Runcible Blog

Harlem Shuffle

Here's the story of our Troops Out Now protest experience:

After a long, uncomfortable, and at times emotional Fung Wah bus ride, we arrived in New York close to midnight Friday night. I was curious about staying in and seeing Harlem. I didn't fully appreciate the neighborhood at night -- I couldn't see the scope of the dilapidated buildings until the next morning. I'd like to give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it's probably not as dangerous as it's portrayed to be, but I really don't know. Certainly our host's apartment was surprisingly tidy and cozy. I really appreciate her generosity.

Waking up at 9 was a little rough considering the long night we had. (who schedules a protest at 10AM?) Luckily we found a ubiquitous dunkin donuts to start the day off right. Marcus Garvey Park, the crumbling gathering place for the Troops Out Now (that's we'll be hearing that address another million times today) march. We endured an hour of very loud and inarticulate speakers, including a lousy "def poet" and a wannabe MLK Jr. city councilman, before we were allowed to start mobilizing at a snail's pace. protest
protesters as far as the eye can see
I had never really been a participant in a march. At the RNC, I was strictly photographing, even though I agreed with the protesters' message. This time, because I had a companion, I wasn't as detached as I could've been. Fortunately the experience made me realize how rather silly marches can be. I mean, I think the idea is great and that it's necessary in a democracy for like-minded people to gather and make their voices heard, but from the protester's perspective, it's all about conformity -- whether or not you agree with every plank in the platform. At least that's how I felt listening to some of the inane chants. We tried to spin our own chants, but the professional protesters didn't take us seriously. At times, the message was simple: "We don't want your [expletive] war!" while other chants asked for money for jobs, education, and urban renewal (only with pithier lines). For anyone watching the march (as if there were any) I imagine it'd be tough to figure out what we wanted most.

In Central Park, a small group of anti-anti-war protesters gathered in a penned-off area to greet us. They were vastly outnumbered but vocal. Some sported very tacky blue ink on their fingers alluding to the Iraqi election. lee lee protests
so much excitement
A cop yelled at me when I broke from the march and tried to take a picture of the anti-anti-war protesters. I guess he thought I was trying to heckle them. Again, being "embedded" with one side can be disadvantageous if you're interested in a semblance of journalism. By that time, however, I had recognized that I wasn't going to get any great pictures that day anyway, and considering there were tons of photographers buzzing around, I wasn't worried about missing anything either.

Somehow when we got into Central Park we were right at the front of the march. We followed the large banner through the police barricade and ended up near the stage where the post-march rally was held. Everyone else behind apparently weren't allowed to continue to the stage and were corralled into a large area near us. When we looked behind us, there was an empty patch of grass closed off with police fences. We'd mistakenly gotten the the best seats in the Park! Unfortunately, we were treated to more loud, uninspiring people. The highlights were Rep. Charlie Rangel (well, not really) and Howard Zinn (I'm going to look like Zinn someday. I already have the corduroys). I dug the poet/hip-hop/latin band even though the sound stunk. On the other hand, the "free Mumia" gaggle and unimpressive recorded message from him didn't excite me. I should probably find out about the dude eventually, but I don't think he has much to do with the war. I wish these marches wouldn't attract every pet cause under the sun.

I think we were both growing bored of the speakers and decided to get out even though there were plans to march on to Mayor Bloomberg's house (I don't know what happened with that). Finding a way out of Central Park was a task because everything was blocked off -- both to incoming and outgoing pedestrians. Eventually we made it out and started a long walk down 5th Ave. Silly me, I thought Times Square was at 79th street rather than 57th. So we walked from around 80-something to Times Square and stopped for expensive pasta at Angelo's. When we were done, it was a good time to head back to Harlem to collect our (well, my) things.

Despite a few bumps (of the emotional sort), the bus ride home relaxed me a bit. While lee lee slept (or attempted), I spent time rehashing things in my head, writing in my moleskine, unwillingly eavesdropping on the goof behind me who couldn't help but call everyone he knows and talk about nothing, and trying not to focus on the uncomfortable seat. All in all, I'm really glad to have spent so much time with Grey Squirrel. I think if I had gone alone, I might've been more aggressive about photography, but it wouldn't have been as fun.

There could be more to say about the experience of the protest, but I think this story has dragged on enough. It's neither compelling nor funny. I think I've done my job for tonight.