“Obama for yo mama.” “Barack’’s How I Roll.” “Obaaaama for president.” “Bark for Obama.”
Even the dogs have gotten in on the Barack Obama frenzy that has swept through the T-shirt business catering to a new generation of voters that likes to wear its politics on its sleeve rather than on traditional pins or banners.
RELATED STORY: UNION SQUARE – A POLITICAL PLAYGROUND
By JESSICA FIRGER
At the southwest corner of Union Square sits a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, depicting him striding towards another protest. The monument, added to the park in 1986, is a nod to the activist spirit that long has been part of this public space in times of political and social unrest, excitement, or distress.
From early 20th Century labor rallies to 1960s Vietnam War protests to demonstrations during the 2004 GOP convention, Union Square has a nearly 170-year history of as a gathering spot for political activity.
But the days of Union Square’s heart-on-the-sleeve and blood-on-the-shirt critical mass gatherings are long gone. When the stumping in the presidential campaign has ended, the city’s politically conscious may be hard-pressed to find an organized celebration or protest the day after the election.
“A Pale Shadow”
“It’s now just a pale shadow of the square’s former activist spirit,” said Lisa Keller, a professor of history at SUNY Purchase. Her new book “Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London,” looks at the diminishing role of democracy in famous urban spaces.
She noted that petition signing and voter registration continue to have a presence, perhaps because of Union Square’s political legacy. So, too, do the space’s fabled green market, and street vendors selling original art, including Barack Obama T-shirts, the modern-day flair of this election season.
Union Square has long figured into the city’s activist history, serving as the originating point for the first Labor Day parade in 1841. It’s heyday came in the early 20th Century, when the spot became known as a staging ground for demonstrations by lefty groups and union workers. The potency of such protests waned after World War II, when city planner Robert Moses added the park, taking over the large, open space ideal for massive gatherings.
Another major blow, Keller said, came in January 2007, when the city passed a law requiring groups of 50 or more to get a permit when gathering in a public place.
“John Lindsay was a liberal mayor during Vietnam,” said Keller. “ [Mayor] Bloomberg closes the streets on lower Broadway for a pedestrian mall, but never a protest.”
Things may be quiet in Union Square after the results come in Nov. 4: the NYPD said it has not received any post-election permits requests related to the campaign.