The past few days has seen events turn the Manhattan streets I walk into fascinating and ironice performance art. Now that doesn’t sound unusual, except for the fact that none of the events actually intended to be a work of art.
A few days ago, cycling protestors gathered outside our building to protest the recent clashes between protestors and pro-government forces in Oaxaca, Mexico. We were all a little mystified as to why they were outside our building, seeing as there isn’t any connection. It turns out someone of relevance was staying at the hotel across the road, plus they had scoped out the newly installed barriers aong our street and thought it would be the perfect place to permanently chain a “ghost bike” (a bicycle painted white to honour a fallen cyclist.) Both the NYPD and the UN security disagreed and the bike did not end up as a new addition.
Or take Thursday, which was a combination of dodging President Musharraf of Pakistan whose comings and going had us alternately shut in or out of our office; and then dodging a few thousand Hassidic Jewish protestors on the way home as they lined Second Avenue from 42nd to 47th street (see photo above).
I know what you’re thinking — but no, they weren’t there to protest Islamic fundamentalism, they were there in support of Musharraf and were protesting in front of the Israeli Consulate and Mission to the UN. This particular group agrees with Islamic fundamentalists that Israel should not exist… except as created by God himself.
It made for a wierd experience. For a few blocks I felt like I was definitely either in a different country, or on the set of an epic movie. The latter was particularly the case when the crowd would roar together. It was very impressive, it reminded me of films like Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings. (It was particularly amusing when one of the NYPD policemen decided I needed an escourted walk to get to the corner of 42nd street and Second Avenue. He instructed me to follow right behind him and proceeded pushing protestors out the way shouting, “Pregnant lady comin’ through!”)
But that wasn’t the end to the oddness of the week on the street. Today, Veteran’s Day, happened to take me over to Fifth Avenue for an errand. So of course I stopped to see some of the parade. Apart from being struck by how few spectators were out on what was a georgeous, sunny and warm day, I was struck by some of the oddities at this particular point in the parade.
Following various military groups and a local scout troop was a very professional 70-piece marching band. They proceeded towards where I was standing playing something jaunty and patriotic. When their banner carrying leaders came into view and I could read the banner I thought perhaps some people had illegally snuck onto the parade route in front of the band. But no, it was indeed the Falun Dafa brass band, who were followed by some 20 followers doing rapid fire versions of their tai chi-like physical routine (a little humourous considering it’s normally performed very slowly.)
Falun Dafa or Falun Gong is the source of some controversy. The movement is banned in mainland China and there are alleged reports of followers being tortured, brutalized and worse. (You can read more about it on the Wikipedia entry.) How this connects to honouring American veterans of foreign wars I’m not entirely sure.
But there was certainly a little consistency in this section of the parade, because immediately following the brass band were rows of Chinese women in bright yellow dance costumes and pink silk ribbons performing a traditional ribbon dance and a pair of dragons wove their way through their lines. And these were the veterans of???
Nope, these were the Taiwanese protestors raising awareness about their cause — that Taiwan is not recognized as an independent nation and that China is. (A food overview of this dispute is provide on this Wikipedia entry.)
Ultimately though, what I liked about my wierd week of inadvertent street theatre, is that these experiences highlighted what is so valuable in a democratic environment — that people are free and able to express their points of view.