Drums resonated rhythmically through the streets, people danced to the beat of anti-Bush chants, and a giant inflatable pig floated by, an inscription on its flank reading "Piggy Piggy GOP." It was all part of the World Says No to the Bush Agenda march on Sunday, the day before the Republican National Convention begins, and it transformed the streets of New York into an anti-Republican, anti-Bush brouhaha.
The march, a mixture of street theater and political fervor, drew a diverse crowd of locals and out-of-towners, teenage anarchists and members of MOB, or Mothers Opposing Bush. Yet despite the massive crowds - estimated anywhere between 120,000 and 400,000 - the day was relatively peaceful. There were occasional incidents of police and protester tension, as well as a 25-minute halt in the march when protesters lit fire to a 40-foot St. George's dragon they had created, an effigy of George W. Bush. Yet the majority of the marchers seemed to want to maintain a calm, nonviolent approach.
"I just want to show George Bush that I strongly disagree with his policies," said Rebecca Lieberman, a health educator from Englewood, N.J. "I disagree with the Republican stance on stem-cell research, abortion, and gay marriage, and I want to tell them this."
Colorful bits of political activism highlighted the day's march. One group organized people to carry 1,000 flag-draped coffins, representing the soldiers who have died so far in the war in Iraq. People also crafted huge papier-mâché puppets emulating President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Many New Yorkers shouted out chants like "GOP, go home!" and "GOP not wanted here." Yet some protesters realized that many Americans do not feel similarly.
"The whole entire Midwest and central block of the US seems blind about how much the world hates the US," commented Theresa Avega, a member of Code Pink, a women's movement for peace. She smiled and then corrected herself.
Indeed, there were several Bush supporters at the rally. One man, Jon Alvarez, endured heated taunting from protesters as he stood on Seventh Avenue holding a sign that read, "Four more years of Bush for a safe and secure America." Protesters spit at Mr. Alvarez, and some even grabbed the placard from his hands, which they quickly returned.
"I am representing the silent majority of America, the people who cannot be here today to show support for Bush because they are working too hard," said Alvarez, who traveled from Syracuse, N.Y., for the march.
United for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit human rights group based in New York City, organized the march, which wound through the heart of Manhattan. Protesters assembled in the Chelsea district of the city and then marched up Seventh Avenue, bearing right at Madison Square Garden, where the convention will be held. Marchers then continued down Broadway, eventually culminating in Union Square Park.
It wasn't quite the ending most protesters were hoping for. United for Peace and Justice just recently lost a lawsuit against the city of New York, among others, to finish the march with a rally held on Central Park's Great Lawn. The court ruled against United for Peace and Justice, citing that the city was not discriminating against protester groups in their refusal to let them use the park.
"If there were a permit granted, we would have come, because we came anyway," said Sara Brenem, as thousands of people filed into Central Park. Behind her, people had begun making peace signs and drumming. "But I think it's nice that I haven't seen any violence."