New York, NY — Bearing flag-draped boxes resembling coffins and fly-swatters with President Bush's image, more than 100,000 protesters peacefully swarmed Manhattan's streets on the eve of the Republican National Convention to demand that President Bush be turned out of office.
Among the protesters were 47 Minnesotans, who spent most of Saturday and most of early Sunday on a bus they chartered. Sabry Wazwaz of Brooklyn Park led the Minnesota contingent, using a bullhorn to lead it and hundreds of other nearby protesters in several call-and-return chants aimed at President George W. Bush, American policy toward Palestinians and corporate America.
Meredith Aby of Minneapolis said the march demonstrated that the anti-war movement is far larger than political leaders acknowledge.
"They act like people in this country want to stay the course and support the war in Iraq, but the fact of the matter is, is that you look at these signs, almost all of these signs are about the administration's policy of war in Iraq, and war policies around the world," Aby said.
Aby and other Minnesotans who marched in New York said they want to make sure their voice was heard before Republicans begin their convention. They're critical of George W. Bush and Democrat John Kerry for supporting the war in Iraq.
Anh Pham of Minneapolis said the march will energize the anti-war movement to keep the pressure on both candidates before the November election.
"I think more and more people are going to be asking some of the questions about what are the issues that each of the candidates are speaking to, and they're going to scrutinize, definitely, I think both of the candidates much more closely." The group arrived in the city around 9 a.m., and then began the march at 11, stepping off with enthusiasm down 7th Avenue. But a block later, the march stalled as groups filling cross-streets, merged onto the avenue, creating human gridlock. Little progress on the march was made for an hour, and by the end of the march, the sun and heat had taken some of the enthusiasm out of the crowd.
Flanked by police, the protesters moved through the fortified city, loudly and exuberantly chanting slogans such as "No more years." They accused the Bush White House of prosecuting an unjust war in Iraq, making the country poorer and undermining abortion rights.
There were no reports of major violence and about 100 scattered arrests.
Most Minnesota delegates to the convention were not impressed.
"It's amazing how no one wants to talk about Saddam Hussein and the million people that he butchered that were neighbors of his in two different countries, Iran and Kuwait, and the hundreds of thousands of his own people that he murdered. They mean nothing to those protesters," said Joe Repya of Eagan.
Repya says he's convinced Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
"The war is justified in my mind because 9/11 changed the dynamics of the world, and we can no longer wait to be attacked, especially if you have rogue nations that are willing to give weapons of mass destruction to extreme fanatics that will go and use them on innocent people. We must strike and be pre-emptive in our strike," he said. Repya will lead the convention in the Pledge of Allegiance Monday evening.
Police gave no official crowd estimate, though one law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, put the crowd at 120,000; organizers claimed it was roughly 400,000.
The march snaked in a circular route around midtown Manhattan, shutting down dozens of blocks and bringing out hordes of police in a city already girded against terrorist attacks. Overhead, a blimp carrying police officials monitored the march.
At its height, the march filled much of the route, forming an enormous horseshoe of dissent in the heart of an overwhelmingly Democratic city.
"They chose New York, where they're universally hated," said writer Laurie Russo, 41, of the New York borough of Queens. "They should have gone somewhere they're more welcome. They exploited 9-11 by having it in New York at this time."
In the largest set of arrests, some 50 protesters on bicycles who stopped near the parade route were carted away in an off-duty city bus. Also, 10 people were arrested after someone set a paper dragon float afire near Madison Square Garden, site of the convention, and nine demonstrators tried to prevent the arrest, authorities said. The nine were charged with assault.
"There's been a few minor arrests," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. "It has been peaceful."
Residents leaned from windows along the demonstration route to shout their support. Scattered opposition was visible only around Madison Square Garden, where the GOP convention opens Monday. Some early convention arrivals looked across police lines as demonstrators jeered them, shouting: "Go home!"
"I hope this shows the world that they're not alone in their hatred of George Bush," said Alan Zelenki of Eugene, Ore., who planned for three months to attend this week's protests.
The causes varied as much as the people shouting support: immigrants' rights, gay rights, universal health care, the Palestinian cause, an end to the killing in Sudan. Tracy Blevins, a biomedical researcher who recently left New York for Houston, dyed her Maltese pink and carried the little dog in a baby pouch to advocate peace.
Some demonstrators batted around a 6-foot-wide inflatable globe. "Dump Junior now," said one sign. Another echoed Democratic nominee John Kerry's Vietnam-era remark: "How do you ask a soldier to be the last person to die for a lie?"
"It's to show the rest of the country that we're against the Republicans, and the rest of the world that George Bush doesn't represent everybody," said Mike Markel, 54, of the New York City suburb of Westchester.
The protest organizers, United for Peace and Justice, had sued unsuccessfully to force the city to allow a rally in Central Park. City officials said such a rally would damage lawns.
Earlier, "Fahrenheit 9-11" director Michael Moore told demonstrators that "the majority of this country opposes the war."
The majority never voted for the Bush administration," he said, "and the majority are here to say, `It's time to have our country back in our hands."'
The protest followed several days of demonstrations throughout the city staged by an array of groups.
The most rancorous was Friday, when 264 people were arrested for disorderly conduct in a bicycle ride that snaked through the city and passed by Madison Square Garden.
The Associated Press contributed significant national material to this report.