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OVERVIEW: Do we have a duty to protest? Is what happened last night a symbol of the greatness of America when hundreds of bicyclists were arrested for defying government? Were their acts a symbol of Vigilance or Terrorism? How do you measure the validity of a protest's worth versus the lack of it? Find out how to be a Protestor of Vigilance. (See picture montage below of protestors and police)

GROUND ZERO PLUS 1084 DAYS--New York, NY, Saturday, August 28, 2004--My neighborhood became a clash last night between police and protestors. It ended up with billy clubs, handcuffs, jeers, cheers and more than 100 arrests just a few feet from my doorstep.

I was in the middle of it all, shoving my camera into the faces of young protestors being bulldogged to the pavement on 2nd Ave and 10th Street in the East Village by angry police, some in riot gear.

Last night police and protestors clashed practically at my doorstep
Last night police and protestors clashed practically at my doorstep

They were the least of Terrorists, these young people. They were bicyclists - most of them members of the Critical Mass bike club that meets on the last Friday of every to ride through the city's streets.. Earlier, about six to eight thousand of them rode their bikes throughout the island of Manhattan, many bearing the signs--"Bicycles against the oil wars."

It started off quiet and reserved and included police escorts as the legion of cyclists jammed traffic in a long serpentine mobile body that embossed its opposition to the war, to the Republican convention, and to most institutions charged with the protection of civil rights.

Of course, the majority of these cyclists believe the "monsters" are in office, and that by voting in a "new monster" that the "monster" will evaporate. They forget that "power corrupts" and that whatever flows from a politician's mouth to garner votes morphs suddenly in the sunlight of reality and compromise, elements fundamental to political leadership.

The bicycle protest started off friendly, quiet and reserved
The bicycle protest started off friendly, quiet and reserved

Having at least a generation of experience over the cyclists, I held a slightly different view of their protest. Instead of seeing it as a need for change, I considered it an example of the right to protest regardless of the outcome.

Then things turned ugly.

St Mark's-in-the-Bowery Church
St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery Church
was built on the farm of Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1660 and later destroyed. This replacement was erected in 1799 and is one of the oldest churches in the city. Still an active parish, the elegant wood and stone building is also used as a cultural center.

The group assembled at a famous church in the East Village, St. Mark's On The Bowery,known for its historic rallying for a variety of causes that reaches back into the well of New York History. Immigrants and abolutionists used its sacred halls to voice dissent against the oppression of the world. Now, it stands as a symbol, an icon of modern dissent, a sanctuary where politics and religion become united in favor of the underdog.

My wife and I were crossing the street to our favorite deli to get ice cream that was on sale--two pints for nearly the price of one--a deal no one in their right mind could turn down - even on a diet!

The cyclists appeared in mass, clogging the streets. Earlier, I had taken pictures of them at the start of the rally by Union Square with police escorts assuring the orderly flow of their traverse through the city.

Now, they were without police escorts, a self-governed mass of wheels and spokes and shouts and cheers unmuffled by government herding. All went well until they began to raise their bikes over their heads in defiance. They had "taken over the streets," stopped all traffice on 2nd Avenue, a main artery leading from Uptown to Downtown, and a sure reason for a flood of police to soon appear on the scene to disband the group.

The cyclists took over the streets and stopped traffic
The cyclists took over the streets and stopped traffic

My wife informed me she wasn't going to stay very long because she isn't as eager to watch protests in action as I am and is not impressed by protestors defying police and order. I am my camera in these situations, and see with an infinite eye.

I like to shove my camera into the faces of dissent and preserve it as a tribute to America's power and strength as a nation of free people, even when I disagree with its message or recoil politically from its message.

The right to oppose is more fundamental I believe than the reason, for anyone can pervert the reason for or against their particular views, but the right to oppose is pure. It exists a priori to any banner or label one might affix to the chanting, jeering voices of the dissent.That's what I sought with my camera--the price of dissent.

I sought the price of dissent - with my camera
I sought the price of dissent - with my camera

In a way, I look at dissent as an Act of Vigilance against the Beast of Political Terrorism.

Whether it is a grand protest against a major political party, or a simple protest by a person on a street against someone using harsh or obscene words against a child, the idea of "free expression" means that we all have a "duty" to stand up for what we believe is "right" even if it may be considered "wrong."

Winston Churchill said it best: "Stand for Something Or Be Nothing!"

