US: Protesting the Republicans in New York.

The Republican National Convention has invaded New York City.

Bush and company are meeting just four miles from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks just two weeks before the third year anniversary of the attacks.

Bush is attempting to exploit the tragedy that New Yorkers faced in order to win votes. It is clear that Bush has no chance of winning New York State, but his cynical use of genuine grief to get votes is intended to have an impact in “Middle America.” However, those against the Bush agenda also made an impression.

The convention has been met with powerful protests.

The massive demonstration on Sunday, August 29th attracted an extremely diverse crowd of least half a million people protest the Bush agenda. This was the biggest political protest in New York in a generation. It took many hours for the crowd to pass Madison Square Garden where the convention is being held. There would actually have been more people on the march, but the march route was not announced until a few days prior due to a court battle with the city over the use of Central Park.

Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg also tried to frighten protesters away with a lot of talk about “terrorist threats” and the arrival of dangerous “anarchists”. He went as far as to declare that protest is a “privilege”. Ordinary people were not dissuaded, however, and took to the streets in scorching heat to show their opposition to the occupation of Iraq and the war on working people, immigrants, people of color and women at home. Despite comparisons to the Democratic Party convention in Chicago in 1968 when antiwar protestors clashed with police and the National Guard, Sunday’s march passed off relatively peacefully. However, police have attacked some of the smaller protests that have been organized, particularly by “critical mass” environmentalists, resulting in hundreds of arrests, often for trivial offenses. Further clashes could occur during the week.

The city in reality is in the middle of a two-week-long festival of resistance with literally hundreds of protests, meetings and cultural activities directed against the Republicans. Most of the people at these events are planning to vote for John Kerry as a way to defeat Bush. However, many fail to realize that Kerry represents many of the same policies as Bush or will vote for Kerry “holding their noses”. For instance, Kerry, a US Senator, vot ed for the war in Iraq; he also states that, if elected, he wants to send even more troops to Iraq. Kerry also voted for the USA Patriot Act, a massive attack on civil liberties, that has resulted in the detention of hundreds of Arab-Americans.

On economic issues, Kerry is not to be trusted by working people. He is the richest member of the US Senate which is a notorious “millionaires’ club”, and he would be one of the richest presidents in US history. He has a long record of voting for “free trade” agreements like NAFTA, which resulted in the layoffs of millions of US workers over the past four years. Kerry has also promised that, if elected, he will balance the federal budget, which is now running a huge deficit, “no matter what it takes.” This inevitably will mean further huge cuts in social services.

Socialist Alternative, the US section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, intervened on Sunday’s march calling for a vote for the anti-war, anti-corporate candidate, Ralph Nader. Although we faced some abuse at the rally, there was an important section of people receptive to our ideas. Socialist Alternative had a very lively contingent at the demonstration, and we sold over 250 copies of our newspaper, Justice. In the lead up to the demonstrations, we handed out thousands of leaflets for two public meetings which we held in the city. Our second meeting, held on the day before the mass demonstration, was entitled, “A Socialist World is Possible.” Out of the hundreds of events surrounding the convention, ours was the only one which made any mention of socialism. We had speakers involved in trade union struggles, as well as David McReynolds, a socialist, and the Green Party’s candidate for US Senate in New York State. Through our work, we were able to recruit new members to Socialist Alternative in New York.

The massive protest march in New York once again shows the extent of the political polarization which has developed in the United States. This has also been reflected in other phenomena including the huge popularity of Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 911. Millions are searching for an alternative to the failures of capitalism both domestically and internationally. The next period will create major opportunities for the development of independent working class politics, and indeed, for socialist ideas, in the United States.

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September 2004