New York -- the leonard peltier March for Freedom seemed a good excuse to come to the Big Apple. We estimated that maybe a hundred people, if that, would show up at the event, which we had read about in the Anishnabek News.On Sunday at Union Square in Lower Manhattan, our low estimates seem justified. Apart from another small group with placards and video cameras, various dogs and their owners and two dozen NYPD officers, the square is deserted.
With cold hands jammed into our pockets, we huddle together on the cement walkway and wait, dreading the looming 10-hour drive back to Canada. Then, a fresh, cool breeze blows by us, carrying with it a group of about 20 who have just come from the sunrise ceremony for Leonard at 7 that morning. (Since our hotel room is in New Jersey, we'd passed.)
We follow the group as they walk purposefully to the north side of Union Square, which had been shielded from our view by a large grey building. Turning the corner, we discover a massive crowd ringed by 100 or more police. Members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) are broadcasting over a loudspeaker, and Mao-size likenesses of Peltier are everywhere, along with slogans denouncing the treatment of native Americans on the Pine Ridge Reservation and beyond by the FBI and the U.S. government.
AIM members announce to sign-carriers that any wood or metal pickets are to be relinquished to police, to be replaced by gentler cardboard ones. I'm more interested in this suggestion of violence than in the speeches that are going to be made by notables such as Alice Walker, author of The Colour Purple, and John Trudell, the well-known AIM activist.
Since the Aztec dancers have taken more time than had been allocated to them, the presentations are shortened to two minutes each. Impressed by the large demonstration of activism and support, but still mindful of the time, my friends and I are relieved that the march starts only a little behind schedule.
Thinking that the actual walk down the streets of New York would be an anticlimax after the speeches and the dancers, I'm not particularly looking forward to it.
As well, our group is bombarded by the inevitable multitude of other groups supposedly assembled for the sake of Leonard Peltier but spouting their own agendas. At the march, groups are protesting everything from the recent Florida Supreme Court ruling on the presidential election to the lack of green spaces in New York City.
An anarchist group, the Black Blacks, joins in near 23rd Street and Third Avenue. Dressed in black from head to foot, with black scarves hiding the lower half of their faces, and armed with megaphones, they begin chanting in the faces of police who form a wall around the protestors: "NYPD go away! Racist, fascist, anti-gay!" The guy with the megaphone is dragged away.
The cacophony of messages I had thought so uncomplimentary to one another end up becoming a concert of voices spanning 10 city blocks. For at least a few hours, Leonard is here with us, free.