(ENS) NEW YORK -- "There were one million of us in the streets to demand the defeat of a sitting president and a rejection of his agenda," crowed one jubilant demonstrator who was part of a two mile long march through the streets of Manhattan Sunday on the eve of the Republican National Convention. March organizers estimated that about half that number of people took to the streets, but called the march, "big, very big."
Police officers in riot gear lined the march route, but the New York Police Department gave no official figures for attendance at the legal, permitted march.
The march was led by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, actor Danny Glover and the Reverend Jesse Jackson past Madison Square Garden where the Republican National Convention gets underway this morning.
Carrying 1,000 flag-draped cardboard boxes resembling coffins to symbolize U.S. troops killed in Iraq, the marchers accused President George W. Bush of waging an unjust war over Middle East oil. They charged that the Bush administration is stripping away the country's environmental protections in favor of handing natural resources to corporate supporters.
They chanted, "No More Years," a reference to Bush supporters' who chant "Four More Years" at their rallies, and many carried signs saying "Bush Lies."
Lawyers acting as legal observers with the demonstrators say 180 people were arrested along the march route and at various other protest events acrosss the city on Sunday.
Orange plastic netting was used to entrap and arrest people in groups along the march route. The entire block from 25th to 26th streets was penned in about five o'clock Sunday evening. People were beaten with nightsticks, eyewitnesses said, while protesters chanted "shame."
The march was interrupted several times by police blocking demonstrators, or putting out several fires that were started along the route, including the burning of a large paper mache dragon's head that was torched by protesters outside Madison Square Garden.
The National Lawyers Guild, New York City Chapter, says arrested protestors are being held in jail for up to 34 hours, only to be released without charges, and the police department has been refusing attorneys who have asked to see their clients. There have also been reports of failure to provide necessary medical attention to arrestees.
Billionaires For Bush performed a street theater protest just south of Times Square Sunday evening. This self-described "grassroots network of corporate lobbyists, decadent heiresses, Halliburton CEOs, and other winners under George W. Bush's economic policies," say "we'll give whatever it takes to ensure four more years of putting profit over people. After all, we know a good president when we buy one."
Many of the protesters expressed their anger over the Bush administration's violations of the civil rights of ordinary Americans.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with criticism for his comments two weeks ago in a meeting with Republican National Convention volunteers in Manhattan that people who "express themselves" are exercising a "privilege."
"If we start to abuse our privileges, then we lose them, and nobody wants that," the mayor told the volunteers.
Protesters slammed Bloomberg for ignoring the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees "the freedom of speech, and of the press; and the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Protest groups complain that federal agents and city police have been interrogating activists, monitoring Internet sites, dropping in unannounced on organizational meetings, and breaking up peaceful film showings.
Welcoming Republican delegates to New York, 2004 Republican National Convention CEO Bill Harris said on Friday, "New York provides the most outstanding backdrop to showcase President George W. Bush and his vision for a safer world and more hopeful America."
But across the city the picture is different with hundreds of protesters trying to get their messages of discontent across the convention delegates while police attempt to pen them behind chain-link fences called "free speech zones."
On Saturday evening, bell ringers with Ringout.org surrounded the World Trade Center site to "ring out the Republicans." They distributed thousands of small bells, and many people brought their own larger bells.
The event was orchestrated to ring at least 2,749 bells, one for each of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and in total the group rang their bells together 2,749 times.
Bell ringing event organizer and composer Pauline Oliveros said, "This is a memorial for all those killed by violence around the world."
On Friday, about 5,000 bicyclists with Critical Mass rode through mid-town Manhattan to demonstrate against Bush environmental policies. A monthly international event held in cities on six continents, Critical Mass occurs on the last Friday of each month to dramatize the rights of bicyclists and pedestriansand the toxic levels of air and noise pollution that cars create for cities.
Police officers arrested 264 Critical Mass cyclists on charges of obstructing governmental administration, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct at various locations around Union Square Park.
The protesters were not permitted to hold a formal rally in Central Park on Sunday. The group United for Peace and Justice was denied a permit by the City of New York over worries that the grass might be destroyed by the 250,000 people expected. State Supreme Court Justice Jacqueline Silbermann upheld the city's position, but on Sunday many people streamed into the park in an informal manner, although no formal rally was held.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday, 71 percent of New York City voters say demonstrators should be allowed in Central Park.
The poll of 822 New York City registered voters taken August 20 - 24 found that 81 percent approve of lawful demonstrations during the convention, and 68 percent approve of non-violent civil disobedience.
Ninety-five percent disapprove of violent demonstrations, while four percent approve. Fifty percent disapprove of the FBI questioning people who plan to demonstrate, while 44 percent approve.
Those polled give Mayor Bloomberg a split 44 Ð 42 percent job approval rating, but disapprove of President Bush 70 Ð 25 percent.
"The city is rolling out the red carpet for the Republican delegates, but most New Yorkers would roll out the green carpet of Central Park for the anti-Republican demonstrators," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"Lawful demonstrations -- even non-violent civil disobedience -- are a time-honored New York tradition and still widely supported. But 19 out of 20 New Yorkers draw the line at violence."
Images courtesy C-SPAN
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