New York City - Three quarters of a million people marched in New York City Sunday (August 29). That's National Public Radio's estimate. The New York Times estimated 500,000 but called it "the biggest protest ever at a political convention."
It was an amazing day, long and hot and sweaty. There were so many contingents forming up on side streets over such a large area that it was impossible to sense how big it was. We went to the Pagan Cluster and marched behind the big green dragon that our old friends from Washington, DC, brought. Beside us was a contingent marching under black umbrellas and the Rhythm Workers Union, who have a big cart with drums on it that can be wheeled through the streets so people can play big djembes and not have to carry them for miles.
When we'd made our way up to about 23rd Street, I got a message on our new high-tech text-messaging list serve saying the head of the march had already reached Union Square, while most people still hadn't left the assembly point.
And I felt such a rush of joy. People really had come out in the streets, unafraid. Masses and masses of them, some in T-shirts or with organization banners, some with dreadlocks and wild tattoos, but most just ordinary-looking New Yorkers of every colour and age and kind, in such numbers that the march just crawled along for hours.
I was working hard to keep our contingent together, and in its position at the back of the dragon's tail - not always easy when the streets are so, so crowded. I must've been pretty seriously focused, because my own brother turned up, offered his services as a mandolin player and marched alongside me for about 15 minutes before I recognized him.
Of course, in my mind he's my baby brother, slim, curly-haired, dark and about 13 years old - not some big, grey-haired, middle-aged coot. How did he get that way?
Meanwhile, text messages were coming in about the police harassing and arresting bicyclists. Apparently there is something especially menacing about these two-wheeled, human-powered vehicles. Aside from that, the police presence was mostly light and unobtrusive, except for barricades that appeared near Madison Square Garden separating the street from the sidewalk, making it hard to duck out for a bottle of water and get back in.
By the time we approached MSG, so many people were on the sidewalk that they formed companion marches of their own, moving at a swifter pace than the march in the street, like flanking streams with swifter currents.
Our friends with the dragon had offered to help us if we wanted to do a spiral dance in front of the Garden, so as we got near I began drawing the cluster together, speaking to our friends in the Rhythm Workers Union to coordinate a rhythm we could chant to. We dropped back behind the dragon around 33rd Street because the sound system inside it was too loud for our ears. The police are rumoured to have a sound weapon that will disperse crowds with painful levels of noise, but this was friendly fire.
Where the crowd thinned just slightly, we grabbed the opportunity, formed our circle and began to spiral in, chanting, "No army can hold back a thought / No fence can chain the sea / The earth cannot be sold or bought / All life shall be free."
The spiral stopped the already slow march. Then some energy roared through me like a freight train. Some of it was horrible, nauseating energy that needed to be released and cleansed. Some of it was powerful earth energy, a kind of raw life force that pulsed and thundered and rose up into a great, focused cone of power.
Someone told me to look behind, and in the relatively empty space between us and the line of cops at 34th Street, the dragon was burning.
The flames rose up, and in that moment it seemed a perfect icon of our magic, a powerful spell, although I can't rationally explain why. Of course, it had tactical repercussions. The cops grabbed some people and arrested them. A few people threw bottles at the cops from the middle of the crowd.
We were tired and felt we had done our magical work, so we decided to make our separate ways up to Central Park, where masses of people were gathering on the Great Lawn despite the city's refusal to permit a rally there. More and more came until the whole area thronged with thousands and thousands of people relaxing on the grass, playing music, pounding drums, doing street theatre.
We did some impromptu non-violent direct action trainings.
Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping performed marriages, and his choir intoned the sacred First Amendment.
The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a marching brass band, wound through the crowd. It was like all the best parts of a rally, without being tortured by scratchy voices on loudspeakers that you can't really hear and don't want to listen to but feel somehow that you should.
Meanwhile, protestors dogged the steps of delegates who were dining at the Boat House in Central Park or entering hotels. Our cluster stayed in the park and held a very sweet full moon ritual near the obelisk, washing ourselves clean of all the ways we have taken in what some of us call the Fortress or the Empire - that intertwined system of belief and power that maintains oppression.
We're left with just one mystery. No one admits to burning the dragon. The friends who brought it say they had no knowledge that anyone intended to burn it. Was it provocateurs? An accident? Spontaneous combustion touched off by a spark from that cone of power we were raising 50 yards away?
We may never know, but I'll tell you what I like to believe: that Liberty herself bent down with her torch to ignite a burning flame of truth at the threshold of the convention of lies.