He didn't quantify what to stand for, or grade it. He knew that Complacency was the nest of Terrorism, for when someone is so Terrorized as to not speak out his or her beliefs then that person becomes a slave to the Beast of Fear and Intimidation. He or she becomes the nail and the world is the hammer.

The employee at work who sees wrongs being done and elects to not speak out against them so he or she doesn't "rock the boat" becomes a conspirator of that crime through Complacency. Ducking and weaving to avoid the front line results in a cowardly attitude that a child watching or listening soon learns is the "safe way" to live life.

But in the end, learning to become Complacent and not stand up for yourself results is a crippling of human character, a thirst to depend on others for your elan vital, a softening of human marrow so that standing on your own two feet requires crutches.

Last night, even though I did not agree with the protestors' messages, I did agree with their right to dissent. Even those who were arrested I felt a kinship with them, for if they were protesting their "rights" and ended up face down on the pavement with two cop's knees in their backs wrenching the plastic handcuffs so tight their wrists swelled, then that price of dissent was worth the pain and anguish.

Of course, if they were protesting nothing more than the anger of the moment, then there isn't much to say for those who have no real reason to stand up to authority. But, for the most part, those arrested were challenging the authority of the police to deny them the right to assemble, even when that assembly blocked traffic and clogged streets.

In the sky, police helicopters were aided by cameras in a blimp
In the sky, police helicopters were aided by cameras in a blimp

Then the bottles were thrown.

Hidden in the safety of the crowds watching, some started throwing full water bottles at the police--attacking them in a sneaky, silent way. That was a violation of Free Speech, for they weren't willing to pay the price of dissent. They were true "Terrorists" who incite and run, anonymous "snipers" in the faceless crowds, emotional arsonists trying to enflame the situation.

It worked.

The police became more aggressive until the street was filled with handcuffed protestors who challenged the police's right to disassemble them.

After I was shoved seven times by the police for taking pictures (I kept moving in closer to get close ups) I decided to leave. I was reaching the point where I was about to challenge authority and claim my rights to record the event--which would have led me to a night in jail.

And, I had my ice cream waiting for me.

Winston Churchill said "Stand For Something Or Be Nothing"
Winston Churchill said "Stand For Something Or Be Nothing"

I didn't feel uncomfortable leaving. I knew my job had been done. I was recording the Act of Protest Vigilance, and while not in agreement with it, I respected it.

I also respected the right of the police to maintain order. For the most part, they were not as violent as they could have been.

I didn't see any clubbings and no one took a machine gun and fired it point-blank into the crowd as might have happened in a third-world country.

But the crowd's chant balanced a lot of that: "The Whole World's Watching! The Whole World's Watching!"

That, I believe is the key to it all. The "whole world is watching," and that's good. When the American citizens can dissent anything at anytime, including their own government, and do it in as peaceful a manner as possible, it sends a giant message to the Beast of Terror that American people will not run and hide from fundamental beliefs.

The crowd chanted "The Whole World's Watching"
The crowd chanted "The Whole World's Watching"

Terrorism seeks to make people Fearful, Intimidated and most of all Complacent. There is no Complacency in New York City. The people here are taking on the world's strongest of all authorities--democracy--and putting its feet to the fire.

Young, old, smart, stupid, angry, happy--a whole matrix of people are rising up by the tens of thousands to express to the world that America's democratic system is not what happens inside Madison Square Garden at the Republican Convention, but what happens out on the streets through the message of the protestors.

When a nation can stand belly to belly with its government in dissent, and risk arrest and confinement for such actions, then these are acts of Political Vigilance.

The Beast of Terror has won when the right to protest has been constrained
The Beast of Terror has won when the right to protest has been constrained

They inform our children and our Children's Children's Children that the right to protest is the reason, the grass roots of democracy. When that right disappears, the Beast of Terror has won.

So, I believe the protestors are Sentinels of Vigilance. They tell my grandchildren you can and should, as Mr. Churchill said: "Stand for Something or Be Nothing."

If you are really a protestor, you should take the Pledge of Vigilance. Nothing is more important than dissenting against Fear, Intimidation and Complacency - in a peaceful, non-violent manner.

Be a true Sentinel of Vigilance--protest today--for Vigilance!

Protestors vs Police: Terrorism vs Vigilance - or Vigilance vs Terrorism???

Protestors vs Police: Terrorism vs Vigilance - or Vigilance vs Terrorism???

Go To Yesterday's Story: "Walking With The Protestors Of Nothing"


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