The hundreds of thousands of protesters who marched Sunday in New York City were joined by a sizable contingent of young demonstrators opposed to the policies and reelection of Pres. George W. Bush and Vice Pres. Dick Cheney. As with the huge crowd generally, these youthful protesters had different political motivations and came from a variety of personal backgrounds, but shared a general insistence that their motivation in turning out were both patriotic and peaceful.
“We traveled 3,000 miles to say no to the Bush agenda,” Donna Dear said from behind her Jackie-O sunglasses. Dear, 21, flew to New York City from Portland, Oregon to protest and like many of the young marchers around her, she had more than one reason to oppose the president.
“The assault on women’s choice, the attempt to write discrimination into the Constitution, an illegal war, pushing for free trade policies that are destroying the Third World—pick one. They’re doing everything wrong,” she said. Dear marched hand-in-hand with friends from Team Cascadia, an environmental group from the Pacific Northwest. They all incurred the cost of a plane ticket, but stayed free in a Bronx church. For Dear, a young veteran of grassroots politics, seeing all the young people on the streets Sunday gave her hope.
At the same time, members of her generation in town to support the president at the convention, Dear said, “are cutting off their nose to spite their face and they’re shooting themselves in the foot all at the same time.”
Matthew Shultz, 29, agreed. He lives in Brooklyn and works at a “stupid office job.” Waiting to march to Madison Square Garden, he stood holding a sign with an image of his own hand, middle finger extended, and the words “and the pachyderms you rode in on.” He said his message was aimed at the young Republicans in town.
“It seems like if you’re ever going to attach yourself to some reactionary ideology, it should be when you are old and inflexible, not when you’re young and still finding things out,” Shultz said.
The Brooklynite said he supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry and called the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), which the president endorsed, ludicrous.
“A putative virtue of the party has been their adherence to a minimalist and literal interpretation of the Constitution and the fact that [Bush] would flirt with changing our government’s most sacred document is just really disgusting,” Shultz said. “People don’t care about this until they put it on the agenda and they only put it on the agenda to galvanize bigots.”
Jason Congrucci, a 27-year-old marketing manager at an architectural firm in New York City, also opposed the president’s endorsement of the FMA.
“Who is George Bush to judge me and my personal relationship with my boyfriend or with anyone?” he asked as he approached 30th Street with his boyfriend and his sister. “We should keep the church and state separated and I don’t think that [the president’s] personal beliefs or the beliefs of the radical right of the country should have any sort of bearing on who I love and how I express that.”
Young queer people were well represented in Sunday’s march. Anthony Lowe, a recent college graduate from Denver, called the proposed FMA an “atrocity.” Lowe, 22 and bisexual, said young conservatives tend to be more closed-minded than young liberals.
“Read as much as you can,” he urged them. “Read independent media and try and absorb as much as you can, not just mass media and then make your own decision. I think if you do that, the choice is clear.”
Queer protesters weren’t the only ones who found personal reasons to oppose Bush.
Megan Kimberly, a 23-year-old bartender from New York City, protested Bush’s economic policy.
“I am going to the unemployment line on Wednesday morning because trying to get a job in the economy right now is close to impossible,” she said. “I am going to be losing my health care within a year and have been basically hopping between jobs for the last couple of years.”
Some young activists brought energy and fresh, even artful tactics to the protest. Some people carried mock coffins draped in stars and stripes to represent Americans who died in Iraq. Others dressed up like mice in a clever attempt to scare an elephant or two. At 15th Street, the young contingency had the entire block chanting “Move Bush, get out the way,” to the tune of the hip-hop artist Ludicrous’ hit single which instead of “Bush” employs another b-word.
Some of the youngest protesters, who will vote in November for the first time, were the most determined. Ulna Harvester of Connecticut has an18th birthday in October and admits that she is at odds politically with many of her classmates.
“We have our debates, but mostly they try to close my hand in lockers,” she said. “I would like to say to them, ‘Really think about what are you supporting. Is it the man or is it his policies? And are you really being helped by his policies?’” Hahrdester’s key concerns are education and foreign policy and she was enthusiastic about Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. “His ideas are going to turn the nation in a different direction, a better direction,” she said.
Meghan O’Dea, who described herself as a green-anarchist, will also turn 18 in October, just in time to vote. But she was rather under-whelmed with the Democratic candidate. “I am voting for Kerry. I don’t really trust Democrats or Republicans, but anybody but Bush,” she said. O’Dea flew in with her mother from Chattanooga. to protest the Republican convention. “The more they tried to say, ‘Oh, New Yorkers will be fleeing the city It’s not worth coming, it will be this huge violent spectacle,’ the more I wanted to say, ‘No it won’t be, what we want is peace,’” she said.
In Chattanooga, O’Dea deals more with the apathy than the political opposition of her classmates. “I’ve been trying to get my friends more active and it’s difficult, but I do know a lot young people that I’ve met through activism who are active, but friends I met in high school, I’m still working on.”
As the start of the march stalled near 14th Street, 20-somethings were having a good time regardless of the heat and the delay. Some said they appreciated the “good vibe” on the streets and the peaceful nature of the massive crowd. Ingrid, a 20-year-old who declined to give her last name, was optimistic about her efforts. “If we don’t change the election outcome, at least we will show other countries that we don’t support the regime that we have right now,” she said, as she marched with her girlfriend.
Lowe was less certain that the peaceful message would reach the president, delegates and undecided voters. “It’s exciting and it feels empowering,” Lowe said. “There’s a lot of tension in the air. Hopefully some good will come of it and the mass media wont slander it too badly.”
Lowe was not alone in his suspicions of the mainstream media coverage of the protest. By the time Congrucci had Madison Square Garden in his sights, protesters were chanting against the Fox News network, prompted by a very prominent billboard at the site of the convention.
“We are going to make a banner when we go home tonight and we’re going to hang it from our fire escape,” Congrucci said, perhaps inspired by Fox. “There is so much news that gets me depressed and then you come out here and you realize all the good things about being an American. Like that we can be here in the first place.”
Congrucci and his boyfriend were still discussing the banner’s message as they headed for lunch, after the march.
“‘My Bush smells like shit’ was a personal favorite,” he said. “And the ‘mad cowboy disease’ I like. Something like that.”