Centre for Research on Globalisation
Centre de recherche sur la mondialisation


What really happened in NYC on 15 February:

The NYC Anti-war Demonstration

by  Peter Dobkin Hall

www.globalresearch.ca    18   February  2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/DOB302A.html

The NYC anti-war demonstration was *huge* -- far, far larger than the media reported. By noon, First Avenue was packed solid with people from 30th to 90th streets, with people backed up for blocks along 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, and 80th -- the cross-town streets police had kept open for folks headed for the demo. When these filled up, people filled Second and Third Avenues. There were easily half a million people and probably more.

We (wife Kathryn, 15 year old daughter Becca) never made it to the demo. We started from Grand Central, hoping to rally with the Green Party contingent, which was gathering in Bryant Park, behind the NY Public Library at 5th and 42nd. By 11 o'clock, the flow of people bound eastward was so dense that we gave up trying to head west and moved along with the crowd, first eastward along 42nd to Third, then up third to the first open cross street at 50th. As we arrived at each supposedly open cross street, we found it closed because First Avenue up to that point was too filled with demonstrators to accommodate any more.

When we got to 70th Street around and still couldn't get across, we gave up and headed back to Grand Central. As we were leaving, people were still arriving. In fact, when we got to Grand Central, people were still getting off trains heading for the demo.

It was a very good natured crowd, mostly made up of people in the 30- 70 bracket. I never heard a cross word spoken, despite the cold and the clear fact that the police didn't know what they were doing and, thanks to the court order forbidding a march down First Avenue, were faced with a nearly impossible task of crowd control. The police too were pleasant and calm.

Unlike the big Vietnam era mobilizations in DC, this march had no central organization and no marshalls to direct and assist participants. People simply took responsibility for themselves and spontaneously helped one another, passing information along about directions and conditions.

Mainly, everyone there seemed astonished at the number of people who'd turned out. There was a general feeling among those of us who are horrified by Bush's domestic and international policies that we weren't isolated cranks - that, in fact, there are millions of Americans who share our concerns who have been kept in ignorance of one another by a right wing media conspiracy.

In line with this, the press was conspicuous by its absence. I didn't see a single TV van, other than the one in New Haven covering the departure of the two trains chartered by the Green Party (which brought more than 5000 demonstrators from CT to the rally).

Media reports were either grossly inaccurate or went out of their way to minimize the scope and scale of the event. CBS, NY's major news station spoke of hundreds (rather than hundreds of thousands) of participants -- and focused on "incidents" between police and demonstrators. National Public Radio, which has effectively been taken over by the right, gave more attention to demonstrations in London and Rome than to the one in NY. WNYC, New York's NPR utlet played its normal program schedule - reruns of Prarie Home Companon and other trivia. The only broadcaster that made any effort to cover the event with any accuracy was WBAI, NY's Pacifica station - which had reporters in the streets at crucial points.

Of course, neither the print nor the broadcast media provided much (and in most cases any) information in advance of the demonstration. Whatever people knew, they learned through the internet. If anyone doubts the power of the net as a political force, this event shows just how powerful it is -- and just how irrelevant and corrupt the major media (and the major political parties) have become.

The event powerfully affirmed the vitality of our voluntary capacity. Hundreds of formally organized political and social advocacy groups were present. It was also clear that even those who weren't members of formal groups came as parts of informal ones -- clusters of neighborhood activists, networks of friends.

Though I'm generally skeptical of the claims of techno-utopians about the political potential of the new technology and have tended to agree with critics like Skocpol and Putnam directed against the faux membership organizations that now dominate national interest politics, this event has given me reason to re-think these positions. Obviously technology has limits. Obviously nonprofit advocacy has its flaws. At the same time, there may be new formations emerging in public life involving voluntary groups and the uses of technology that warrant our attention.

 Peter Dobkin Hall  teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Copyright  Peter Dobkin Hall 2003.  For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .