NEW YORK – Chicago in 1968. Miami Beach in 1972. Add New York 2004 to that list.
New York hasn’t seen the same unchecked violence on the part of either police or protesters, but when it comes to sheer numbers, it’s now surpassed them both.
New York police have arrested more than 1,700 people, more than at any other U.S. political convention. And the GOP convention still has a day left, and President Bush’s appearance is almost certain to drive protesters to the streets again.
“In the history of political conventions, there have never been so many people demonstrating opposition to their government,” former Chicago Seven member Tom Hayden told demonstrators Wednesday.
Police report 1,765 convention-related arrests since last Thursday. At the Republican convention in Miami Beach in 1972, there were 1,129 arrests. Chicago’s notorious 1968 street riots resulted in about 588 arrests.
Part of it, protesters say, is that more people have showed up to protest in New York than did in Chicago or Miami.
Organized by the Internet and driven by opposition to the war in Iraq, as well as by economic and social issues, protesters have arrived here in droves. Heavily Democratic New York also has contributed to the protesters’ ranks and provided a friendly base of operations.
“To bring a Republican here, you’re going to have a lot of problems,” said Marie Pride, a New York City middle school teacher who was demonstrating Wednesday.
And after watching the new breed of anti-globalization demonstrations turn violent in places such as Seattle, New York police haven’t shied away from making arrests.
“Police are much more likely to put people into pens and react aggressively with physical force than they were before Seattle. It has gotten worse since 9/11,” said William Grover, a political science professor at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt.
Civil liberties advocates say the aggressive tactics and “overarrests” aren’t warranted in many cases. On Tuesday night, police arrested 1,187 people as groups without city permits tried to march to the heavily fortified Madison Square Garden convention site.
“We understand that there’s a convention in town and that means a lot more security,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But that doesn’t trump the rules that are mandated by the Constitution.”
Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Boston University, compared the current political climate to that of the 1968 and 1972 conventions, when the country was led by polarizing presidents and in the midst of a controversial war.
“Anger over the war in Iraq is reaching a level akin to the Vietnam War,” Zelizer said. “It’s the same visceral reaction.”
Television was the new force that encouraged the protest movement of the 1960s. Today, the movement is fueled by the Internet and by other technologies such as text messaging and wireless communication, which allow protesters to organize and communicate.
“New York is really the first Internet protest movement to hit a convention,” he said.
This is now the age of 24-hour television news, where there’s an almost constant hunger for new pictures and stories. Protesters are less concerned with reaching the Republican delegates than with getting their message out to a wider audience, he said.
Wednesday’s protests were generally calmer and smaller than Tuesday’s. Eighteen were arrested, 12 of them AIDS activists who made it to the floor of Madison Square Garden where they disrupted a speech by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card to a Republican youth rally. Some of the demonstrators scuffled briefly with the GOP youth, injuring at least one of the Republicans.