Students Join Celebs at Convention Protests

Jessica E. Schumer

Harvard students joined protesters outside the Republican National Convention in New York City earlier this month. While most demonstrated peacefully, the city set a one-day record for convention-related arrests on Sept. 1.

NEW YORK—Shane Hachey was doing his part the Sunday afternoon before the Republican Convention to make sure Harvard lent a veil of respectability to the protests there.

Hachey, sporting a crimson-colored Harvard Law t-shirt as he protested in front of the convention site at Madison Square Garden, said he wanted “people to know it’s not just professionals and deadbeats who are protesting Bush.”

“It’s regular people,” said the Minnesota native, who will start at the Law School this fall. “It’s a really good vibe. People in New York don’t have problems with the police. Voicing a large peaceful protest is a positive thing,” he said over chants of “Down with Bush!”

His undergraduate counterparts weren’t demonstrating their Harvard affiliation quite so openly, but they were just as vocal about their opposition to President Bush’s policies. “We’re marching because we’re Americans, and our future is at stake,” said Michael A. Gould-Wartofsky ’07, a national organizer for the National Youth Institute and Peace Coalition.

The native New Yorker, cell phone in hand, wore a t-shirt emblazoned with a bust of Martin Luther King as he stood amidst dozens of student protesters in Columbus Circle, counting down until the start of the United for Peace & Justice (UPJ) rally.

“This is the only part of the week that’s unscripted,” said Gould-Wartofsky, who is also a Crimson editor. A mosaic of malcontents swirled around him: Jews Against Occupation; Young Feminists Mobilizing; Books Not Bombs. Gould-Wartofsky’s own logo was more subtle: a Harvard Coop insignia, protruding from his back pocket in the form of a plastic bag.

Just as it was difficult to gauge the size of the five-hour long march through Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue—estimates ranged from 200,000 to half a million—it was hard to put a number on the Harvard faces in the crowd, most of whom wore neither Harvard t-shirts nor Coop bags. Student organizers said that up to 75 undergraduates participated.

New Yorkers Adam S. Levine ’05 and Daniel A. Stolz ’07 carried a sign saying “Harvard Says Bush Out: Peace and Freedom!”

“We want to keep the RNC from hogging the spotlight,” Levine said.

The crowd ranged widely in age, class and gender. Protesters toted posters labeling Bush a terrorist, a murderer and a dictator.

Slogans ran the gamut of good taste, from the innocuous “No More Years” to the sign held by a bikini-clad marcher: “Give this Bush a Brazilian.”

Kerry-Edwards signs were noticeably absent from the march—the Democratic challengers’ blue-and-white logos were dwarfed by the green swath of vocal Ralph Nader and Green Party supporters. Several protesters said that while they were unenthusiastic about Kerry, they would vote for him as the only viable alternative to Bush.

“He’s the candidate—we support him. Nobody likes him. He’s part of the same system,” said one protester from Brooklyn. “But there’s a big difference—Ashcroft and Rumsfeld.”

Ben Kreider, a student at Bowdoin College, said he was moved to protest by concerns over conscription.

“A lot of young people are afraid of the draft. It’s a real possibility,” he said.

For others, protesting was their only political outlet. “I think that one of the most important things is I am not 18,” said Molly Birnbaum, 17, a senior at the Packer School in Brooklyn Heights. “This is the only way I have my say. This is my vote.”

Several celebrities, including filmmaker Michael Moore, Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and actor Danny Glover, also joined the protest. In a small rally before the march, they called for the return of American troops from Iraq.

“One day someone will ask: When our world went crazy and lives were lost, what were you doing?” Rangel said.

But not everyone in the crowds that lined Seventh Avenue opposed President Bush’s policies.

As the carnival-esque parade inched past Madison Square Garden, a gathering of pro-life and pro-Bush demonstrators held a small counter-demonstration across from Penn Plaza, engaging several protesters in charged shouting matches. Some labeled the demonstrators “baby-killers”; “Go home, fascists!” came the response.

One Bush supporter wore a t-shirt declaring “Islam supports Kerry.” Underneath was the slogan, “Intolerance is a beautiful thing.” Another carried a sign scrawled with the words, “Terrorists for Kerry.”

Robert Ashby, a College Republican at Western Kentucky University who was rallying the counter-protesters, dismissed the anti-Bush activists as “closed-minded.”

A police officer watching over the protest said that he would vote for the president. “I think he’s doing what’s best for the people. I think he has a good heart,” the officer said.