GOP convention marchers protested many issues

Locals plan to attend Million Workers March in Washington, D.C.


Staff Writer

PHOTOS BY HENRY LIEDTKA Protests took many forms at the recent Republican National Convention in New York.  PHOTOS BY HENRY LIEDTKA Protests took many forms at the recent Republican National Convention in New York. ‘It was huge. It was hot. But it was heartening.” That was Donna Chapin’s description of the Aug. 29 protest at the site of the Republican National Convention in New York organized by a group called United for Peace and Justice.

Chapin of Fair Haven attended the protest with the Central New Jersey Peace Coalition, a group that meets every Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House on West Front Street in the Lincroft section of Middletown.

Chapin estimates there were close to 500,000 protesters marching in New York in protest of President Bush’s policies on the war in Iraq, as well as to advocate for issues such as health care, education, employment and civil rights. Official estimates were that more than 250,000 protesters joined in the march.

“Visually, this was the largest protest I was ever at,” said Rob Moir of Fair Haven, who said he has participated in many protests over the years.

The group met to discuss the protest Sept. 2 in Lincroft.

Local coalition members joined the protest route at 18th Street in New York. Chapin said it took the group three hours to reach 33rd Street, the site of Madison Square Garden where the Republican convention was held.

“We’d hardly moved when the beginning of the parade had already reached the end of the route,” said Paul Doughty of Keyport.

The overall feeling expressed by many of the coalition members at the postprotest meeting was that the Republican convention protest was successful in representing the true diversity of the country. But, they claim the media tended to downplay the mainstream participation in the event.

“They are desperate to prove that we don’t represent the mainstream,” said Gavrielle Gemma of Keansburg.

“The media likes to project liberals as dirty, disgusting misfits,” Chapin said. “But this was the most inclusive gathering of Americans.”

Chapin believes the heat of the day caused some people, especially the elderly and those with health concerns, who may have been planning on joining the protest, to drop out at the last minute.

“Had there been more cloud cover, maybe more people would have come,” Chapin said.

Members of the group also agreed that the protest was subdued, much more so than at prior protests.

“Despite the creativity and activity during the march, people were more subdued than at other marches,” Moir said. “The heat may have had something to do with it, but I think there was a kind of determination to bring about a regime change in this country and end the war in Iraq.”

The mellowness of the march may have contributed to the lack of police interference during the protest, he said.

Chapin said there were times when she would look around and wonder where the police were.

“The police that I saw looked like they were on vacation,” Moir said.

“At one point, when we were walking outside of the barricade, we came to a point where it turned at a certain angle and people were trying to get past [the barricade to walk on the sidewalk],” said Edith Szetoo of Morganville. “The police, instead of stopping people, they just took the barricade down.”

The coalition was formed when the Unitarian congregation organized a bus trip in October 2002 to demonstrate against the planned war in Iraq. Members said they plan to keep fighting for what they believe in: the equal treatment and rights of all human beings regardless of the outcome of the November election.

“It’s not the end of demonstrations by a long shot,” Moir said. “They will continue even if a change in the administration comes because all the policies won’t change immediately. It’s the people in the street who will make the changes come.”

The coalition is not affiliated with any political party, and although many of its members said they are planning to vote for Sen. John Kerry, others will choose a third-party candidate.

“It’s really important not to see it as a Bush/Kerry sort of thing,” said Rita Dentino of Howell. “It’s about protesting against the way the government has been doing business.”

The next item on the agenda for the coalition is to organize a trip to Washington, D.C., to join the Million Workers March on Oct. 17. That march has been organized by several trade unions to protest not only the war in Iraq, but also the administration’s policy on pensions, wages and health care benefits for their members.