denouncing the George W. Bush administration's policies and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"No more Bush, no more Bush," roared protesters as they marched past Madison Square Garden, a huge sports complex located in the heart of Manhattan, where the Republican Party is holding its three-day convention for the presidential nomination.
"Shame, shame, shame on Bush," demonstrators chanted in chorus, as they looked up to the skies filled with dozens of police helicopters above the convention site. Tens of thousands of protesters carried banners and placards demanding an end to the occupation of Iraq.
United for Peace and Justice, a national umbrella group advocating diverse political programs and ideologies, which organized the march, said it hoped that about 250,000 people would be participating in the demonstration, but the turnout appeared to be way beyond their expectations -- approaching, organizers said, a half million. Police have not yet made a crowd estimate.
None of the mayhem predicted by police and some media came to pass, although there were about 130 arrests in scattered incidents.
Some of the demonstrators came from as far as California to protest, but an overwhelming majority comprised New Yorkers who believed that the Republicans chose New York for their party convention with the intention to exploit the Sept. 11 tragedy.
One contingent carried 1,000 coffins in a symbolic gesture of anger and grief over the loss of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as a result of an "unjust war." Others waved thousands of banners and placards inscribed with slogans such as "Bring the troops home" -- a demand that Democratic candidate John Kerry has so far ignored.
In interviews, many demonstrators said they would like Bush out of the White House, even though they are not so fond of Kerry.
"I am going to vote for Kerry," said demonstrator Dee, 72, who did not want to give her last name. "On the question of war on Iraq, he is a disappointment. I see many Iraqis being killed. My heart aches for them. But I am going to vote for him."
In a recent interview, Democratic National Convention chairman Terry McAuliffe made it clear that Democrats had "nothing to do with the protesters" against Bush and the Republican Convention in New York, recalled Jeremy Scahill, a reporter with Pacifica Radio who was standing next to Dee.
"George W. Bush knows where is his base, he goes there," said Scahill. "We say, John Kerry, you should know where is your base -- we say your base is anti-war voters."
Despite assurances of a peaceful protest by the organizers, the city administration refused to allow a rally after the march at the Central Park, the traditional spot for political gatherings and concerts in midtown Manhattan. However, after the march, several thousand protesters gathered in the park, where they danced to drums and chanted anti-Bush slogans in defiance.
The city deployed more than 25,000 armed policemen and hundreds of vehicles in anticipation of possible clashes.
Sunday's march was the culmination for many protesters who had already participated in demonstrations held earlier during the week.
On Friday, thousands of protesters took to the streets on bicycles to highlight the Bush administration's disregard for environmental concerns at home and abroad. The protest came to an end after 250 activists were arrested.
On Saturday, more than 25,000 people marched through the city streets condemning what they described as "Bush's war on women."
"The women of the world know that this administration is waging a war on the world's women," said Lucy Arkin, director of the Margaret Sanger Center, which works for women's rights around the world. "The women of the world are watching us."
Two years ago, the Bush administration decided to withhold a 34-million-dollar contribution to the United Nations Population Fund because it accused the agency of using its funding to promote abortions.
"They have billions of dollars to spend on war. No money for women's healthcare. Why?" asked Gail Murphy, who came from Washington to take part in the demonstration.
"Bush is taking our children's future," added Melissa, who joined the group called Mothers Opposing Wars.
Expressing their outrage at the Bush administration's stance on abortion rights, on Sunday two young women took off their shirts in protest, showing their nude bellies marked with the slogan, "My body, my choice. Keep your laws off my body." They were lucky -- surrounded by thousands of supporters, they did not get arrested.
But when a group of activists demonstrated against the Bush policy on AIDS prevention Thursday, 11 of them were immediately arrested because they removed their clothes in public as a gesture of protest.
While many people carried placards and banners provided by the organisers, some made their own.
"I am tired of being ashamed of my government's arrogance," read a sign held by college student Joey Weiss.
On Saturday, while many people were still protesting in the streets, the city police chief announced on television networks that a U.S. citizen and a Pakistani national had been arrested for an alleged plot to blow up a train station. They were not believed to be connected to Al-Qaida, but expressed their hatred for the United States, he said.
"These are cheap tactics to scare people so that they could stay home," said Eugina, an architect from Spain who works in New York. "I know I am not a U.S. citizen, but I am not scared of the police or the terror alerts. I am going to march anyway," she said.
Whether born or settled in the United States, almost all the protesters carried a sign or held a placard, but a few did not.
"The U.S. people need to know the indigenous interests," one of them told IPS. "That's when they will be able to put an end to bad foreign policies. They have broken treaties and have committed genocide on this land against our people. They need to clean up their own backyard. Respect the home where you live," he added.
"What's your name?" he was asked. "Arthur Manuel," he replied with a bit of hesitation. "Is that your real name?" With a smile, he kept silent and walked away. He was an American Indian.
August 30, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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