While George Bush’s handlers are vetting every word spoken at the convention, it’s on the street—among the counter-protesters—that the unfiltered rhetoric of GOP activists can be heard.
Originally published in the online edition of Mother Jones.
IT’S ONLY 11 O’CLOCK SUNDAY MORNING, but already the crowds are growing thick across the street from New York’s Pennsylvania Station, waiting for the 500,000-strong United for Peace and Justice March to pass near the site of the Republican National Convention. It’s humid beyond belief. “Are they coming?” one woman asks, craning her neck up Seventh Avenue. “You ought to smell them coming,” says her companion, chuckling.
This is not exactly a peacenik-friendly crowd. Wearing T-shirts with messages like “Intolerance is a beautiful thing,” they’ve got their placards and chants in place, ready to show their support for President Bush and particularly his war in Iraq.
“Four more years! Four more years!” The chant works its way from cluster to cluster, shifting occasionally from English to Spanish. “¡Cuatro años más!” cries 32-year-old Kirsys Vasquez, the production manager for an interior designer and a self-described “Dominican for Bush.” A lifelong Democrat, Vasquez voted for Al Gore four years ago—and now, she says, “I hate myself” for that vote. The political conversion came while she was pregnant.
Urged by some coworkers to consider abortion, Vasquez viewed some graphic pro-life literature, which led her to decide it was immoral to terminate a pregnancy. The rest of her political beliefs followed suit, she says, realigning along the Republican axis—and after Sept. 11, she became an ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq. “If Al Gore was president, we’d have been bombed every week,” she says. “The Democrats—they’re not right to fight this war.”
The real scene-stealer on this corner, though, is Jon Alvarez, membership coordinator of the Onondaga County Young Republicans in Syracuse, N.Y.. A 38-year-old salesman with a stylish goatee, he had left his house late Saturday, then drove through the night, arriving in New York City at 6 a.m. to show his support for the president.
Rank-and-file activists like Alvarez offer a more transparent window into the Republican Party than the parade of moderates that will address the delegates inside Madison Square Garden this week. While George Bush’s handlers might be vetting every word spoken at the convention, Alvarez and others like him feel no such restrictions. It’s here on the street—not inside the arena—that the unfiltered rhetoric of GOP activists can be heard.
“Liberals provide aid and comfort to our enemy with their words, their hatred,” says Alvarez, who runs a pro-Bush web site that calls for a boycott of “anti-American Hollywood.” Politically apathetic till Sept. 11, he has become a minor Republican celebrity since, calling for Michael Moore to stand trial for treason and lumping the ACLU in with Iran and North Korea as the Axis of Evil. Today, on Seventh Avenue, he’s waving a hand-lettered sign declaring, “Bush Must Win,” and telling anyone who will listen how much the GOP’s critics anger him.
“What they’ve done—if you look at their shirts and slogans—they have an alliance with the liberal media to ram home the message that President Bush is a liar,” Alvarez says. “What did Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist, say? ‘If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.'”
“Some of [these protestors] are the radical malcontents of society,” he continues. “You’ve got the communists. You’ve got the socialists. You’ve got the feminazis. Of course you’ve got the homosexuals. They’re all having a bonding experience. I don’t think some of these people have jobs. Who would employ these people?”
Alvarez by now is shouting, and catches the attention of 31-year-old Dennis Stancavish, a protestor from Jersey City, N.J. “I’m a medical writer,” Stancavish offers in response. Alvarez doesn’t miss a beat. He turns to his new nemesis and responds, “Well, I have a feeling most of the people in the streets are unemployed or unemployable,” he says, then pauses. “Or work in bookstores, coffee shops, things like that. Their message of hate has to be stopped.” Alvarez talks about peace protestors who have compared the invasion of Iraq to Germany’s behavior during World War II. “To trivialize the horror of the Holocaust by comparing the president to Hitler…” he begins, but is then interrupted by Sean O’Brien, a veteran who opposes the war.
“You, sir, used the term feminazi,” O’Brien says.
“I didn’t say Nazi,” Alvarez says. “I said feminazi. It’s a term that’s pretty much accepted in mainstream America.” The two men get into a sparring match, but their words are drowned out by the Bush supporters’ chant: “¡Cuatro años más! ¡Cuatro años más!”
More from the 2004 Republican National Convention
The Political Fortunes of the Radical Right
Acting Up With the Young Republicans