This is What Democracy Looks Like

As I rounded the corner of Broadway and 17th Street yesterday, finishing up a march that had begun almost two hours before, I was unaware that thousands of people were still gathering and waiting for their chance to march at the staging area miles behind me. I had no idea it would still be over an hour before a small group of black bloc anarchists would set a paper mache dragon ablaze in front of Madison Square Garden (the only serious infraction of the day). I had no idea that on that day, more Americans would take to the streets in opposition of a sitting president’s party’s nominating convention than at any time in American history.

The perspective was lost on me, as I was among the throngs. If I had been high in one of the myriad hotel suites overlooking the march, or soaring above in the Fujifilm NYPD blimp, I would have seen a flowing mass of humanity stretching twenty blocks north, two long blocks east, and twenty blocks south. And people were still arriving.

The news reports of the day place the number of participants at anywhere from 120,000 to half a million. This seething, yet jubilant crowd had gathered for the sole purpose of helping to ensure that the worst administration the nation has seen in any living person’s remembrance is not granted four more years to wreak havoc on this great nation’s name.

A full spectrum of America’s people were represented as one group who had a message to bring not just to the delegates who had arrived in New York for this week’s Republican National Convention, but for the rest of the nation and those watching the events of this week around the world. That message was delivered by hundreds of thousands, and it was simple. “George W. Bush does not represent the will of the nation. He does not, and never had, a mandate from the people. We will not sit idly by and watch him and his officers continue America’s journey down a road that has, in many ways, irreparably damaged all that America stands for at home and abroad.”

It would be easy to get lost in all the raw emotion that was on display yesterday. It would be hard to fathom that George W. Bush could win in the face of such determined opposition from the populace. Not all of America was on the streets of New York yesterday, to be sure, but never before has a sitting president created ire to the point so many would seek to ruin his week in the spotlight. Not at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 (Lyndon Johnson had already refused to accept renomination by this point, but the Democrats were still the party of power at the time), or at Nixon’s renomination in Miami Beach in 1972.

What boggles the mind is that such a protest on such a scale would be necessary. George W. Bush is running on his record every bit as much as any president before him has, and logically, that would be enough to ensure his graceless exit into political retirement. It is quite a fantasy I have that at this time next year, George W. Bush will be chopping down trees on his ranch in Texas, manly and simple, occasionally wondering what he did to lose the confidence of the American people. But there is a substantial possibility he will find himself reelected. Despite souring news about the economy, continued fighting in Iraq combined with the public’s growing realization of just what a farce the entire war in Iraq is, and the administration’s continued pandering to corporate interests at the expense of American citizens, Bush is gaining in the polls. The race has been a statistical dead heat for months, but the polls consistently showed Senator John Kerry with a slight lead. Now the polls have flipped, and Kerry has given up his slight edge to a man who has no business being granted another four years in the Oval Office when the past three and a half plus have been such an unmitigated disaster.

It leaves me to ask, “What the hell is going on?”

Has this country taken on such a huge “us against them” mentality that the type of polarization Bush has fostered is actually to his benefit? I would have to say the answer is yes. Bush has managed, while splitting this country down the middle on ideological lines, to so cement his base of power that they are just about ready to take up arms for their leader. Many, in fact, have. He has tapped into a great percentage of people in this country who are willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and thus, carte blanche, to their president for no other reason than that he is, well, the president. Unquestioning loyalty is the order of the day if you consider yourself a Republican. Thinking that your man might not know the correct way to proceed, or that he even does not have your best interests at heart, is unacceptable if you are a true supporter of the ideals of the Republican Party. Combine this with the Republican Party’s overly aggressive tactics against their colleagues across the aisle on the local, state, and national levels, and you have a machine that is designed for no other purpose than staying in power and providing the spoils of the greatest economy this planet has ever seen to a privileged aristocracy.

It is at this point that it becomes obvious I may be speaking of the Democratic Party as well. The leaders in that party are also part of the aristocracy, but they have a far milder record of abuses of power in a clearly broken system, and they haven’t spent the last three and a half years waging an unjust war and watching millions more Americans slip below the poverty line while the richest one percent of the nation gets tax cuts. This is more than a situation of choosing the lesser of two evils. It was that type of thinking, that there are no differences between the GOP and the Democrats, that bizarre “none of the above,” Brewster’s Millions mentality that stuck us with Bush in the first place. Bush needs to get run from office. And every single person pounding the pavement of Manhattan, from yesterday through this Thursday night, understands this, and also knows they will more than likely never live through another election as important to the future of this country as this one.

They lofted banners as high as they could. They derided Bush with humor, common sense, and pure viciousness. They screamed their chants up to the suites where the Republican delegates were staying. “Tell them what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” When a small band of Republican supporters began chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” in an attempt to drown out the marchers, the marchers responded by joining in.

Make no mistake, the people who are fed up with the Bush administration are every bit as American as those with blind faith. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on the flag just because we are waging a Republican war.

When the Republicans are finished running out their all-stars on the Madison Square Garden stage this week, and after Bush accepts his nomination, there is no doubt he will find himself with a powerful lead in the polls, at the very least approaching double-digits. Such is the nature of a political convention. Only a convention that is a pure disaster hurts the candidate in the polls. But it will be a hard-won battle for the GOP this week. They find themselves in unfriendly territory. They made the mistake of coming to the largest liberal city in the country. A city that embraces ideals that many Republicans would regard as sins worthy of never-ending hellfire. They find themselves in a city whose civic and business leaders have rolled out the red carpet, but whose citizens for the most part hold vitriol for the national party (Republican mayor and governor aside).

Not just people who live in the city, but thousands from around the country joined in. I personally hope that the delegates and the members of the party leave the city at the end of the week with the understanding that they do not represent the country as a whole, and I hope the rest of the country understands, whether it be through protest actions here, or through the continued poor leadership of the Bush administration, that George W. Bush and his officers cannot be allowed to continue to hold office.