through midtown Manhattan last night was like stepping back four
months. An army of policemen had taken up positions surrounding
the Waldorf-Astoria, where the World Economic Forum would begin
in hours. Streets were barricaded, ambulances and fire trucks stood
by, and there was a feeling of growing menace in the air.
difference, though: Four months ago, NYPD officers were guarding
government facilities. Now, cops are stationed in pairs outside
Starbucks, McDonald's, and the Gap. If Genoa, Seattle, and Melbourne
are any guide, urban terrorists gathering in New York this week
are going to burn khakis, upend four-dollar frappucinos, and assassinate
philosophical aims are asinine and their targets foolish, the damage
these people can do is no laughing matter. By the time the smoke
cleared in Genoa last year, the anarchists had caused $45 million
It is hard
to express how little patience New Yorkers have for this. Jim Knipfel,
a columnist for New York Press, got the man-on-the-street
sentiment right when he wrote: "If you skinny little white-bread
college kids, with your 'coalitions' for this and your 'actions'
against that, think you're going to come into our town and mess
things up again just for kicks right when we were getting
it cleaned up, too! I think you're going to be in for a rude
awakening. We're feeling a little cranky, and are in no mood for
your shenanigans right now."
awakening" might be putting it mildly. Judging from my entirely
unscientific sampling, there's a real "Go ahead punk, make
our day" sensibility floating around. New Yorkers are worn
out and ticked off, and have had no catharsis releasing the accumulated
rage over 9/11 mass murder. The violent protesters coming this way
to do harm could serve as scapegoats for the terrorists that got
for them, the World Economic Forum events will take place several
miles north of Ground Zero. The trustafarian punks out to trash
the city would not want to run into construction worker Joseph Pagan
and his crew.
got enough problems as it is without these people coming here,"
says burly Pagan, headed back to the site after his lunch break.
"My wife is a police officer, and I can guarantee you first-hand
that the cops are ready, that they're not going to take anything
[from protesters], and that the citizens of New York will back whatever
the NYPD does. We're tired of being tired of this stuff."
they come down here to try to help out instead of protesting?"
says Hector Ramos, Pagan's colleague. "You know, come down
and do your bit? We got too much bull***t to deal with down here
to have to put up with their crap."
engineer Vincent Suarino puts it like this: "This is terrible
that they gotta come here to New York. We should be left alone to
fix things and get our lives back together. This is our city, and
we're here to rebuild it. We don't want any more problems. We've
These men have
been working at Ground Zero since Sept. 12. They have picked up
the pieces left behind by the worst act of political violence in
American history. If the NYPD has to bust heads to protect the city
this week, they say, so be it.
think there's any citizen, whatever their race, creed or color,
who's going to care, not after what we've all been through,"
said Pagan. "Down here in the pit, guys like us are picking
up body parts every day. The last thing we want is to have any kind
of violence. Instead of protesting, they should be brought down
here to see the remnants of what used to be people."
This, on the
other hand, is the kind of sentiment rejected by protest organizers,
who held a press conference on Tuesday. "It's a way of trying
to manipulate the grief and the mourning that we all feel,"
said David Graeber, who represents a group called Anti-Capitalist
Global Justice member Yvonne Liu told New York Post columnist
Andrea Peyser that she's "personally not sure" if she
will break something as an act of political rage over the coming
days. Said Liu, "People have different ways of expressing their
outrage against global and economic injustice."
police of depicting them as "terrorists" a description
the people of cities left devastated by anti-capitalist riots probably
wouldn't argue with. A witch who calls herself Starhawk said people
in the anti-globalization movement "are angry, and have a right
to be, because the level of injustice in this world is so great."
The only injustice
most New Yorkers are interested in right now has to do with thousands
of innocent people dying so a cabal of demented Muslims could make
a point. Anger? Sabrina, Samantha, Starhawk, whatever she calls
herself she has no idea. But she soon may.
