NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- Their signs read, "Bush lied and thousands died" or simply, "Had enough?"
They sang out, "This is what democracy looks like!"
Young couples carried infants in baby carriers. People reminisced about their days protesting the Vietnam War. Many glistened with perspiration under a sweltering August sun.
The throngs of New Yorkers and others who marched slowly yesterday through the streets of Manhattan staged a passionate and peaceful display of raw anger at President Bush and the war in Iraq. They were at their loudest and most expressive as they passed within steps of the arena where Republicans will convene their convention today and where the president will make his pitch for a second term.
"This is the most important election in my life, and I'm 72 years old," said Betty Trentlyon, who lives in the city and was making her way up Seventh Avenue. "If this guy wins again, we're done. They'll get control of the Supreme Court. He'll figure he has a mandate. The right wing will turn this country over to rich people. If he wins, I'm moving to Canada -- I mean, if I can convince my husband."
As organizers had promised, the demonstrations were violence-free, save for a few fistfights among marchers. For the most part, city police officers stood guard but had little to do, finding shade under the awnings at Chinese restaurants or jewelry stores as they watched the crowds move along.
Beyond general Bush bashing, there seemed to be no single message from the protesters.
People railed against the conflict in Iraq and said U.S. troops should come home. They accused Bush of gutting environmental regulations that protect people from pollution. They complained about his idea to amend the Social Security program, to allow Americans for the first time to invest portions of their contributions in the stock market.
"He and his cohorts are hell-bent on wiping out everything from the Roosevelt era," said Artie Piecoro, a retiree who said he fears he might not be able to depend on his Social Security checks if Bush has his way. (The White House says that current retirees won't be affected by any changes.)
"I just like to know that every month, Uncle Sam is gonna put his arms around me and give me that check," Piecoro said. "I put the money in there, and now I'm getting it."
Piecoro, who retired after years of working the docks in Brooklyn, had this to say about the president's policy of considering pre-emptive attacks on nations he believes are imminent threats to America: "Look, if I thought a guy was gonna hit me, so I hit him first, I'd be a real mob guy, now wouldn't I? You get hit, you hit back. That's the way our democracy has always done it."
Fruzsina Molnar, a 21-year-old Hungarian who just graduated from Hunter College in New York, complained that Bush has poisoned America's image in the world and damaged relations with other countries.
"This is just the worst time for that," she said. "So much is going on now. The European Union growing up, we have conflicts in the Middle East, and in Africa. We need a strong world coalition."
At times, protesters disagreed over how disruptive to be. There was talk about whether to jump over police barricades separating the street from the sidewalk. Some recalled doing that at protests against the Vietnam War without consequence. Others cautioned that it might anger police, who could start waving their batons, inciting protesters and leading to violence.
Even though the demonstrators were barred from Central Park, some said they would head there in the afternoon -- officially, just for a picnic or an ice cream. They said that giving in to city officials, who feared that protests would damage grass in the park, would enable the government to violate constitutional protections of free speech.
And anyway, some protesters wondered aloud, how could the city permit 750,000 people to attend a Paul Simon concert several years ago in Central Park if the grass there is so fragile?
Even with the lack of violence, there was a fortified feel to New York. Sirens blared. Police stood everywhere. Helicopters hovered noisily above the streets.
At one point, a blimp passed in front of the sun, causing the streets to darken for a few seconds. Protesters accused Bush of stealing their sun.
Jennifer Rochon, a New York lawyer, stood with her 7-month-old daughter, Paley. If Bush wins another term, she said, she would worry about Paley's future. The president, Rochon asserted, has over-stretched the military. And maybe there are gathering threats around the world that are being overlooked.
"He's just done nothing good in 3 1/2 years," she said.
Finally, in the competition for catchiest banners:
"Stop Mad Cowboy Disease."
"Draft the Bush twins."
"Reveillez-vous Republicains. Bush est un menteur." (Translation: Wake up Republicans, Bush is a liar."
"Bring back the hegemonists so I can have someone rational to protest against."