The stage was precariously set within two blocks of Madison Square Garden, the home of the RNC this week in New York City. The "Still We Rise" rally on 31st and 8th Avenue yesterday was protected by metal barriers, enough riot police for a English soccer match, and street checks that had me walking the perimeter of the no-traffic zone for about 20 blocks. Each time I asked how I could enter to hear this free midday concert I was given new directions. Go here, go there. The lack of clarity and fear that is running around this city is insane. If I was not so perseverant, I would have just walked out in frustration.
I finally arrive, the place has around 2,000 others who braved the maze to get in. Police cameras are covering the crowd. We are about 150 feet from the stage due to the security. Steven Colbert from the Daily Show is there! It's Monday afternoon, the place is about 90 degrees. The people this gathering is for are most likely at work struggling to survive. Speakers are bringing the messages of immigration reform, wages, poverty, education underfunding, racism, classism, street vendor harrassment, and many more issues facing everyday people. It's stories like these that get lost in the chaos.
The succession of speeches is capped off by artists Saul Williams and Michael Franti, each giving an impassioned performance reflecting on how they feel about what's going on. Saul launched into his "Not In Our Name Pledge Of Resistance", a rapid fire spoken assault aimed squarely at the Bush agenda. When coming to his closing line, "Another world is possible and we pledge to make it real!", he stopped and pointed out that, although he was facing us out of respect, it was the delegates in the Garden he was really addressing. Next up was Michael Franti of Spearhead fame. He has a booming voice and a natural storyteller vibe to him. He was riffing from song to song, adding guitar and clapping for certain segments, when he brought it down low for a story about his trip to Baghdad a few months earlier. It's at these moments when rhetoric flies out the window. Here's a guy who went and saw firsthand what the troops and Iraqis are going through. He was not preaching, not saying he was right, but rather illuminating how complex the situation is and how varying the attitudes are. This enlightened tone was really inspiring. Asking questions and listening to answers, how simple yet how distant it seemed for some.
The day day drew to a close, free food was offered, and thanks was given for all those involved. A real sense of community was there, albeit wrapped in police paranoia. Do yourself a favor, go out and see these guys if you can. Even if it takes 45 minutes and about ten secuity checks to get there, it's worth the time.