It's hard to
know who these protesters are trying to win to their side. New York
City has lost over 100,000 jobs since Sept. 11. Many small businesses
are on the line. The convergence of thousands of people to join
demonstrations that turn intensely violent will all but shut down
business in Midtown between today and Sunday, when the World Economic
Forum meeting is scheduled to end.
summiteers will be dining at four-star restaurants. Protesters won't
hurt business at Ducasse and Le Cirque 2000, but the immigrant who
runs a Midtown deli will be hard hit even if anarchists leave
their storefronts untouched. Though police will be out in force,
fear of anarchist violence will likely keep tourists and residents
off the streets. Mike Ahmed, who manages an Italian restaurant in
the heart of Little Italy, a heavily touristed neighborhood that
has been hurting for business since 9/11, cannot figure out why
the protesters want to cause so much misery.
is working hard to bring back what we lost," Ahmed said. "If
these people destroy things, they're only going to make it worse.
They're not bringing unity or love. Where are they from? They cannot
be New Yorkers."
Alexander van Akkooi went to Ground Zero on Wednesday morning to
"pay my respects." A resident of Rotterdam, which was
mostly leveled by Nazi bombardment, van Akkooi said, "Rotterdammers
know what it's like to have your city's heart ripped out. It's not
right for these people to come here when New York City's heart has
been ripped out."
But as one
sees so often with the Left, passion for abstract causes trumps
caring about individual people. In the lobby of St. Mark's Books,
a leftist bookstore on the Lower East Side, is a stack of flyers
advertising a "Self Defense for Activists" class at the
Brecht Forum, a Marxist cultural center here. From the class description:
"While going about the business of demonstrating, picketing,
while confronting klansmen [sic], gusanos and other enemies of the
people, this course will equip the student to stay physically safe
A few doors
down from the bookstore, police officers are standing outside a
McDonald's, whose restaurants have been violently attacked elsewhere
as symbols of globalization. Down the street, two cops are standing
guard outside Starbucks, another target of the anti-latte loonies.
It's the same all over town.
coffee shop, gusanos Spanish for "worm,"
and the term Cuban communists use for anyone who dissents from Castroite
orthodoxy are doing what gusanos do in Starbucks all
over the city: sitting quietly reading, or talking, and drinking
coffee. The enemy of the people who takes my order is a stout black
woman who's no doubt not making a lot more than minimum wage. I
ask her what she plans to do if anarchists storm this Starbucks.
know," she says quietly. "I hope I'm not here when it
If it happens,
it's likely to go down on Saturday afternoon, when the anarchist
leaders promise "large scale direct action" after the
peaceful march. On Sunday, they threaten a "direct-action treasure
hunt," whatever that is. It sounds like a code word for looting.
We shall see.
from the Waldorf on my walk last night, I made my way to a large
Gap store on Fifth Avenue. Three NYPD officers stood outside, guarding
the door. On Thursday afternoon, there is to be a large, peaceful
demonstration for "global justice" or somesuch thing,
on the street outside this Gap. I went inside last night to do my
bit for capitalism, and buy some jeans. At the checkout, I try to
ask the young woman ringing me up a few questions about what employees
plan to do if anarchists attack the store. "I don't know anything
about it," she says, five different ways.
Then it occurred
to me: She's been told not to say anything about it. The anarchists
have become so good at infiltrating their targets that no employee
can afford to talk about contingency plans with strangers, even
sympathetic ones. I felt bad for putting her on the spot. I felt
bad that an employee of a clothing chain that's suffering under
a recession should have to worry for her safety because of these
You might ask:
Why have the World Economic Forum in New York at all, if it's going
to be such a pain? The security measures alone will cost the city
$11 million, and this at a time when we face a $4 billion deficit
owing to the lost tax revenues from the Twin Towers. New York doesn't
need this headache. So why?
Because we have the right to. Free men have the right to gather
peaceably in a democracy, whether they're inside the Waldorf or
out on the street. New Yorkers have gone to great lengths not to
be bowed or broken by the Sept. 11 massacre. Terrorists don't own
this city, New Yorkers do. If this is something the anarchists have
to learn at the end of a police nightstick, just as their Islamic
brethren are learning via "daisy cutter" half a world
away, fine. The thin blue NYPD line has 8 million citizens right