Some had duct tape on their mouths. Some held signs bearing messages about the First Amendment. All were there to assert what not long ago seemed obvious—that the U.S. press is not an “enemy of the American people,” as the president tweeted recently, but a gift from the Founding Fathers to be a check against power and a bulwark against the temptation to tyranny. A friend of the people, actually.
About 100 people quietly gathered outside a building in Midtown Manhattan on a chilly and windy Sunday morning, and more kept coming. A man from London stopped and asked one of the NYPD officers standing guard what the significance of the building was. The officer replied, “It’s The New York Times.”
After the Times, CNN, and BBC were barred from a White House press conference on February 24, one of the many activist groups that have sprung up in New York City since the election felt the need to take immediate action. #GetOrganizedBK, based in Brooklyn, decided to show up two days later in support of a free press and the First Amendment. Given the duct tape, the crowd was relatively quiet for a protest gathering.
One of the organizers, Jennifer Friedlin, said that members of the group weren’t sure what kind of turnout they were going to get. But the crowd grew steadily and by noon there were roughly 200 people gathered. To keep the blood flowing in the 30-degree weather, the group decided to march to Fox News to “give them a little taste of this,” Friedlin told the crowd, while gesturing to her own protest sign. “We support them too,” she added.
As the march began, so too did the chants. A group of three children—all under 12—were happy to start: “Show me what democracy looks like!” The marchers were then treated to some warmth from the sun as they turned from 42nd Street onto the west side of Avenue of the Americas.
The crowd gathered in front of the News Corporation building—home to Fox News Channel—for a few minutes to continue chanting, but given that it was Sunday, they weren’t drawing much of an audience. They decided to move on to NBC, just up the block from Fox News.
However, the security at Rockefeller Center was ready with barricades to keep the marchers out of the plaza. The crowd paused momentarily across from the NBC News studio, then continued on. They were going to head back to where they started: The New York Times.
Before turning back onto 42nd Street from Avenue of the Americas, a few of the marchers took notice of a man sitting on the sidewalk. He held a sign that indicated that he was a homeless veteran. Some stopped to put money in his empty Starbucks cup.
The vet, Matthew, said he became homeless at the start of January due to some “rough times.” He admitted that, because of his situation, he wasn’t up on current events, but was grateful for the help and wished everyone well.
Back at the Times Co. building, a lone Trump supporter stood at the curb, wearing a “Trump 2020” hat and waving a large Trump flag from a telescopic pole. He lives in the neighborhood, he said, and he checks the Internet for protests in the area so he can show up with his flag. He doesn’t go to any pro-Trump rallies, however, because, he said, “they’re boring.”
As these protests tend to do, this one ended with a list of goals. One protester asked for people to repeat after her as she called for a strict protection of First Amendment rights. As the crowd dispersed, a few approached the Trump supporter. One shook his hand and said, “I respect your right to be here.”