Republican National Convention August-September 2004
photos by Kyle Cassidy
It started out with me nearly getting arrested. I'd been hired by Silicon Alley, a New York Internet radio station (on the air since 1999) to photograph the Republican National Convention. Silicon Alley is primarily focused on technology so they were interested in what the Republicans are going to do for the technology industry. I was on "radio row" on the third floor of Madison Square Garden -- Imagine a bunch of booths lined up along walls, each with a talk radio host in it screaming into a microphone. It's sort of like that. (I was between Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy) Now, drop into this room a random list of political celeberties who walk from booth to booth being interviewed. Radio producers wander down the halls, looking for people who will add life to their show, then drag them over to their booth. I ran around with a camera and photographed this. The delegates arrive around 6:00 and I trundle out to the floor to photograph people in silly hats and the speakers, most of the crew from Silicon Alley took that time to edit interviews and file stories. Between the morning when everybody shows up and the evening when the convention starts, there's a lot of dead time, it was dead on Tuesday so Susan, the reporter I was working with, and I decided to go find some delegates on the street and interview them. We figured the place to find them would be Ground Zero. So we jumped on a train. Down at the WTC site we didn't find any delegates, at least none wearing their credentials, but we found a few anti-bush people milling about. So Susan interviewed the Iraqi Veterans Against The War and a few other people. We spotted a guy carrying a big sign that said "VOTE FOR RALPH NADER" we weren't sure if he was a Republican or a Nader supporter. So we went over and started talking to him. He told us he was about to start marching, but we could walk along and talk with him. So we did. As we crossed Church street (the first 50 steps of the march), a policeman with a bull horn announced "This march does not have a permit. If you break any New York traffic laws, you will be subject to arrest."
We were about 1/2 way down the block when bicycle cops pulled up along side us and blocked our way. An officer in a white shirt ran past in the street shouting "Everybody on this block is under arrest, they're all under arrest!"
Here's a link to susan's audio file, from the time she started the interview as the march began to the time we were told we were under arrest is 58 seconds. You'll hear my voice in there, confused at first, thinking that they meant that there were people behind us j-walking who had been arrested, later we discovered that wasn't what they meant, they meant that everybody was under arrest. We had no idea we were doing anything illegal, so we assumed it was people behind us. That night we discovered the arrests weren't for j-walking but for walking on the sidewalk more than 2 abreast.
One of the marchers tried to work out a solution with the police, but it was clear they were having none of it.
"I don't know what we're being arrested for. Tell us what you want us to do, and we'll do it," he said. The police didn't say anything.<
Great. I'd been in New York eight hours and was already being detained. I figured I was going to spend the next week in jail in nyc, which is not what I wanted. As far as I could tell, nobody had done anything illegal. Susan came up to where I was standing and I asked another cop the same question. Susan waved our press credentials, he looked around for someone to ask, apparently there was nobody. Finally after about 10 minutes, he let us go, moving his bike back about a foot he said "go ahead." We hurried across the street where the rest of the media was gathered.
There were some ordinary bystanders on our side of the street, after about 10 minutes, the police cleared out everyone without a press pass.
The first batch of people handcuffed and taken away looked more like a bridge club at an AARP meeting than they did dangerous law breakers. They were mostly people in their 50's and 60's, all in all, a very unthreatening bunch.
A group of protesters started chanting "We are peaceful. Let us disburse." But it didn't work.
After being cuffed, searched, and photographed, protesters were put into vans and NYPD busses and taken away. The official reason for arrest were disorderly conduct and walking more than 2 abreast on the sidewalk.
One protester didn't go quietly. He loudly lambasted the media for standing there and doing nothing.
After Tuesday's scare, I figured I'd play it safe. Ran into Helen Thomas in the press cafeteria (the right place to run into the "first lady of the press".) Her spirited, relentless questioning of presidents has been a rite of passage in the white house for nearly sixty years. Lately, she's moved from UPI to Hearst and doesn't get to ask as many questions.
Leaving the cafeteria and heading back to Radio Row, we bumped into Pat Buchannan, Susan got a brief interview. Buchannan was spot on, articulate, in charge of his rhetoric, to the point. The man knows how to drop a sound bite in your lap.
We talked to a couple of delegates from Wisconsin.
And then Charlie Rangal came in. After the "Purple Heart Band-Aid" story broke, the Democrats sent Rangal (a Purple Heart winner in his own right) over to run interference.
Fox News' Sean Hannity, stalked by the Texas delegation looking for autographs.
