Volume 16 • Issue 51 | May 14 - 20, 2004


Manhattan can fit protestors and the G.O.P.

This summer, the Republican National Convention is coming to New York City for the first time in the Grand Old Party’s history. This summer, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of protestors, are expected to gather in the city to protest Bush administration and Republican policies supporting war with Iraq, more tax cuts for the rich and constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and abortion.

Both summer events will be great for New York. As both of the major party presidential candidates have said, “bring it on.”

We understand that there are many in New York who feel uneasy with the Republican Party coming to our liberal-dominated city. We say hate the platform, but love the conventioneer. They after all, are our guests.

And as long as the Republican and Democratic Parties’ officials insist every four years on flying to one place to stay in hotels, party, eat and go through the formality of nominating candidates that have been determined months before, we’re delighted they do it from time to time in the greatest city in the world.

Protests are part of any political convention and given President George W. Bush’s many divisive policies and the fact that he took office under disputed circumstances, it is natural to expect large protests at the Republican convention.

The city’s Police and Parks Departments have denied the protestors’ application for 250,000 people to march past the convention site at Madison Square Garden and continue on to Central Park’s Great Lawn. If the lawn is no longer capable of accommodating large protests, perhaps the Parks Dept. should have changed the lawn’s name when it was restored in 1996. Park officials say if there were heavy rains, a quarter of million people could cause many millions of dollars in damage and require the lawn to be closed for a year for resodding. That would be a heavy cost indeed, but the information behind those assertions needs to be made public to be evaluated by independent experts.

The city has suggested staging the protest in Flushing Meadow Park. As some of the organizers have said, they’ll be happy to move to Queens once the convention moves there. And last we checked, there was grass that could be damaged there too.

The spirit of the First Amendment – not something to be brushed aside in the present context — suggests protestors have the right to get at least within shouting distance of the Garden and be able to gather somewhere within reasonable walking distance. If the city can’t meet those requirements, than the city should have made that clear in the first place and declined to host the convention. And it shouldn’t cite lawn damage as a way to remove the protest from Manhattan.

Of course there is a way to accommodate the protestors’ needs. The city should go out of its way to reach out to the protestors just as it quite properly did with the Republican Party. Protest is a vital part of our democratic tradition as is the convention itself. And this year they go hand in hand.

One high-ranking city official told us that there may be large street intersections not too far from the Garden where the protestors could congregate. It’s up to Bloomberg to shake this info out, make it public and get the N.Y.P.D. to work with the rally organizers.

This town is big enough for conservatives, anarchists, right-wingers, left-wingers, Republicans, Democrats, other party members, independents, big conventions, and big protests. This is New York.

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