Protests at RNC test appropriate response

Demonstrators disrupt convention speech by Andrew Card, White House aide, as more than 1,700 are arrested.

Repeatedly shouting "Let them go, now!" hundreds of protesters gathered front of Pier 57, where as many as a thousand more, those arrested over the past three days, are being held in a former bus garage on the Hudson River.

They're calling it "Guantanamo on the Hudson." The protesters are part of largest group ever to demonstrate and get arrested during the history of the nation's more than 80 political conventions.

Indeed, as of Wednesday morning, police had already taken into custody more than twice the number of people arrested during the bloody 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

The protesters say the massive arrests indicate an unconstitutional effort to clamp down on free speech. They charge that police tactics are far too aggressive. The police insist they're simply doing their best to keep the city calm and orderly during the Republican National Convention. One officer has been seriously injured.

The protesters believe they've already had a significant victory, alerting the world that not all Americans support the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. But social scientists are withholding judgment.

"It's not clear how the arrests and nonviolent protests will be viewed," says Nancy Snow, a professor of communications at California State University at Fullerton. "It's possible the arrests may taint the whole antiwar movement... Or will it put a damper on the Republicans' party?"

Although the protests in New York made national news, they are not likely to spread around the nation, says Ms. Snow. "The anarchists wanted spontaneous demonstrations all over the city, and New York is perfect for that. You can be in a Starbucks, run out in the street and then run back in again."

Nicole Shulman decided against getting involved in one of those spontaneous demonstrations. But Wednesday she took the day off work and came to Pier 57 - worried about some of her friends after hearing of people there having respiratory problems and skin rashes. The police insist Pier 57 and is clean, and that demonstrators are being treated in a humane fashion.

But as each day goes on, the tension around the protests increases. Wednesday morning, eleven demonstrators from the anti-Aids group ACT-UP got into the convention and disrupted a speech by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. They were hustled out by the Secret Service.

Both sides seemed to be quite well organized. At one event Tuesday, protesters had representatives from the National Lawyers Guild wearing green baseball caps, who recorded the names of those arrested. Other individuals took videos of the arrests. Legal advisers watched from the sidewalks.

The police also had people taking videos of the arrests and the individuals on the sidewalks. They adapted quickly to the protesters' tactics. As of this writing, during the RNC there have been 1,786 arrests. By way of contrast in Boston, the police arrested six protesters.

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