Helena came up from N.J. for part of the afternoon.
After Tuesday's near arrest, we decide to play it safe and we go to the art-installation protest run by the quakers. Elizabeth Enloe put it together. It's a thousand pairs of boots, each representing an American soldier killed in the war. Susan interviews her, I pose her with some boots and while I'm shooting, I realize that she really doesn't look at this as a pair of boots, she sees a dead soldier, there is so much sadness in her voice that I find myself very moved, I mentally slap myself for being so callous, for only thinking of getting the photograph and getting back to the convention to file. She makes me realize that somewhere in America the family of Army Specialist Robert R. Arsiaga, age 25 from Midland Texas doesn't have a son anymore. Later I look him up. He was killed when his unit was attacked by by RPG and small arms fire on April 4th, 2004, in Baghdad. He'd just gotten married and planned to leave the Army the previous August, but the date was pushed back after he was sent to Iraq. Elizabeth sees all of these stories, I had only been seeing shoes. Like the Ancient Mariner, I leave a sadder and wiser man. These are his boots. Goodbye and thank you Specialist Arsiaga, I wish I had the chance to know you.
Back at the ranch, Tim Russert gabs it up with Mary Maitlan and Air America's Al Franken.
Trent Lott walked in with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
You really never know who's going to be around the next turn. This time it was Guardian Angel's founder Curtis Silwa. When does "no government" become "private government"?
Back on the convention floor, I looked up and thought to myself "Who the heck are these scruffy cowboys and how did they get past security?" Then I realized they must be Brooks and Dunn. Time proved that they were.
Boxing promoter Don King was the apple
of many a person's
The big day. Played it close to home, I didn't want to get arrested at a hot-dog stand and miss photographing the President. The floor pass I had was only good for 30 minutes at a time. Originally I thought I'd get 30 minutes of the President's speech and I'd live with it. Sometime during the day though, the rumor started that the Secret Service was going to lock down the whole building at some point -- nobody in or out of whatever room they were in. I definitely did not want to be in a room other than the convention floor. Without a photograph of the President, my whole deal here becomes mostly pointless. So I concoct a plan to get on the floor as early as possible and just keep renewing my floor pass until the lockdown, hopefully when that happens, I'll be inside rather than outside.
I get to Radio Row and drop off most of my stuff with Susan. Pause briefly to photograph Don King giving an interview.
And on my way out, notice that Ann Coulter is sitting next to Newt Gingrich, can't miss that one.....
At 9:00 I'm headed back to renew my floor pass when a bunch of Secret Service come up the stairs. "Nobody can leave." "Is this the lockdown?" I ask. "Nobody can leave." Is all they'll say.
Time for me to find a spot and plant myself for the rest of the night. I do this between Florida and New York, about six rows back from the front where the people with the permanent floor passes (AP, Time, Newsweek, etc) have been sitting since two. I make friends with the guys sitting next to me. We wait. John McCain comes in, there's some cheering, but some delegates told me the night before nobody really likes John McCain, they think he's a Democrat. The Democrats all tell me they think McCain's a right wing zealot, but they respect his war service.
There are some speeches, I don't use up many frames. I'm only here for one thing. We're packed in like sardines. The space normally taken up by a single person here houses three. I'm under a guy from the AP and a little above a freelancer from South Carolina, my camera is nearly resting on his head. When I look up, all I see are more people above me.
At around 10:00 is the beginning of the end -- N.Y. Governor George Pataki introduces President Bush. The delegates go wild. The moment we've all been waiting for. Click.
He doesn't really move much during the speech, and from where I am, his head is about 20% blocked by a smoked grey teleprompter. Every time he leans back, I fire off a frame. At the end of the speech, there's a cacophony of cheering, the delegate from Florida on my left starts crying, he leaps to his feet, beating his hands together like he's trying to put out a fire. Dick Cheney comes out, the crowd goes nuts again. Then the wives, everybody's on their feet, I'm getting most of my shots now, the confetti, the balloon drop is more than I was expecting, they just keep coming, they're piled two feet deep in the isle, I keep tripping on them trying to move, but there are so many people I can't fall over.
After they leave, I make my way back down into the bowels of Madison Square Garden, balloons have fallen down the stairs and are everywhere. In the digital darkroom all the photographers are filing their pictures, getting them out to their publications.
Afterwards Susan and Helena and I go to a lame Delegate party where we have some $17 martini's and see Wolf Blitzer. Then I go home.
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