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by Hans Bennett
Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2003 at 3:14 AM
This is part one of a two part photoessay documenting the Feb.15 anti-war protest in NY with photos and a personal summary of the day from Hans. Part 2 will be out soon!
nyf9jpg.jpg, image/jpeg, 576x374
In this photo, police officer has her hand on her gun as she pushes the crowd away from a protester was was arrested with extreme violence.
To view all the photos, please link to:
Photoessay: FEB 15 NY AND WORLD UPRISING, by Hans Bennett
On February 15, millions around the world marched and demonstrated against the escalation of the US and British war on Iraq. Between 2 and 3 million turned out in Rome. The turnout of 1.5 million in London was the largest political demonstration in England’s history. The half million that turned out in Berlin was the biggest demonstration since the week before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The Philadelphia Inquirer declared on Feb.16, that the demonstrations “taken as a whole, may have been the largest simultaneous, single-day antiwar protest in history.”
The demonstrations came at a pivotal moment, as the federal government sought international support for escalation of its ongoing war on Iraq. The day before, UN weapons inspectors told Bush and the UN that while not perfect, Iraq was cooperating with inspectors. Hans Blix stated that the inspectors needed more time before he would support escalating the war on Iraq.
While Operation Desert Storm killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis, the subsequent sanctions and bombings have persisted as never-ending "low-intensity" warfare against the Iraqi people. Aerial bombings committed by the US and British militaries in the name of enforcing "No Fly Zones" that were never authorized by the UN and are therefore illegal have been killing people since the early 1990s. Still, these bombings have primarily had psychological effects. The real death and destruction have come in the form of economic sanctions. These sanctions have done nothing to loosen the Saddam Hussein's dictatorial control over the nation. What they have done is claim the lives of over 500,000 innocent children and over one million people overall, according to a 1996 UNICEF report. Sanctions make it difficult for most Iraqis to access nutritious food, clean water and adequate healthcare. These problems are exacerbated even further by radioactive depleted uranium (DU) dust left over from exploded US and British DU ammunition from the 1991 war.
On Feb.15, I traveled to New York City, the site of the Sept.11, 2001 attacks that have since been used to justify both military aggression abroad and the stripping of people’s civil liberties here in the US. While the organizers of the rally estimated that 500,000 turned out, the NYPD countered with an estimate of only 100,000. While it is difficult to determine, I’d estimate at least 350,000-400, 000. It was a tense couple weeks leading up to the event as the organizers fought for the right to have a march. Ultimately the city denied the permit for the march and protesters were limited to a stationary rally.
Upset by the denial of the right to free speech and assembly, protesters responded by organizing more than 60 different feeder marches that would depart from all different areas in the city. I arrived at the front of the New York Public Library at 5th Ave. and 42nd St. where the Anti-Capitalist Convergence among other groups was planning on gathering and then walking to the main rally on First Ave. near the United Nations. When I arrived at approximately 10:30 am, there were at most 40 people gathering. By 10:45, perhaps 15 police approached the crowd and told us that we could not gather there. Furthermore, we had to immediately begin walking to the permitted march at 1st Ave. and 52nd St. Those protesters with signs held by sticks were then forced to remove the sticks (potential weapons) and give them to the police. While the demands of the police were illegitimate, they were generally polite and I did not witness any police brutality at this point.
While most people gave the police their sticks, most people did not obey the order to disperse. Instead the folks quietly milled around and gave the appearance of leaving. I personally walked down to the corner in the direction of the main rally but looped back around and climbed the steps to the top of the library. By 11:00 a couple hundred more protesters had arrived. Fifteen minutes later there a couple thousand people had effectively occupied the steps of the library as well as the entire block. When the crowd became too large the police were forced to allow the crowd to gather and backed down.
As the crowd continued to flood in, protesters also began to walk towards the main rally (which started at noon). Police would not allow protesters to march in the street, so the throngs forced to march on the sidewalk moved at a snail pace. As I began to walk with the crowd, I began to notice the crowds of people coming from all directions. The sidewalks were flooding with people and we were just beginning to see what they rest of the day would be like: protesters packed in like sardines and moving at a snail’s pace. After working my way over to 3rd Ave., the snail’s pace turned to a halt. After the crowd hadn’t moved for more then 40 minutes, some new friends and I moved north up 3rd Ave. through the crowd in an attempt to figure out why we weren’t moving.
After reaching 51st St. I could see that the police had blocked the protesters in from both the north and east (the 2 directions we needed to travel in). We were unable to get to the main rally. As protesters began to realize this, they decided to have their own events right where we were penned in by the cops. Where I was on 3rd between 51st and 52nd the crowd had spilled out into the street and occupied the entire block. This allowed the protesters a little more personal space and was also a way to defy the police strategy of packing us in like sardines on the sidewalk. At this point there was neither property destruction or violence directed towards police,
This would be too much for the NYPD. The police proceeded to charge down the middle of the street with their horses—knocking many protesters over and infuriating the others in the crowd. While I was standing on the sidewalk, one protester burst into the crowd on the sidewalk in hope of fleeing the police. While I did not see why he was running from the police, I did see the police catch him and immediately slam his head (hard enough to create a very loud “bang”) into the metal side of an empty newsstand. While the NYPD violently arrested him, one cop on site held her hand on her gun to intimidate the crowd. Continuing the intimidation, the police then parked 2 large empty buses in the middle of the street. While it physically separated the crowd, it also made many protesters feel that mass arrests were imminent.
After watching this showdown for a while, some new friends and I headed west towards Times Square where there was supposed to be a non-permitted “Reclaim the Streets” action at 3pm. When we arrived at 3:30 the police had already barricaded the area so that protesters would not be able enter the area. The lines of police standing in front of the buildings saturated by corporate advertisements was an eerie image to end the day with.
So how will George Bush’s regime respond to this global uprising? This remains to be seen. U.S. history as well as the current US/British illegal bombardment of Iraq shows that Bush is willing to bypass the UN and International law. However, while we certainly don’t live in a democratic country, Bush can be influenced by enough popular pressure. Therefore, the harder we fight right now, the better the chance that Iraq’s men, women, and children can be spared from the wrath of the US empire.
Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with the Philadelphia-based INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. His work has also appeared in publications such as Alternative Press Review, Maximum Rock n Roll, SF Bayview, LiP, Earth First! Journal, Anarchy, and the San Jose Mercury News.
Hans can be reached via email: email@example.com
Or : c/o INSUBORDINATION, po box 30770, Philadelphia, PA 19104.
PART 2 OF THE PHOTOESSAY WILL BE OUTSIDE SOON! Features photos from NY public library at the beginning of the day and more.
To view Hans’ recent photoessay about the AWOL Magazine “Not in Our Name” anti-war benefit concert featuring Chuck D, Ani Di Franco, Saul Williams, Michael Franti, and more, please link to:
To view a partial archive of Hans’ work please link to:
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