By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Not 100 yards into their march a call goes up for everyone to retreat back to HQ. It's a false start. "I don't know whether we're coming or going," says the officer already confused by the signs.
About 15 minutes later, Alfia shouts to the flock.
"Protest Warriors, are you ready to march?!" They cheer, sounding louder than their small numbers.
"These freedom-haters think they can come here and spit on the Statue of Liberty," Lipton yells. "They're going to be taught an important lesson. They have to come through us first."
"Protest Warriors," Alfia hollers. "Let's roll!"
For several blocks, the Warriors march and chant, with the curious and the furious trying to pass by without getting trampled. Some passers-by mutter insults, a few scream their support, most couldn't give a shit.
The Warriors' chants of "John effin' Kerry, no effin' way!" and "Four more years!" die as quickly as they start. At one intersection, one of the younger Warriors, who looks younger than 18 but doesn't offer up his age, yells, "Hey, Communist shit-heel!" He's asked to whom he was directing the comment.
"I'm just throwing epithets around hoping they stick," he says. "There are enough pinkos around."
After about 20 minutes, the group arrives at its destination: 24th Street and Seventh Avenue, the location of Whole Foods' Manhattan outpost. The Warriors are greeted by the sound of bongos and Clash songs and anti-Bush chants and the sight of tie-dyed peaceniks dancing in the streets (standing, actually, considering the parade's moving at a snail's pace).
A banner hangs over the Whole Foods sign: "MY BUSH SMELLS LIKE SHIT."
Here, the Warriors believe their police escorts will insert them into the demonstration. Instead, the officers keep the Warriors about 30 yards away from the protest. They're dead in the water. To Lipton, it appears as though Selover's offer to protect the Warriors was a ruse to muzzle them.
"I'm really hoping the NYPD will let us right on top of them," he says, his voice rising and cracking as he sees the marchers pass them by. "I mean, c'mon, let us at them. Why are they holding us back here?"
I suggest it's for their protection.
"No, it's for their protection," Lipton says, angry now. "We have the right to protest them. I don't know why they wanna set up all these barricades. It's ridiculous."
Some of the anti-Bush protesters begin to notice the Warriors; they see their signs and believe, for a moment, they're on their side but being kept out of the march. Some scream at the cops to let them in; others stand and squint, trying to figure out just who the hell they are. Once they figure it out, they stop and smile, more amused than anything else. For a while, it's no more heated than the exchange of shouted slogans:
"Four more years! Four more years!"
"No more years! No more years!"
The Protest Warriors get what they came for. Suddenly, media mikes are being shoved into their faces, as reporters are happy to find a different angle to what's quickly becoming a dull story. They will make the nightly news in New York City and grab a little ink in cyberspace and newspapers.
Standing in the gap between them, you can almost feel the hate radiating from both groups. This tiny area feels like a gaping canyon neither group's willing to jump over or crawl through. Both sides insist they welcome debate, but all they do is shout at each other. The preachers will not be converted.
Finally, the Warriors have had enough of being penned up. Alfia, Lipton and Paladino order them to disperse and head farther up the protest to infiltrate the anti-Bush throng. Rob Garcia, a former Army medic who returned from Iraq in April, leads one of the groups. He's dressed in his khaki camouflage gear, with a black beret; he carries his medical gear in a black bag over his shoulder, just in case, God forbid.
An older gentleman wearing a "When Clinton lied, no one died" button sees them and smiles. "I think their signs are meaningless, hilarious. They don't confuse me. They're trivial." He laughs. "It's like a dog barking at the moon and the moon could give a shit." But then boos begin, the chants of "Fuck you! Get out of our march! Get off our streets!" Just like that it gets ugly.