They keep coming, but will they have a place to protest?
According to organizers in New York City for the Republican National Convention, thousands of activists from all over the country have been working for months to bring hundreds of thousands of pro testers to the Big Apple for anti-Bush marches, rallies, music, teach-ins and parties.
More than a thousand Bay Area protesters are expected to be in New York, according to one prominent Berkeley organizer. But a major snafu seems to be occurring. The largest planned and permitted march was rebuffed in two New York City courtrooms this past week.
As the Daily Planet went to press the protest situation was fast coming to a head. It is yet unclear if a large sanctioned rally will take place anywhere in Manhattan during the four-day convention—the main protest group is still rejecting the official protest site along the city’s Westside Highway—or whether an unsanctioned, illegal gathering will take place on Sunday in Central Park after the march.
As usu al, Bay Area organizers are figuring prominently in the logistical operations of these planned large-scale protests, but so far things are not going so smoothly.
First, on Tuesday the group International A.N.S.W.E.R.—Act Now to Stop War and End Racism—was denied a permit to use the park for a rally of up to 75,000 people. Then on Wednesday the week-long demonstration umbrella organization, United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), was denied use of Central Park for an even larger planned anti-Bush protest.
“Essentially the judge said we were too late,” said Oakland resident and UNFPJ steering committee member Andrea Buffa. Speaking from the group’s New York office Buffa said, “We’re disappointed, the First Amendment applies to the entire U.S., but we need to move ahead. We will work with the police and we will have a legal march to Madison Square Garden beginning on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., assembling at the corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue (in Manhattan).”
And where will the rally be after the march? “That’s what we are in negotiations with the police about right now,” Buffa said.
Not In Our Name, another prominent Bay Area organization with a national following, may be taking a different tack. Media coordinator for the group and Berkeley resident A iMara Lin, speaking outside the courthouse just after the judge handed down the second decision not allowing protesters to use Central Park, was less conciliatory.
“Not In Our Name says we have a legitimate right to be in Central Park on Aug. 29. The per mit battle is not over,” she said. “It is a personal choice for folks whether to participate in an act of Civil Disobedience.”
UFPJ’s Buffa said, “Many of our constituent groups cannot risk arrest, many immigration groups who plan to participate, for exa mple…going to Central Park will not be part of our march.”
The collective agendas of all groups seem to be pro-peace, pro-immigrant, anti-racist, and pro-labor. Their main goal, stated over and over in interviews, is to protest the policies of the past f our years of an unpopular president. But because of the restrictions being placed on protesters by the police, there may be fissures developing within the various groups represented.
“New York City officials are sowing tremendous fear and confusion about protesting in this city,” said Berkeley resident Bob Wing, who is editor of the monthly anti-war newspaper War Times. Wing is also the co-chair of United for Peace and Justice. Speaking from New York, Wing said NYC’s police force seems to be mirroring th e Bush administration’s “politics of fear,” and they are doing it with the help of the local media.
“The parallel here is Arabs as terrorists and dissenters as anarchists,” Wing said. “The (New York) Post even ran a story about how the Weather Undergroun d has reemerged for these protests…even the (New York) Times has run two front page stories about how anarchists are coming to destroy the city.”
Wing, clearly frustrated with New York City officials said, “Sunday is the day everybody has agreed they wil l work with and mobilize for…this is scheduled to be the largest (protest) event and it doesn’t even have a site.”
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and San Francisco’s Global Exchange (which operates a fund-raising retail outlet in Elmwood), is already on the ground in New York. Reached by cell phone Thursday in New York’s Union Square she says she hasn’t seen heavy police presence (like that in Boston) yet.
“At our rally this morning we had about 15 Code Pink women, and at first there were no police, but later ten motorcycle cops showed up, but they were light and relaxed,” she said.
On Wednesday a group of four Code Pink women were arrested when police “stormed into the (Sheraton) hotel room we were renting, when they unfurled a banner [out the window] across the street from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press conference.”
According to Benjamin the banner read, ‘Welcome Protesters. Where? Central Park.”
Benjamin herself was not arrested in this incident. The four women arrested have been released. A Bay Area woman was kept overnight, according to another Code Pink spokesperson, Danielle Ferris of New York City.