What is Blowback? Just wait and see come November.....AT the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, an angry New Yorker was haranguing passers-by about “1,000 body bags coming home from Iraq”. In a park nearby another man, inexplicably attired in a red minidress, handed out invitations to a “war crimes tribunal” where President George W Bush would be “judged by the American people”. Both men later appeared in St Mark’s church where more than 150 radical political activists had gathered last week to compare notes on a packed agenda of marches, rallies and protests timed to coincide with Bush’s arrival in Manhattan for next week’s Republican convention. There is a hint of revolution in the streets of New York, but the organisers of what may be one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in America since the 1960s are wrestling with a dilemma. They may end up helping Bush rather than hurting him. Far from embracing the rebellion against Republican rule, Democratic officials are keeping their distance from a potentially explosive grassroots upheaval that may prove to be dangerously counterproductive for Senator John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, whose lead in the opinion polls has begun to melt away after a series of attacks on his Vietnam war record. Some of Kerry’s aides and many of his supporters fear that scenes of radical mayhem in New York will alienate moderate swing voters who may associate any extremist turmoil with the Democrat campaign. “The Republicans will do all they can to make the street protesters look like the disruptive, concealed and explosive heart of the Democratic party,” warned Norman Mailer, the writer who is one of New York’s best-known liberals. At St Mark’s last week, activists emphasised their commitment to non-violent protest. One anarchist group will hold a tea party outside the mayor’s mansion; other events include a “Books not Bombs youth convergence”, a “hip-hop protest and party” and a public reading of the American constitution. The centrepiece of a “week of resistance” will be a march on Madison Square Garden, where Bush will deliver a closing address after four days of Republican celebration. Organisers expect at least 250,000 people to march and newspapers have given dire accounts of potential anarchist disruption. One leaked police document warned that protest tactics might include fire bombs, acid throwing and attacks with nail-studded potatoes. A sense of looming confrontation was heightened when the New York Police Department unveiled its latest riot control gadgets, including helicopters with “night sun” lights to illuminate streets at night, bulletproof personnel carriers and a “mega megaphone” that can broadcast across several city blocks. At the back of many Democrat minds are memories of their party’s 1968 convention in Chicago, when rioting against the Vietnam war was widely seen as having damaged the campaign of Hubert Humphrey, the party’s presidential nominee who crashed to defeat against Richard Nixon. Most protests next week will focus on a different war — in Iraq — but to the chagrin of increasing numbers of Democrats, lingering divisions over Vietnam are continuing to dominate the presidential race. Kerry’s decision to make his Vietnam war record the centrepiece of his run for the White House has embroiled the Democratic challenger in an increasingly vicious battle over his time as the young commander of a US Navy Swift patrol boat. A bestselling book by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) has accused Kerry of lying about several key incidents during his service and denounced him for “betraying” fellow veterans when he turned against the war. Heavily financed by Republican sympathisers close to Bush, the group has also produced a television advertisement that appears to have provoked a sharp decline in support for Kerry among veterans. A second attacking Kerry’s post-war record was unveiled on Friday. Kerry filed a formal complaint to stop the advertisements this weekend, claiming the SBVT has been acting as a front for the Bush campaign. Despite evidence that the veterans group is politically motivated and that several members have lied or contradicted themselves, the affair has swamped the Democratic campaign. While Kerry has aggressively rebutted accusations he did not deserve his medals, he remains in trouble over an old claim that he spent Christmas 1968 under fire after being illegally ordered into Cambodia. In their book Unfit for Command, Swift Boat veterans allege Kerry never visited Cambodia. In one poll last week the “bounce” that Kerry had received from the Democratic convention last month had shrunk to a one point lead over Bush. A survey by CBS showed Kerry’s support among veterans had fallen; having been tied with Bush at 46% a month ago, he now trails by 18 points. Next week it will be Bush’s turn to bounce and many New York Democrats are painfully aware that the president may be propelled even higher should rioting erupt on the streets. “Do the activists know what they are going into?” asked Mailer in New York magazine. “Or do they assume that expressing their rage is equal to getting Kerry elected? It could have exactly the opposite effect.”