PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 1 – The atmosphere was carnival-like along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday — nothing like the riotous scenes that flowed out of Seattle earlier this year during the World Trade Organization meeting. With the sight of burning tires giving way to the scent of burning incense, and with music, floats and people in costume replacing tear gas and smashed windows, several thousand marchers — who had a permit to rally — lined the street for what was billed as the largest protest rally to be held during the Republican National Convention.
With some chanting “Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! George Bush Has Got to Go!” and “Free Mumia,” the protesters attending UNITY 2000 marched from 16th Street and JFK Boulevard up the parkway to the Eakins Oval. They carried banners advocating about a litany of causes, including police brutality, welfare reforms, women’s rights and urban sprawl. They wore stickers and arm badges that proclaimed “Robin Hood was right” and “pro-choice.”
They were young and old, white and black, socialist and communist, Jewish and non-Jewish. All hoped to make a point.
Among those who participated was 21-year-old Lila Foldes. “My basic message is “regardless of race or class, a person is part of America — something neither party understands,” said Foldes. “I get my justification for this from Torah and the idea that we’re all created in G-d’s image.”
Elliott Tepperman, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who wore a sign that read “Rabbis for the revolution,” was promoting a similar message.
“The revolution,” he explained, “is in opposition to corporate greed and in favor of a free democratic society, concerned with compassion and meeting the needs of all of its citizens.”
A large number of protesters were calling for the release of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal and rallying against police brutality, including Sharon Eolis, a Jewish woman from New York.
“Prisons are concentration camps for the poor,” she said, adding that “[Mumia] is by definition a revolutionary.”
Abortion was also a big issue at the rally.
“Another pregnant rabbi for choice” was the message Yohanna Kinberg, now in her eighth month, displayed on her sign.
Kinberg, who is studying to be a rabbi at RRC, made her way up the parkway along with some other students from the seminary. She believes abortion rights are important as part of a struggle for religious liberty, she said.
Also, she argued, “As a Jew, our tradition teaches that the fetus is not a full human being till it’s born.”
Bernard Kadis of Upper Darby and his girlfriend, Judi Spiller, were among those who turned out to protest against abortion.
“I’m against abortion,” Kadis said. “They killed babies at Auschwitz.”
Added Spiller, “If [mothers] don’t want them, give [babies] to someone else.”
The main message: unityNearly 30 campers from Camp Galil, a Habonim Dror camp in Bucks County, also attended the rally. “People Before Profits,” read the group’s banner.
“I thinks it’s great we have the unity we have,” said Hannah Mermelstein, who was holding the banner with a campmate. “The main message is unity, that we all have separate messages but can come together.”
Said Elayne Blender, a member of the Germantown Jewish Centre, “We just want the representatives and the public to know we’re concerned about a lot of things, and that a lot of things need to be changed.”
“It isn’t so much [that] one individual voice is heard,” commented Michelle Marks, a member of Congregation Mishkan Shalom, “but that we’re sending a group message.”
Rosalind Spigel, area director of the Jewish Labor Committee, who attended the rally with her 3-year-old son, Jacob, said that while she didn’t agree with all the protesters and their messages, “I think each person has an obligation to express their own voice, but we can all have a bigger impact if we’re heard together.”