Photos: When the Republican National Convention Came to the East Village

With the Republican National Convention underway in Tampa, Fla., photographer Matthew Kraus shares some thoughts and images of a convention that hit closer to home.

The few years following 9/11 were an interesting time in New York City. There seemed to be a closeness among New Yorkers that only such an event could foster. And there was certainly more than a little dissatisfaction in what our government was doing, partially in the name of that day. So when the Republican Party chose New York as the location of its convention during its 2004 bid to reelect Bush, there was a sizable amount of protest in all the usual places (the U.N., City Hall, Wall Street, etc.). Meanwhile in and around the East Village, I started noticing more and more signs, posters and predominantly stickers.

In those days, I would walk my then three-year-old to school from 14th Street and Avenue C to Second Street and Avenue A, and if I took a different route every day, I could photograph no less than 20 unique versions of these “protests.” They went up with shocking volume and speed and ranged from direct confrontation with Bush, to specific 9/11 references; from general rejection of the Republican Party to actual calls for action.

My photography really started as a way to simply preserve them – as with any graffiti, there was a fairly consistent attempt to remove them. But soon my passing attempt to catalog a very specific form of street art grew into a sizable collection. With the conventions going on this week, this time capsule is a reminder that – whatever one’s priorities have become in the past eight years – in 2004, East Villagers (and others, obviously) were really angry about a consistent loss of civil liberties and a war they didn’t believe in, declared in what felt like their name.

As I wrote in the introduction to “Sticker Shock,” from which the above photos are taken, “The dialogue is unspoken. Stickers go up, they are torn down. It is a passionate discourse. A conversation. A silent rant. Debate can often speak loudest without a sound being heard.”