NEW YORK—If Sunday’s massive protest march produced a John Kerry figure—a future politico destined to one day explain away a youthful protest—I think I found him behind a police barricade on 7th Avenue. That’s where a New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club had gathered in matching sea-green T-shirts. The group’s elders deflected all media queries to their “spokesman,” Devin Kennedy. When Kennedy appeared, he shook my hand, flashed a gap-toothed smile, and told me he was ready for his interview to begin. Devin Kennedy is 15.
Kennedy landed a summer internship with the Sierra Club, then performed so magnificently that the group put him in charge of shepherding members to the protest. (Though Devin, presumably, had to catch a ride.) The parade was a chance for Devin to polish his liberal bona fides. “When I was in middle school,” he said—and he means 2003—”we wore black arm bands to show our opposition to the war in Iraq.” Any prior civil disobedience? “Well, before age 12, there wasn’t much in the way of activism.”
The march—which had the air of a goofily partisan parade—began on 7th Avenue, with the lefties ambling between 23rd and 12th streets, and then, just before noon, it crawled north. On 14th Street, I found George Grim, the founder and sole member of an aspiring 527 group: Frat Boys for Truth. “Bush and I served together in the fraternity system,” says Grim, who rushed his freshman year at Lafayette College. “I may have seen him at a party. But it was 37 years ago, and I was smashed.” Grim’s clothes were Greek barbecue casual: a pressed white polo shirt tucked into khaki shorts. Just as John Kerry renounced the Vietnam War after returning stateside, Grim says Bush has betrayed his band of fraternity brothers. “I think he transformed his life in his late 30s when he gave up booze and cocaine and found God,” he says. So far, Frat Boys for Truth has made a single campaign expenditure, for a cardboard sign and a Magic Marker.
Sunday’s march was mostly about baby boomers like Grim—the young anarchists will wait until later in the week. The parade began with full-throated chants of “Hey, ho, Bush must go” and “Fox News sucks.” But after a few blocks the thigh muscles tightened and the old-timers seemed to lose their mojo. But they perked up as they passed Madison Square Garden, where dozens stopped to photograph the Secret Service men and New York cops. Then they turned east on 34th Street and then south again on 5th Avenue to slog toward the finish line in Union Square.
Liberal protests have a free-rider problem: Every liberal cause celeb, no matter its relevancy to the protest, gets a sign or two. In past years the beneficiary was Mumia Abu-Jamal—whose visage appeared at such unlikely events as Bush’s 2000 inauguration. This year’s winner appears to be Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan strongman whose face decorated about a half-dozen signs Sunday. The cleverest sign was written as a line score: “Chavez 3, Yanquis 0.”
After the turn on 5th Avenue, I found a group of reporters bunched outside a Maui Tacos restaurant (“The Mexican food with Mauitude!”). Michael Moore was said to be inside having his lunch, and a bodyguard was posted to the door. (Michael Moore has a bodyguard?) About 10 minutes later, a spokesman (Michael Moore has a spokesman?) emerged to say that Moore would be taking leave of the restaurant. “But he’s not stoppin’ and he’s not talkin’,” the spokesman said, and sure enough, Moore plowed out a side door and raced behind a police barricade before turning and giving the crowd the peace sign.
The hit of convention week so far has been a satiric group calling itself Billionaires for Bush. The group dresses like Mr. Peanut, with hideous formal suits and sailing outfits, and in their best faux-hauteur droll screams slogans like “Four more wars!” and “No justice, no problem!” They appeared on 34th Street surrounded by beautiful women in ball gowns, and pretty soon had everyone screaming “Four more wars!”
The only trace of violence I saw came at the end of the march, in Union Square, where the police were hauling a struggling protestor away like a bag of fertilizer. The cops formed a defensive perimeter to restore order, which I somehow slipped behind, while peeved protesters screamed “fascist pigs!” inches from their faces. Afterward, the youngish protest leaders were livid. “I don’t fuckin’ get arrested by Arabs,” screamed a curly-haired guy who was wearing a “Stop the Police State” T-shirt. “I get fuckin’ arrested by the NYPD. Where are the goddamn terrorists? They’re right here!”
The guy’s voice was hoarse, and no wonder: There was talk on the streets of a bullhorn crisis. While cops arrested only 25 protesters Saturday, they seem to be impounding bullhorns at will—several people told me theirs had gone missing. “Not only have they taken away our freedom of speech,” said the guy, his voice now a whisper, “they’ve taken away over $100 worth of bullhorns!” The crowd would have cheered, but I don’t think they could hear him.