UFPJ’s Cagan Plans Next Step After Protest Success: By CHRISTOPHER KROHN

Special to the Planet
Friday September 03, 2004

Leslie Cagan is the National Coordinator for United For Peace and Justice, the group that organized Sunday’s massive anti-Bush rally in New York City. Cagan had been involved in negotiating with city officials to hold a rally in Central Park. She lost that battle, but was feeling exceedingly pleased at the outcome of Sunday’s large showing of protesters. The Daily Planet met Cagan at her cramped ninth floor office at UFPJ’s rabbit warren-like headquarters a few blocks from Madison Square Garden where the Republican National Convention is being held. Cagan was visibly exhausted, yet appeared almost giddy at the success the coalition’s organizing efforts have reaped. On the third day of the convention, activity was everywhere. Phones rang, banners were being made for other rallies, and protest paraphernalia of all kinds was being unpacked and repacked in boxes to be sent out to the next site. Cagan is a busy person and much in demand, even before Sunday. Her phone rang five times during our 20-minute interview. 


Daily Planet (DP): So, how are you feeling? 


Leslie Cagan (LC): Good, a little tired, but good. 


DP: How would you characterize the outcome of last Sunday’s march, (the largest march New York City has seen since 1982)? 


LC: Well, I think Sunday itself was a fabulous day. The numbers were there, like 500,000. It’s not an exact science, but we feel comfortable putting out that figure. It wasn’t just the numbers, the commitment, it was the range of issues that tie it all together under the rubric of the Bush agenda...and the spirit of the day. I think that hundreds of thousands of people came out of that day energized and hopeful. Even with the understanding that the world and the country have major, major serious problems and that things are awful out there in a lot of regards, people still feel hopeful that we could still be strong and get to be strong enough to actually make some change. I think that some of that energy has spilled over into the rest of this week. 


DP: How did United For Peace and Justice actually come together as an organization? 


LC: In October we will be two years old. We came together in the run-up to the Iraq War. We knew that by October of 2002 there was already a great deal of anti-war sentiment and emotion in the country and some of us who have known each other from previous movements got together and said, maybe if we could form a coalition we could make a difference. And sure enough we did. We took off in February of 2003 in New York. We generated hundreds of activities around the country on that day (Feb. 15). 


DP: What happened yesterday (Tuesday)? Why were so many people arrested (about 1,200 by some estimates)? 


LC: I was not actually on the streets yesterday. I was so exhausted from Sunday, so my commentary comes secondhand. It was planned for a long time now. Tuesday (of convention week) was planned for non-violent civil disobedience and a number of groups organized different activities in different parts of the city. The idea was that at a certain time people from different parts of the city were going to try move towards the (Madison Square) Garden and try to get as close as they could. I don’t think anyone got too close. And at different points people were stopped. One interesting tactic police used—they also used it Sunday evening after our demonstration was over on people who were in Times Square protesting the convention people—this new tactic is just sweeping people off the streets. I don’t know how many people were actually planning on doing civil disobedience. I think a lot more people ended up getting arrested than were planning on it. I know two people who were just swept up in this orange (plastic) netting kind of thing and they (police) literally surround people with it and then there you are, like fishing. Fishing for protesters. Some of them (protests) went quite smoothly. There were several die-ins, in which people lie down in the streets and they arrest them. It took a while. 


DP: UFPJ held a picket line this morning outside of the detention center at pier 57. What was that about? 


LC: It’s a detention center that’s an old garage where New York City processes people. 


DP: How are they treating people? 


LC: Well, they’re not beating people. New York City knew for months that demonstrations were being planned. They’ve been planning for months on how to deal with protests. Several months ago, maybe April, I remember the DA’s office went to the City Council and asked for more money because they wanted to be prepare for upwards to a thousand arrests a day. So I suppose the city was prepared for massive arrests. So this is what they prepared, an old garage? It doesn’t make any sense, there’s no cots or beds in there. People are not being processed quickly (over 1800 have been arrested in four days), there’s oil spills from old buses.  


DP: How long are people spending there? 


LC: I think the average is 12 to 18 hours, some longer. 


DP: How do you think Sunday’s march might affect swing voters? 


LC: I think our audience was massive and it was actually a global audience as well. I think what we were hoping to affect, if you were watching on C-SPAN which broadcast the march for four and a half hours, you would see people from all walks of life and maybe say, ‘Oh my God, I can imagine myself marching.’ It’s not necessarily that one demonstration transits directly into votes. I mean we’re hoping that this demonstration will feed an emotion that when you disagree with the government you can stand up and speak out and that’s a legitimate activity and a long tradition in this country of people doing that. There’s nothing wrong with that, nothing un-American about it. We knew months ago that this election might turn into a beauty contest and we wanted to keep issues front and center, especially the issue of Iraq. And we understand that a first step to changing foreign policy and domestic policy is to defeat the Bush agenda. 


DP: Are you a Democrat? 


LC: No. 


DP: Are you in touch with the Democrats at all? 


LC: No. We’re non-partisan. We try to be very careful because we have many groups within this coalition that have 501(C)3 (non-profit) tax exempt status. 


DP: Many Republicans have said that if any of these demonstrations get out of hand and there is violence it will be laid at the feet of John Kerry. 


LC: That’s just ridiculous. The Democratic Party had nothing to do with organizing these demonstrations. In fact, the Democratic Party stayed away from these demonstrations. Some NYC Democratic Party officials marched with us. Some City Council people and two members of Congress, Charles Rangel and Major Owens. Jesse Jackson marched too, but he doesn’t speak for the Kerry campaign. 


DP: So what’s next? What has the United For Peace and Justice coalition been doing since the march?  


LC: Well, we support as many of the activities as we can around town even though we didn’t organize all of them. We’re part of a process for the past six months now having meetings and discussions with all the people who are part of this coalition sharing information so an extension to that would be to try and be at each other’s events and so one of the things coming out of this office this week is just answering questions, ‘What’s coming next? What’s coming tomorrow kind of thing? But also organizing our own presence at some of these events too.