Volume 17 • Issue 8 / July 16 - 22, 2004

Protest permit snub draws protestors to City Hall

By David H. Ellis

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

An organization called United for Peace and Justice protested outside City Hall Park July 15. The group has been denied a permit to stage an anti-Republican protest in Central Park before the G.O.P. convention.

With a “final offer” of the West Side Highway or nothing presented Wednesday by the city’s police, parks and transportation commissioners, the group United For Peace and Justice responded the best way they knew how Thursday – staging a protest near City Hall, demanding a meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Chanting “Central Park is our park” and hoisting handmade signs and placards above their heads, about 100 protestors marched along the western side of City Hall Park between Murray St. and Park Pl., urging the mayor to reconsider their request to use Central Park, or any other site in the city, besides the rally location at West and Chambers Sts. and the protest route along the West Side Highway.

“The only thing left on the table is the West St. option and now they are putting it on the table not as option but as an ultimatum. We believe that is not the way to have good faith relations,” said Leslie Cagan, the national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice. “We don’t want to march there, we are part of the fabric of the city.”

U.P.J., a group of over 800 national and local organizations, is planning a protest that is expected to include 250,000 people on August 29, one day prior to the start of the G.O.P. convention. The group has recently been embroiled in negotiations with the city to use sites ranging from the Great Lawn and the North Meadow at Central Park to Third Avenue and even Times Square.

The route offered by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and other city commissioners would start at 23rd St. and head north along Seventh Ave., before turning left at 34th St. and ultimately south along the West Side Highway before culminating in a rally.

Adrian Benepe, commissioner of Parks, has said repeatedly that Central Park can no longer accommodate massive crowds because it would damage the refurbished lawns. He said if it rained on the protest day, the Great Lawn could have to close for a year.

Bill Dobbs, a spokesperson for Peace and Justice, said the intersection of West and Chambers Sts. and the adjoining West Side Highway, which would accommodate a significant portion of the protestors, is problematic.

“They keep trying to push us onto the highway, which, with the crowd, would stretch for three miles on hot pavement,” said Dobbs in front of the gates surrounding City Hall. “Projecting the sound would be difficult, shade would be difficult, and it’s at the edge of the island. It’s not a place that has any meaning for New Yorkers.”

Dobbs said the group would prefer Third Ave. or Times Sq. to the highway. A high-ranking city official, requesting anonymity, floated the Times Sq. option a few weeks ago, but Kelly nixed this idea.

Dave Silver, who donned a brilliant orange poster around his neck during the midday demonstration, believed that the city’s resistance to other proposals is simple partisan politics.

“This is a ploy - these permits are given out in a political way. They don’t like the message, they don’t like the messenger,” said the 80 year-old Silver, a Downtown resident who lives on Gold St. “The bottom line is that Central Park is the best place because we can have a demonstration where people can see and hear the speakers on the stage, Silver added.

David Murrow, who lives on River Terrace, an area neighboring the proposed rally site, said he was baffled as to why this would be the ideal site for protestors.

“I can’t imagine why they would put a stage on Chambers St.,” said Murrow. “Where will the N.Y.P.D. fit a huge soundstage and 100,000 protestors? Chambers and the West Side Highway is a busy place. What about all the moms, strollers and bicyclists?”

Although Kelly indicated during the press conference Wednesday that U.P.J was free to challenge the city’s position through legal channels, the group is scheduled to meet with N.Y.P.D. officials July 16 for further discussion.

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