August 30, 2004,
New York, N.Y. Danny Glover was angry. Along with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and radical filmmaker Michael Moore, Glover had just finished leading the "No to the Bush Agenda!" march through the streets of New York. Cfooling off in Union Square, the actor was asked why, amid the thousands of expressions of outrage at George W. Bush seen and heard during the march, there were very, very few mentions of John Kerry.
"That's a surprise," Glover agreed. "John Kerry should have been here. There should have been people with John Kerry leaflets and John Kerry buttons and everything all along this march line, and there weren't."
At that, a fellow marcher interrupted Glover. The protest was against the war, she pointed out, so how could Kerry come to New York, since he voted for the war in late 2002? "What I'm saying is that the fact that he is not here says something," Glover answered, "about where he was, and where he is now."
As that exchange suggested, the most remarkable thing about Sunday's rally was the degree to which Kerry was a non-presence and even the target of a not-so-subtle hostility. Yes, the protesters seemed profoundly motivated to get rid of George W. Bush. But many appeared not to care who the next president might be, or beyond the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq what that president might do. A significant number seemed to wish that the new president be someone other than Kerry.
Whatever the case, they certainly had the Bush-hating part down. That was everywhere. F**K BUSH, read one sign. BUSH: LIAR, BIGOT, MORON, read another. BUSH IS AN EVIL F***ING LIAR, read a third. Many, many other signs expressed similar sentiments.
But other demonstrators were more effective. When the march was beginning, with Jackson, Glover, and Moore heading up Seventh Avenue toward Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican convention, hundreds of protesters jammed into a side street, carrying full-size cardboard replicas of coffins. Each was covered with an American flag. They were part of a group called One Thousand Coffins, which said it wanted to created a "serene observance parade" to symbolize the nearly 1,000 American soldiers who have been killed in Iraq. At the beginning of the parade, organizers recruited marchers to be "pall bearers," yelling out, "Anybody here want to volunteer to carry a coffin?"
Of course, the protesters made no attempt to say why those soldiers died, or to mention the thousands of American civilians who died on September 11 but the sight of all those coffins was nevertheless impressive. Had they been placed in a solemn procession at the front of the march, they might have made a powerful anti-war statement. But the One Thousand Coffins marchers found themselves jammed at the end of the protest; the places at the front were reserved for the celebrities.
And for every marcher who made an effective point, there were more who chose simply to rant. For example, several not a small number seemed unable to resist the temptation to make sexually suggestive plays on the words "Bush" and "Dick" in the president's and vice president's names. Several women wore t-shirts saying, MY BUSH WOULD MAKE A BETTER PRESIDENT. Several other protesters, also women, wore shirts saying, MY DICK WOULD MAKE A BETTER VICE PRESIDENT.
Perhaps they thought it was funny, or that it helped their cause. But the one thing that was sorely missing at the protest was a real sense of humor. Organizers would undoubtedly say that was because the subject was so serious. But it was still possible to lighten up, and perhaps even to make fun of themselves. Just ask the marchers who came up with the sign, NEW YORK NIGHTCLUB VETERANS FOR TRUTH.