Published on Monday, August 30, 2004 by the New York Daily News
Curtain Raiser is a Show-Stopper
by Juan Gonzalez
In the end, there was no need for a big rally in Central Park.
No need for a string of angry speakers standing at some podium bashing President Bush and the Republicans.
In the end, the torrent of people and placards that choked the streets of Manhattan yesterday was more powerful than any speech.
For more than four hours, they surged by the tens of thousands past the Madison Square Garden convention site in a boisterous but largely peaceful protest march that seemed at times as though it would never end.
On the eve of their big visit to New York, the Republicans had been overshadowed, not by John Kerry and the Democrats, but by a huge and unwieldy coalition of activists called United for Peace and Justice.
It is useless to guess how many showed up. Police say around 100,000; organizers claim more than 400,000. Suffice to say, you could toss the entire Republican and Democratic conventions together, and add a day's attendance at the Olympics in Athens, and still not come close to the number of anti-Bush marchers who filled Manhattan yesterday.
Despite days of headlines about possible violence, despite the city's refusing them use of Central Park for a rally, despite a massive police presence, the demonstrators came anyway - from all over America.
There was John Vicich, a Vietnam-era vet, who drove in from Tobyhanna, Pa., to join his daughter and her friends for the march.
He carried a homemade placard that read: Drunken Frat Boy Drives Country into Ditch.
"I hate Bush," Vicich said. "He's the worst President in our history."
And there was Chris Maloney of Woodside, Queens, who had his 14-month-old daughter, Saiorse, strapped in a harness to his back.
"Her name means 'freedom' in Irish," he said proudly.
"I figured instead of sitting home and doing nothing but complaining, I'd come out and add my voice," Maloney said.
Asked why he was opposed to the Republicans, Maloney replied: "Bush blatantly misled us into war. He used the fight against terrorism for his own agenda, and I can't forgive him for that."
Temple University student Matt Goldfine, 21, was there with his girlfriend, Desi Burnett, 23. "We decided a year ago to come here," Goldfine said. "Things have been going bad for a long time. We felt we have to do something."
Through all the chanting and the sign-waving, the marchers never lost their sense of humor.
A street theater group of a dozen or so protesters in Army fatigues and clown faces repeatedly lampooned Bush as commander-in-chief. On the backs of their uniforms were inscribed the words: "Mission Accomplicated."
Over in Times Square, the Republican delegates took in some Broadway plays before the start of their business. But the big show yesterday was on the streets of Manhattan. And the cast of thousands didn't even need a stage.
Juan Gonzalez (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Daily News columnist.
© 2004 Daily News, L.P.