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Walking Along Streets of Peace
Published on Sunday, February 16, 2003 by the Long Island, NY Newsday
Walking Along Streets of Peace
by Jimmy Breslin
 

On streets of beauty, the warm people inched along or stood and chanted and laughed against a war and for peace and their warmth made the winter temperature irrelevant.

They were summer people in winter clothes.

They were the largest and happiest crowd seen in this city maybe ever, outside of a war's end in 1945.

There were fathers with children on their shoulders. There were mothers holding their young. There were kids walking alongside their parents. There were religious people everywhere.

And so many were young. Young students, young married, young in a city that belonged to the dreams and love and laughter of youth.

Do you want a life with thrills, years of exhilaration? Come to New York.

Where yesterday they said they did not want war.

They said it with their presence and with the most signs of my time in my city. The signs were against war, and against George W. Bush, who, for the first time, was being heralded as a man who lost the popular vote in this country by 500,000.

Looking down Third Avenue and Second Avenue, as the crowds came up to try to get to the rear of the great crowd on First Avenue, and then peering as far down First Avenue as you could see, the size of throngs caused you to tell yourself, "maybe a million.” Whatever it was, out on the street it felt like a million, and it was glorious. A news photographer I know came along. "I've been everyplace. I have to say a million.” Because of the Police Department's reprehensible pens, the crowd was separated so that there was not one clear picture of an enormous group that would cause politicians here to faint.

The crowd so frightening was made of people who mostly never had protested before, who were too young for the Vietnam protests and who cannot be classified under any of the old words, "demonstrators” or "anti-war,” because they are new and they are real.

War may be a great favorite with a Texas Theocracy, with a president who speaks in the first person more than anybody we have had in decades -- "I'm sick and tired of waiting” -- and who calls on God to bless the country as if no other people made in the image and likeness of God are alive on earth.

Only the sour people could permit innocent people to be scared as close to death as you could do it. "Get duct tape!” her government told Kristin, a friend of mine who lives in Washington. So she went out and got duct tape, which usually is mentioned in stories about bank robbers using it to bound and gag clerks.

Kristin taped the windows and door of her children's room. She then said she was ready for a gas attack. She failed to realize that the attack would leave her kids as orphans.

The crowd yesterday was herded into a mile of pens, like the Omaha stockyards. This was for security. The reason for security was security.

On our streets of beauty yesterday, gladness was in the place of arrogance and meanness. The sole conflict I found, when I arrived at 66th Street and First Avenue, the closest I could get to the stage at 51th Street, a young woman named Leslie Meenan was holding the hand of a girl who said her name was, as I spelled it, Camilla. She was 8.

"You're spelling it wrong,” she said. "Only one ‘l.'”

"You don't know how to spell your own name,” I said.

"Yes, I do. You don't.”

"She's right,” a woman said. Her name was Cara McCarthy and she was from Bushwick, in Brooklyn. She teaches at PS 145.

Just ahead was Bob Stratton, who held his daughter, Fia, age 3. He said he was from Park Slope and he was in computer development.

And now as you walked along the edge of one of these pens, here was a line of Catholic protests and then a group of schoolteachers and then everything seemed to be Jane Burcaw, in a good, warm and fashionable hat holding a sign that said, "No War.”

"I made it last night,” she said.

"Where do you live?”

"Bethlehem. I work at the Moravian Theological Seminary. I got here at 10:30. I would've been much earlier if I had to.”

The number of police and vehicles was unconscionable in this area, blocks away from the stage. The people were beautiful and the overload of police was irritating and deprived people of their rights.

Somewhere far downtown from where I was standing, they had police horses on Second Avenue and people there to protest were behind the endless metal pens and somewhere the cattle turned human and people were arrested.

The mayor of this city and the police commissioner had been spreading fear in this city for many days. Their claims were infuriating. "We know there is something coming but we can't tell you.” If they knew it was coming and the people who were doing it knew it was coming, then what are you keeping a secret for?

Bet me that they had the same kind of rumor that Colin Powell tried to sell at the UN, and on Friday he got carried out on a shutter.

But this was only passing. What went on yesterday was an enormous crowd that turned cold sidewalks into beautiful gardens.

They were the nicest people I've ever been with.

Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.

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